Author: Angel Martinez
Cover Artist: Trace Edward Zaber
Genre: m/m historical fantasy
Length: Novella (27 k words)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A slow-paced romantic fairytale set before the fascinating historical background of the unfinished Amiens Cathedral of 1288.
The Blurb: In the year 1288, Amiens Cathedral is still a hive of construction. Philippe works as a painter, cheerfully decorating the stone carvings. Lamed in the crusades, alone in the world, he feels he has found the perfect life, with a safe place to sleep and work he loves. He tells himself he is content, that is, until the night he spies a man in a scarlet cloak, kneeling in the sanctuary, clearly distraught. For Philippe, the world will be forever changed.
Lord Étienne Michelant has fallen far and fast. Once the beloved youngest son of a powerful family, now he has nothing and, unbeknownst to church officials, he lives atop the cathedral’s unfinished tower. In Philippe, he finds everything he ever wanted in a man, and he curses fate that they met now. Tangled in dangerous secrets and arcane enchantments, Étienne knows any hope of love is futile.
It will be up to a crippled painter to try to prove Étienne wrong and to navigate his way through the maze of enigmas surrounding him.
There’s not much to add to the blurb in regard to the plot; more would be spoilers. In many respects this story is a “classic” fairytale that contains all the familiar aspects I love in those: an enchanted prince (although Etienne often acts more like a princess; I very much enjoyed the delightful humor of this fact), a brave knight in shining armor (Philippe has only his crutch for his sword, but his dry humor makes a great shield), a fairy godmother (Mother Celsa) and three genies in the forms of Fathers Anseau, Crespin and Gervais to give the hero wise advice, and Etienne’s brother Henri assumed the role of the wicked stepmother, standing in the way of the young love. Only, this is a fairytale for adults where a mere chaste kiss isn’t enough to break the spell, oh no sir, not by far. [spoiler name=”spoiler”] I must admit I pitied Philipe a great deal through the actual spell-breaking. I couldn’t help wishing the author had choosen a less painful way for him to redeem Etienne from the enchantment than having him impaled on a granite rod! :ahhh: [/spoiler]
This is something I already liked a great deal with this author’s “Boots” , another fairytale-ish romance, the taking of familiar fairytale elements and turning them into something new and enjoyable. This time, the lore was entirely middle-European. The style of language and dialogue, a bit stilted and old-fashioned, fit the style of the story and added to the fairytale-like overall feeling.
Philippe was a very likeable character. A simple footman in the Crusades, he’d returned home with a permanently damaged leg only to learn that his family had fallen prey to epidemics. Though crippled and all alone in the world, he hasn’t lost his ability to take joy in his work and in life in general. Upon first meeting Etienne, he sees only another human being in need of help, which he offers freely and without regard to either Etienne’s fine clothing or his arrogant manners. And he’s blessed with a lot of common sense, openmindedness and a delightful dry wit that makes him the ideal person to deal with the fact that the man he’s fallen in love with lies under a bitter spell.
Etienne, on the other hand – as dire his fate might be, it isn’t as if he hadn’t brought it upon himself. He is rather inclined to wallow in self-pity, acting more like a spoiled child than the former crusader he’s supposed to be. Throughout the story I couldn’t help wondering if he was really worth the great lengths to which Philippe went for him.
Although the historical setting felt realistic, particularly the Cathedral construction site, the view at the lives of those medieval characters was somewhat glorified, of course. Who wants to read about lice, dirt, or foul teeth, after all? Also, the acceptance Philippe and Etienne’s love found all around, be it from Mother Celsa the wise woman or the monks or Etienne’s mother, only worked in the context of a fairytale; in a “real” medieval setting at least the monks would’ve most likely been coming after them with holy water and the stakes. Though in this context, Mother Celsa gave my favorite quote from this book:
[Philippe said]: “I’m afraid I haven’t been thinking too clearly where he’s involved. Tien muddles my thoughts, somehow.”
“Then all is as it should be.[…]”
If you like romantic fairytales with humor and sweet-and-spicy eroticism, I’d recommend this enjoyable story.