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.

25 comments

  • 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 being gay and Kim’s view of things contrasted and made them think. And Kim was great. But I felt really sorry for Martha for being so betrayed by her husband and I agree with Sirius that I did not like the way her attempt at revenge was dealt with. I don’t mean the way the author wrote it – it is totally believable and fits the book, but I felt that it was unfair to Martha. She was rightfully furious and I never thought of her as a bitch; in fact, the way she never used the children against Gabriel/for revenge made her a great character.
    So, the book was very well written IMO and I liked John and Gabriel and wanted them to be able to finally be openly together. I think the cheating did not put me off the book because all of the characters were so human, so flawed yet still good but it still left me feeling unhappy about what happened to Martha, she did not deserve that. LadyM expressed it much better than I in the first paragraph of the review about the story being true to life and therefore uncomfortable in parts and I agree with the not siding with anyone in this, something made possible for me by the way the author wrote the characters. It has been quite some time since a book read for fun made me think about it for so long after I finished it and will stay in my mind for quite some time I think.

    • Hi, Andrea. I’m glad you decided to de-lurk ( 😀 ) and comment. And I’m glad you liked the book. As I said to Sirius, it seems that Sarah will give Martha a happy ending (a cowboy!) of her own. That should make everyone happy. 🙂

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

    • 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.

      • Hi, Madonna, thank you for your comment. The marriage was a valid obstacle to their love, once they were no longer in the military. I understand people’s reservations, but, trust me, without it – it wouldn’t be the same story. Gabriel doesn’t have a POV and I think that made him less sympathetic to the readers than John. I would like to hear from you when you finish the story. 🙂

  • 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.

    • Gaycrow, I think a lot depends on your current mood. Things are certainly not black and white and I’m curious to hear what you think about the story. Let me know. 🙂

      • Lady M, I liked some of this book, and ended up not having a problem with the cheating. The situation and circumstances of the time often left people with uncomfortable choices, and I feel that’s what happened here. I don’t feel the angst that some others have with regard to Martha.

        What I did have a problem with, and no-one else seems to have said anything about it, is the violence towards the abusive instructor. Yes, he was a sleazy scumbag, and I don’t feel any pity towards him, but I’m not sure I agree wit the “eye for an eye” vigilante style of punishment meted out by Billy’s father and John. Rightly attack with all guns blazing within the law, but the casual way these guys threw out punches soured things for me. I would’ve enjoyed the story more if our good guys had won by throwing this guy down in court, along with his dad and the corrupt university officials.

        • Hi, Gaycrow. I’m glad you liked some of the book. I don’t disagree with you, though I’m not sure the court was available solution considering the victim were afraid to talk and officials weren’t inclined to do anything. At least John tried that avenue first. I’m not trying to justify what the men did, but both John and Cody Dial are from a generation which was more likely to take things in their own hands. than wait for someone else to solve their problems. My grandfather, for example, used to say that some people only understood the language of fists.

  • 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 wrote this complex story in a way that’s sympathetic to both protagonists and Martha and I gather that Martha got her revenge on Gabriel. I think that anyone approaching fifty who sees his life slipping away should be forgiven for wanting something more before he checks out.

    I will definitely be reading this book soon.

    Thank you for this very thoughtful review Lady M.

    • 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 so hard to summarily dismiss her pain that it was probably my biggest problem with how it was handled. I did not feel that the author was portraying her as a bitch, no and thank goodness for that, but it is as if Gabriel did nothing wrong. That was annoying and I so wanted him being kicked in the teeth. And her attempt at revenge was not even that – I mean not something she planned out herself – it is more like she was used and given a chance to tell the truth really , nothing more IMO. And when one of John’s buddies basically laughs because he knows the ways to handle it – do not want to say what it was, I was soo annoyed . Anyway since I want to avoid super spoilers I will just say that I thought it would have did both Gabriel and John to be reminded about right and wrong, especially Gabriel since John does say he was sorry. Oh well – I guess if the book touched me so strongly even in the very negative way the writer did her job well. But there were so many things there that touched me in the positive way and I am kind of upset that I cannot fully enjoy the love John felt for Kim and him and Gabriel together, because the first thing that comes to mind when I think about this book is how selfish Gabriel was in my opinion.

