A guest review by Jenre
If homosexuality is the result of biology then gay inventiveness had to have led to wild sexual adventures during every era of human existence. Here, And Always Have Been is a collection of thirteen erotic tales. Each takes place at a different era ranging from the prehistoric through the middle of the Twentieth Century. These stories have been researched to the point of plausibility in terms of language and events, yet are inventive in ways both exciting and sensual. In other words, we’ve had fun throughout time!
This set of well written, literary short stories has the interesting premise of taking an historical figure and weaving them into an homoerotic tale. Some of the stories use the historical figures directly and others include them as secondary characters. Each story is unique in both theme and tone and as a result all the stories were varied with some being humourous, some serious, some a mix of both. All of them were clever and erotic in content but none of them had a HEA.
The 13 stories in the book form a progression throughout history with the first story taking place in pre-history and then moving through time until the last story which is set in the 1950s. As is usual in my reviews of anthologies I shall take some of the stories which worked best for me. Strangely enough these were all from the first half of the book.
My favourite story is Saladin’s Loom which is set during the time of the crusades. It tells the story of Ahmed, a servant to Al-Hakim, who is the physician of the great sultan Saladin. Saladin is ill with nerves because he is losing the battle for the Holy Land against Richard the Lionheart, King of England. In order to heal his sultan, Al-Hakim devises a way to trick King Richard and send him packing back to England. I liked Ahmed’s amusing asides to the reader and the way that the plot against King Richard unfolded slowly. The comparison of the Arab people with the European was very tongue in cheek:
As we walked through the camp, many other men at arms came out to see us, though they seemed to me to look more like tin crustaceans. And I secretly laughed to see them shade their iron armor from the sun by wearing copies of my burnoose. So must all conquerors be conquered by their enemies.
The part which had me chuckling out loud was in the culmination of Al-Hakim’s plans. I won’t spoil it here but the image of King Richard, caught in a web of his own making was very amusing.
Another story which I liked a great deal was A Manual of Arms which is set in 18th Century France. It took me a while to get into the story as it begins with a strange section where King Louis XIV is inspecting his troops whilst referring to himself in the third person (or the royal ‘we’). Once that section is over we move into a tale of one of Louis’ generals, the Duc du Vendome, and his various sexual exploits with his close personal guard which then leads to a competition the Duc has with the king’s brother over whose entourage can put on the best performance. There was, again, a lot of tongue in cheek humour in this story and I laughed out loud at the denouement of the guard’s performance in the competition.
Honourable mentions also need to go to Shiva’s Smile a gruesome story of the perils of greed, set in India, which had a wonderful anti-hero who made my toes curl; Will’s Best Bed which answers the questions about to who exactly Shakespeare addressed his sonnets; and The Ballad of Sadie whose last mental image filled me with a mix of incredulity and laughter.
There were also a couple of stories which didn’t work so well for me. Rope, a story set in the age of sail, began well but ended rather abruptly. I liked the main character Shandy and his love of the feel of rope against his skin. His erotic encounter was perhaps one of the best written in the book, but the ending was a little too pat and I felt that having had my expectations raised over Shandy and his feelings for Billy, the end was a disappointment. The Last Roman God, a story set in ancient Rome was a story of how beauty can be worshipped without understanding of feelings or character. It fell flat for me but that could be because I didn’t know the historical story it was based on (Hadrian and Antinous).
Each of the stories are rich in description of the settings and times they are written. It is obvious that the author had meticulously researched each area of the story so as to be as authentic as possible. I felt immersed in the history as well as the characters which can only be a good thing in my opinion. Obviously, given the nature of the stories, in that some of the characters are historical figures, there is a certain amount of historical subversion, but as that is the whole idea of the book, then perhaps some of you who are absolute sticklers for accuracy may forgive the author this time.
One final thing to say about the stories is that they often contained similar themes. Many of the stories explore the folly of the older man who lusts after the perfection of youth, or are centred around a struggle for power or control. Yet each story is different in its own way. I mentioned earlier that non of the stories have happy endings and this is my note of caution to those who read mostly romance. Although a few stories do contain a sort of HFN ending, this book isn’t really romance. It’s what I would call erotic fiction. Some stories end badly, some end well, some are just a slice of life, and some are mostly reflections of the past. Those who expect their books to always end well, may want to steer clear of this anthology.
Overall I was enchanted by this book. The anthology is written, in my opinion, not to be read one story after the other, but for each story to be read, savoured and considered before moving onto the next one, or alternatively, to be dipped in and out of as the mood takes. There’s such a wealth of great themes, characters and settings, all of which are written with the author’s distinctive voice and a healthy dollop of sly humour. I highly recommend Here and Always Have Been to those of you who like historical fiction or who are looking for something a bit different.