Hidden Conflict presents four novellas that tell the experiences of gay military men, their families and friends, during times of conflict and war. Each story presents a unique voice at a distinct time in history.
Blessed Isle by Alex Beecroft
1790 British Age of Sail
Blessed Isle is the long-lost diary of Captain Harry Thompson and his lover recently discovered in a dusty safe deposit box and faithfully reproduced in Hidden Conflict. Thompson wrote his diary entries at night and in the morning, his lover and former lieutenant, Garnet Littleton, would add his thoughts and commentary. Thus, Blessed Isle is a dialog between the two men, telling the story of the ill- fated voyage of the HMS Banshee, its mutiny, their escape, and ultimately, how they overcame all odds to build a life together in Rio de Janeiro.
No to Reason Why by Mark R. Probst
1876 US Cavalry
Corporal Brett Price is tired of being a soldier, tired of endless expeditions against the Lakota and Sioux, and tired of hiding his deep love for his friend and sergeant, Dermot Kerrigan. Unfortunately, as a member of the 7th Cavalry stationed at Fort Lincoln, North Dakota, there is little he can do to change his present situation; his love for Dermot is particularly distressing because Dermot is married and devoted to his wife, Sarah. Their commanding officer, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, has been relentless in rounding up the various Native American tribes of the western plains and forcing them off their lands to designated reservations. These battles between love and loyalty, duty and honor, with one of the most horrific battles ever fought on American soil as its backdrop, is the story that is told in Not to Reason Why.
No Darkness by Jordan Taylor
1915 World War I Western Front
When Lieutenant Darnell and Private Fisher are trapped in a root cellar after being shelled behind the trenches on the Western Front, they struggle to survive and escape their black tomb. Strangers to one another, the days and nights underground in pitch darkness bring them together as they share stories of their upbringing. While their lives hang in the balance, they find refuge through the growing bond between them that neither expected.
Our One and Only by E.N. Holland
1944 US World War II and aftermath
What happens when one must grieve in private? That is what Philip Cormier is forced to do when his closest friend and lover, Eddie Fiske, is killed in France during the second round of D-Day in September 1944. The story covers a forty year arc, told in decade- long intervals, that chronicle Philip’s loss, his life without Eddie, and ultimately, the acceptance and resolution of his grief. Most importantly, it demonstrates the healing power of love that can be found in unexpected places and ways.
Before I write the review of this anthology, a word of advice. My recommendation is that you read the stories in small chunks and not all at once or you’ll be overwhelmed. These stories are about different wars and the people who lived through them, and some of the prose could be quite bloody in the recounting of death and dying, so be warned. Two of the stories are romantic, Blessed Isle and Our One and Only which are standouts.
Now on to the review –
This beautifully written anthology spanning different centuries from the British Age of Sail to 4 decades after World War II, provides a wonderful shift in the historical landscape due to the span of time and the widely divergent stories of those who served their countries. It is this mosiac that is the strength of Hidden Conflict as well as the prose and characters in the stories, and any historical romance lover would be thrilled to possess such a wonderful chronology of the lives of a few soldiers in the times that shaped history.
Blessed Isle by Alex Beecroft 5 stars out of 5
Alex Beecroft has done it again – she has given us a story that I can only use superlatives to describe. Her characterizations are brilliant, and I enjoyed this story immensely despite its few flaws.
Blessed Isle is told from two first person POVs and each character is so different that it was a treat when the story switched from one to the other; the alternating points of view of Garnet and Harry make this a delightful Age of Sail romance.
The protagonists are a study in contrasts. Harry Thompson is a pompous, repressed, self-made man whose entire adult life has been spent trying to be what he’s not – a gentleman. He is from common stock and he became Captain of the HMS Banshee through a fluke, by taking a bullet meant for a superior officer who rewarded him with his own ship. As he assumes his new responsibilities, his second in command, beautiful Lieutenant Garnet Littleton, makes no secret of his attraction for the tall, brawny, masculine Captain and their professional relationship is a constant struggle for Harry as he tries to maintain order on board ship, despite the temptations and blandishments offered by Garnet, who is everything that Harry is not.
Soon after they set sail it’s clear that things on board ship are going to be very challenging, perhaps due to Harry’s inexperience, and when they run into trouble Harry soon flounders. There is a horrible storm, a disease infested ship, mutiny on the high seas, and this is only the beginning of their troubles. Very soon Harry and his less than seaworthy vessel run aground and he and Garnet find themselves castaways on an island, with Garnet near death. Once recovered, Garnet charmed me as their story is told by each man as a record of their lives, in Harry’s diary. Garnet and Harry recount how they survived months on the island with little food and water, and just when things seem to be at their lowest pooint they are rescued, but they find themselves in an even worse situation. Eventually, after new misadventures at sea, they make their way to South America to live happily ever after. Of course I omitted the best parts of the story so that you can read the book for yourself and have the pleasure of discovering these delightful characters and falling in love with them as I did.