      • 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 actions of the protagonists in these situations, and as I understand it Gabrielle waited 25 years to leave his wife when John’s circumstances changed.

        Not having read this book I can’t comment at this time on how this was presented to readers but I must say that readers should move with the times. The divorce rate is at least 50% now, for different reasons, not all relating to cheating but certainly a fair percentage is divided among cheating situations and financial matters. There are even sites now devoted to telling married couples how to cheat! I know that this is a romance genre and readers want the perfect endings to their romances but this sub genre is for gay romance and it would seem to me to be unrealistic for readers not to expect John and Gabrielle to end up together. I prefer believable endings given that this is a gay romance. Of course we can’t forget Martha as the wronged wife – however I understand she will be in a new book, so maybe she’ll find love too.

        • 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.

          • 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 as human beings

            Since I haven’t read this book I’ll refrain from further comments but your views are always interesting Sirius. 🙂 Differences are another reason we love to discuss books.

            Now I have a book to review. 🙂

    • As you can see, Wave, the opinions differ. :DX:

      I think, based on your reviews, that you’ll enjoy the story. I’m curious to hear your opinion.

    • It absolutely is and I can’t recommend it enough. Let me know what you think when you read it. 🙂

  • 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 already being in love with somebody else ( which is in itself a betrayal of that love IMO) can claim that whatever problems arose in that marriage later on can excuse the fact that he run back to John a month after they were married. If he would meet John sometime after they were married and he was starting to have a problem with Martha – then sure, then it may have made a difference. But to me having a non stop affair for twenty five years means that you never loved that woman in the first place and never tried to make anything of your marriage. And I just do not see how the convincing argument can be made that he had to get married – if John never did and made quite a career for himself in the army. But everything I said notwithstanding I would have still forgiven Gabriel – if I saw him showing some humbleness towards Martha and I did not see it either.

    Oh well I am still looking forward to Kim’s book – loved him.

    • I’ll never ignore you, Sirius. You can rant any time you want. 😛

      But to me having a non stop affair for twenty five years means that you never loved that woman in the first place and never tried to make anything of your marriage.

      He certainly didn’t love Martha the way he loved/loves John. But, there are different types of love – I’m certain Gabriel cared for her, at least as the mother of his children.

      And I just do not see how the convincing argument can be made that he had to get married – if John never did and made quite a career for himself in the army.

      If his goal was solely a military career, I would agree. But, there was no way for him to have a career AND family, if it’s not a family with the woman. Sure, he could sacrifice his desire for a family, but I find that self-sacrifice is rarer occurrence in real life than in romance novels. This is one of the reasons I love Black’s stories so much – they are true to life.

      I have to say though that I was discomfited to read that some readers called Martha a bitch. IMO, she had every right to feel hurt and want to cause some hurt to the men as well.

      As I said to Val above, it is great that people who see the story differently can still enjoy it. 🙂

      • I hope you do not mind me talking some more – this is the type of argument/ discussion I crave and want to happen on my reviews more often. I do however understand that not everybody likes it, and this is your review so tell me to stop at any time and I certainly will.

        I guess it is hard for me to imagine that you can love a person with any type of love if you run back to your lover just one month after you are married, you know?

