The General and the Horse-Lord

** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS WHAT SOME MAY CONSIDER TO BE SPOILERS **

The General and the Horse-LordTitle: The General and the Horse-Lord
Author: Sarah Black
Cover Art: Paul Richmond
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Amazon, Publisher
Length: Novel/200 pages/63,297 words
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

A guest review by LadyM

Review summary: A gem.

Blurb: General John Mitchel and his favorite pilot, Gabriel Sanchez, served together as comrades and brothers-in-arms for more than twenty-five years. They followed the warrior’s path: honor first, and service, and the safety of the tribe. Their own needs for love and companionship were secondary to the mission. Retirement from the army, however, proves challenging in ways neither expected.

When old warriors retire, their armor starts falling away, and the noise of the world crowds in. That changing world sets up longings in both men for the life they might have had. After years of loving on the down-low, the idea of living together in the light seems like pure sweet oxygen to men who have been underwater a little too long. But what will it cost them to turn their dreams into truth?

Review:

In a world of gay romance fiction, Sarah Black is an original. She doesn’t conform to any usual romance formulas: her men are so achingly real that they don’t easily fit in any mould. The situations she throws them in are always true to life and so not always comfortable to the romance readers. Yet, as complex and flawed as her men are, they are always decent. Combine this with her beautiful, sometime lyrical, but never flowery, writing and you get stories that pull you in from the first page and keep you enthralled to the last. And then you are sad the story has ended.

The General and the Horse-Lord is another such story. The protagonists are two mature men – in their late forties and early fifties, former brothers-in-arms and lovers for a quarter of century. Their love affair survived the battlefields, DADT policy as well as Gabriel’s continuing marriage. General John Mitchel now teaches American Political History, while Gabriel Sanchez practices law.

The story follows two interwoven threads: one concerning John’s adoptive nephew Kim and his abuse by one of his instructors. At first, John tries to deal with this through official channels. But, people who should be protecting young men from the predators fail to act and John – as a man of action and a leader – decides to take matters in his own hands with Gabriel’s help. It was amusing to see them planning to deal with Brian like it was a military operation. John’s need for action is somewhat tempered by Kim and his need to deal with the crisis in his own way. Kim was a true ray of sunshine. I think all the readers will love him. He is bright and sensitive, but not weak. When his friend Billy suffers the same abuse, Kim is his main support. The interaction between the two older and two younger gay men is poignant – for example, when John realizes that Kim is downplaying some parts of his personality in order not to discomfit him and Gabriel. Their interaction is also often laced with humor:

“I am the king. You’re the knight sitting at my round table. That’s the nature of our relationship when it comes to war or other conflict resolution in this family.”
“If you’d said I was the samurai, and you were the shogun, I was going to get up and leave this bed.”

Additionally, it is partly a catalyst for the major change in older men’s lives – their decision to take their love into the open, which is the other plot thread the story follows. This part of the story might make some of the readers uncomfortable or even angry. Namely, John and Gabriel’s relationship lasts over 25 year and during a good part of that period, Gabriel is married and has two children with his wife Martha. And, because the story is told from John’s point-of-view, we don’t see what other problems Gabriel and Martha might have had during their life together. So, who do you side with? The two lovers or rejected wife? I decided to do neither. In order to serve their country, the men had to conform and hide their love. In order to fulfill one of the most natural human desires – to have a family – Gabriel had to marry a woman. I don’t think that the potential of hurting innocent people was lost on two intelligent men. Their alternative was to, once again, deny a huge part of themselves. And they couldn’t. Once the men retired and were faced with the realities of civil life, loneliness, changed social atmosphere, the secrets and sacrifices started to wear on them. Gabriel sums it up:

“But it seems to me I’ve been missing something critical. I see that in you too. Missing the right to love. The right to make a life together. We shouldn’t have had to give that up. And I feel the loss, like there’s a hole in my chest, a wound. Sometimes it feels like my heart looks like that poor boy’s face looks—beat all to hell. It pisses me off that we’ve lost all this time. And I don’t want to wait any longer.”

On the other hand, Martha had every right to be pissed off. She is an intelligent woman, a good mother and, yes, she deserved better. Her lashing out in a way that would hurt men the most was understandable, though I believe she would eventually regret it. This is one of the things I love about Sarah Black’s stories: not everything is black and white and good people sometimes make bad decisions and mistakes, but that doesn’t diminish them. It just makes them human.

The love between John and Gabriel is palpable, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes amusing. There is true joy in their interaction and I dare you not to grin while reading about them dancing in their underwear to 80s music. There is humor too, gentled by their age and experiences. To say that I loved them would be an understatement.

All these elements combined with good secondary characters (Cody Dial, Billy’s father, Martha, Juan, Omar, etc.) and Sarah Black’s fabulous writing make The General and the Horse-Lord one of the best author’s stories so far. I am very excited that she is planning (and already writing) new stories involving Kim, Billy, Omar and even Martha. If I have any complaints about the story it’s that I wanted to know a bit more about John and Gabriel’s military life as well as a somewhat abrupt ending. Regardless, this story that touches many themes including loyalty, leadership, family, pursuit of happiness, is a true gem of our little subgenre and it should not be missed.

Highly, highly recommended.

Andrea
Usually I just lurk on this site, read the reviews and try to win books… :whistle: but this book is still on my mind. I preordered it during a sale at Dreamspinner because the MCs are older – so a bit unusual – and the story intrigued me. I don’t regret buying it, I really like the book. Usually I don’t buy books that involve cheating but in this instance I did not regret it. I liked John and Gabriel and wanted them to have a happy end. I really enjoyed how the way they chose to/had to deal with… Read more »
Madonna196

What a lovely, well thought out, intriguing review! You’ve sold me:) Looking forward to reading it.

Madonna196

My only issue with this novel would be, I think, Gabriel’s marriage. Kinda makes me wince and wish the author had not gone in that direction at all. I’m looking forward to reading it but it’s going to be interesting to see if the author’s portrayal of Gabriel will have me cheering for him (or even liking him) or wanting to punch him out and help his wife bring him down.

gaycrow

This sounds good, thanks for an interesting review, and thanks for the warning. I think I can get past the cheating, although I’m not usually inclined to do that. Circumstances are slightly different here, though, by the looks of things.

Wave
Hi Lady M I’m not as upset as Sirius about the marriage breakdown and the fact that the guys wanted to start their lives over, having missed out on being together in the true sense of the word for 25 years. I’m sure that Martha must have realized that something was missing in her marriage. Why didn’t she ask her husband if there was a problem? Was she aware that he was gay? I haven’t read the book so I don’t know the answers to these questions. In any event, Sarah Black is a skillful writer and I’m sure she… Read more »
Sirius
I am so curious what you will thank Wave – I know you do not mind cheating if it is handled, and neither do I . But in this book ( of course JMO) I did not feel it was well handled, am curious to see if you will agree or disagree. Martha did not know he was gay, no or at least the narrative did not tell me that and I can only go with what is on page. Neither does she get any revenge on Gabriel – oh she tries, but I felt that the narrative tried so… Read more »
Wave
Sirius You’re quite correct that I don’t mind cheating if it’s handled well, and I have reviewed a number of books with cheating as the main plot. I have no doubt that Sarah, being the excellent writer that she is, would have handled this as well as any other writer. I think it’s unrealistic for romance lovers to expect their protagonists to be perfect and not cheat when it comes to matters of the heart, some even refuse to read books where there’s cheating ????!!!!????. We can’t help who we love. Obviously, the other side of this coin is the… Read more »
Sirius

Sure – just to clarify of course I expected them to end up together, I just wanted them to acknowledge that they wronged Martha. I would have been definitely satisfied with it – not that I would not think of Gabriel’s actions as flawed, but we all are human. I just felt that text sided with Gabriel over Martha and was not neutral. Of course just my interpretation.

Wave
I love flawed characters e.g. D in Zero at the Bone (I can’t abide perfect protags) and many others that you quoted. The majority of these protagonists did not regret their actions even though they may have hurt a lot of people. The reason I keep reading is to get a very broad perspective of life and people and an understanding of what drives them, and even when I don’t agree with a character’s actions I can usually understand why he did what he did. I may not agree but to err is human and so I treat the characters… Read more »
Arianna Paige

I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. It sounds like a great read!! 😀

Sirius
Hi LadyM – this was an excellent review. I usually love her books too and I loved so so much in this book – especially how much they loved and protected Kim. But I definitely was one of those readers who was angry about Gabriel’s behavior towards Martha. Obviously all of it is JMO and my opinion alone – apparently this book touched me so much that I still want to rant – please feel free to ignore. Also spoilers but review contain spoilers do I hope its ok. I just do not get how somebody who married a woman… Read more »
Val Kovalin

Wonderful review, LadyM! I’ll admit that I had problems with Gabriel’s treatment of Martha (though I had no problems with John, possibly because I had access to his viewpoint and saw his remorse). But I still enjoyed this book. Sarah Black is a terrific writer, and I look forward to those future stories dealing with these characters.

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