Blessed Isle is not perfect by any means. I thought there may have been too much telling in some parts of the story, as the author imparts a lot of information about life at sea in the Age of Sail in a pedantic manner. However, the constant activity and pacing of the story aboard the HMS Banshee mitigated this somewhat, and the prose is excellent as Ms Beecroft does what she does best, give the reader great characters and a wonderful adventure.
Not to Reason Why by Mark Probst 4 stars out of 5
This story is set in 1876 just before and during the battle of Little Big Horn, which is actually not a battle at all, but a massacre. Custer’s Last Stand against the Lakota and the Sioux is recounted in Mark Probst’s story in vivid detail and may be too intense for some readers.
I was interested to see where the author would focus the story since most of us who know our history are pretty well aware of how this battle ended. Probst introduces us to his two main characters, Corporal Brett Price and Sergeant Dermot Kerrigan, members of the 7th Cavalry at Fort Lincoln as they journey those last few months before the fateful battle.
Brett, the principal character, is in love with his very much married best friend Dermot who is devoted to his wife and is totally clueless about Brett’s feelings. Instead of getting on with his own life Brett is the unwanted third in the relationship as most of the time he looks on with envy at Dermot’s wife and longs to replace her, but he knows it will never happen because Dermot loves his wife deeply. The story gives us a brief picture of Dermot and his wife in their mundane everyday lives that revolve around the military in those days, and I wondered how wives of the soldiers could exist in an environment that was not conducive to marital relations, but was all about the military.
The characters are well developed, from Custer and his key advisers to the youngest and most junior Private, and we journey with the five companies before and during the fateful battle at Little Big Horn which is detailed in all its gory splendour. Mark Probst has a talent for bringing his characters to life, even the supporting ones, but you will need a strong stomach for the battle. Brett’s journey was the only one that didn’t end with the massacre as his life takes a surprising turn. Although Brett’s character was three dimensional, as were most of the others, I didn’t admire him very much for a couple of reasons, the main one being his failure to understand that Dermot would never be his and that he should move on. The other reason you will have to discover for yourself when you read the book.
No Darkness by Jordan Taylor 3.50 stars out of 5
This World War I story on the Western Front is perhaps literally the darkest of the four stories since it is told almost entirely in the dark, in a root cellar where our two protagonists spent almost the entire book. No Darkness was the toughest story for me and the least enjoyable; it was also the most flawed in terms of military protocol and chain of command.
Private Fisher and Lieutenant Darnell are trapped in a hellish tomb due to a blast that rocked the cellar of a farmhouse they were investigating. The blast seriously injures Fisher who can’t move without a great deal of pain during their entire stay in their new accommodation, and it becomes Darnell’s job to dig them out of the cellar. Using his injured bloody hands as a shovel to move all the rubble, Darnell is faced with the choice of death by suffocation, starvation, or drowning as the cellar is flooded just when he thought he had found a way out.
The saving grace of this depressing story is the bond that developed between the two men during what seemed like an eternity in their hellish hole. Darnell and Fisher had a wonderful opportunity to talk about their lives since they were trapped in hell, and knew that they were probably not going to make it . This is where No Darkness redeems itself somewhat amidst the doom and gloom and becomes interesting. The great pity of the story is that the characters did not even kiss, despite the knowledge that the next blast could mean their deaths. The end was not unexpected but it came just when hope was on the horizon, which proves that the dawn doesn’t necessarily mean a brighter day.
Our One and Only by E.N. Holland 4.5 stars out of 5
Next to Blessed Isle this is probably the most enjoyable story for me. Eddie and Philip, our protagonists, grew up as best friends who were inseparable since the fourth grade, and they experienced all the angst of adolescence together, experimenting with sex, and eventually falling in love. This couple was a pleasure to know as Philip spent most of his teenage years at Eddie’s house. Eddie was drafted and he and Philip spent a wonderful few days together at the beach cementing their relationship before he shipped out. Poor Philip could only envy him since he had a health condition that prevented him from serving in the military. After Eddie left Philip put his life on hold until his return – he even rented an apartment, counting off the days until his lover would be back in his arms. Unfortunately it was not to be as Eddie was killed saving the life of an officer.
This delightful tribute to a love that spans 40 years takes the reader from 1944 to 1984 as Philip tries to live without the love of his life. He becomes a member of Eddie’s family by default since he didn’t have one of his own, and he puts his life on hold while he grieves for Eddie. As each new decade is marked by everyone else and the changes in their lives Philip remains constant and steadfast to his Eddie, and his character stands still as those around him evolve and move on, have families and ultimately die.
At the end of Our One and Only, when Philip is in his sixties, he decides to do the one thing he had never done throughout his life to honour Eddie – he visits his grave in France, and it is there that perhaps he has another opportunity to love again.
I think you will really like this story and Philip, who became an onlooker in life as he watched the world march on while he stood still.
To wrap up, this is a wonderful anthology if you like stories about war and it is a fitting tribute to the men and women who served their countries.
I cannot comment on the accuracy of the different historical details in the stories, as history is not my forte, but I assume they are correct.