        And I absolutely got from the text that Gabriel wanted family because he wanted kids – in other words I felt that he treated Martha as incubator alone. That I got , but if I was supposed to see shades of grey in their situation – I guess the text failed to make me see it. I gave an example of what I could see as a grey situation – if Gabriel met John after they were married. Sure I understand – at least I could see that he tried to make his marriage work. I mean yes things are really black and white in real life, but I feel that there are sometimes black and white situations and the way I interpreted the text it was one of them. I mean the text does mention that they started fighting a year ago, but to me that just cannot be a bigger clue than what Gabriel was doing for twenty four year. Maybe Martha finally was fed up with her husband telling her he won’t be home for dinner with his lover sitting next to him when he makes that pronouncement.

        As to sacrifices occurring more in romance novels – sure I would agree, but surely at least some people realize in Rl that they hurt their wives and at least express that remorse. If one person out of hundreds does it ( there are “friendly” divorces as much as divorce can be friendly of course ) I want my romance lead to behave as better example of the species rather than worse one. If the goal is to write literary fiction then sure I won’t go into it thinking that flawed or not I will want to like the guy who is a romantic lead. I do not need them to be fluffy bunnies at the end but if their flaws caused hurt to other person i want them to learn from it.
        Oh I know – I am sure you have read ” Zero to the bone” by Jane Seville. I think we would agree that contracted killer or not – D was a romantic lead. He was started to kill only “bad” guys even before he met Jack after all.

        Have you read ” Saving Ganimede” by J. Warren? The main character in that book is also a contracted killer. Oh he also delivers young boys to the people who do really disgusting things to them. I enjoyed this book and this character a lot – even though this book is a romance. And while there is a tiny bit of redemption for him – he does not feel regret for most of the things to did and a lot of them to very innocent people. I usually do not care for characters that horrible but great writing made me care.

        But I am still not sure that this one was not a romance and I still think that the writer meant for Gabriel to be a romantic lead.

        Re: Gabriel not being a POV character – good writer IMO can show non POV character through other ‘s eyes and I think text conveyed a lot especially about his attitude towards Martha.

        We hear him mocking Martha to John when she told him that she lost her best years because of him. We hear him getting all self righteous when he tells John that she would get married just to spite him. We hear him to tell John that he would not give her extra money. How dare she pronounce the truth to the world ?

        I dont know – I am looking forward to Kim’s book but if Martha will endure more of the same I think I will be done.

        • I don’t mind a discussion – I just never saw Gabriel as someone who is cackling with glee over his wife’s misfortune. I think they are both in a highly emotional situation and their first priority is to protect themselves. Remorse comes when the heads are cool and they most certainly weren’t in this story. I believe they will both have their regrets when the things cool down.

          but if Martha will endure more of the same I think I will be done..

          I don't think you have to worry. Sarah promised Martha a cowboy from Cody Dial's ranch! 😀

          • At last, a place I can vent about this book 🙁 I love Sarah Black’s writing but this book made me so very angry over the dismissive treatment of Martha. I can understand this story as being about the impacts of DADT on gay men and the changing world that offers them and younger gay men better hopes and opportunities. What I read was a story about male privilege in action.

            Gabriel was never truly committed to his marriage if he was fucking John a month after the wedding. Where was his honour in that? As Martha says she deserved to be loved for who she is and not used as an incubator. Then we have the guys saying first that Martha will find someone else not because she deserves to be loved but because she will be desperate to prove something. This skates into the territory of not seeing her as a real and feeling human being. Then they add that they will check out whoever she may find, not because they care about her as a person but as an act of control over who is around Gabriel’s kids. I saw nothing on the pages of the book – and that is all I can go by that showed me either Gabriel or John took any responsibility for how their choices had come at the expense of Martha having the same privileges they were taking for themselves – being able to live a life of meaning with someone who loves her. But she’s just a woman, that doesn’t matter.

  • 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.

    • I think the lack of Gabriel’s POV created the main problem for some readers. But, considering the part of story concerning Kim, it was natural to make John the focus of the story. He even has a confrontation with Martha and not Gabriel. The great thing about the reading is that we can have all these different opinions and still enjoy the same story. I too can’t wait to read more about these people. 🙂

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: