Title & buy link: Under the Hill: Bomber’s Moon
Author: Alex Beecroft
Cover Artist: Lyn Taylor
Publisher: Self Published
Amazon US Buy Link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M fantasy
Length: Novel (297 pages)
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5, DIK
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: Amazing, immersive contemporary fantasy, beautifully told and meticulously plotted—all-around perfection, basically!
Under the Hill, Part 1
When Ben Chaudhry is attacked in his own home by elves, they disappear as quickly as they came. He reaches for the phone book, but what kind of exterminator gets rid of the Fae? Maybe the Paranormal Defense Agency will ride to his rescue.
Sadly, they turn out to be another rare breed: a bunch of UFO hunters led by Chris Gatrell, who—while distractingly hot—was forcibly retired from the RAF on grounds of insanity.
Shot down in WWII—and shot forward seventy years in time, stranded far from his wartime sweetheart—Chris has been a victim of the elves himself. He fears they could destroy Ben’s life as thoroughly as they destroyed his. While his team tries to determine what the elves want with Ben, Chris is more than willing to protect Ben with his body. He never bargained for his heart getting involved.
Just as they begin to think there’s a chance to build a new life together, a ghostly voice from Chris’s past warns that the danger is greater than they can imagine. And it may take more than a team of rank amateurs to keep Ben – and the world – out of the elf queen’s snatching hands…
Ben Chaudhry is a normal guy. He works in a bank, he’s a little bit particular about lining up keys and other items, he’s got a pension plan and he likes to be in control of his life, so the night he wakes up because his house is being lifted up and shaken around, Ben wonders if he’s going crazy. Thinking that maybe an earthquake has struck Bakewell, a small town in England’s Peak District, Ben runs outside in time to see a spectral, terrifying procession of elves. One of the elf knights comes over and speaks to Ben, and he’s so scared he runs back inside and calls the police. Except the police aren’t going to believe he’s seen elves, so he looks through the phone directory for someone else—and gets the Matlock and District Paranormal Investigation and Defence Agency (MPA for short).
Wing Commander Chris Gatrell is ex-RAF and somewhat old-fashioned, but at least he takes Ben’s elf problem seriously. Chris might be getting on for middle aged but Ben finds him hot—though he can’t work out if Chris likes him or disapproves of him because he hides his emotions so well. But though their relationship begins in a tense manner, Chris is determined to keep Ben safe from the elves and their kin, especially when it becomes clear that the elves are not just angry with Ben for building an extension on faery hallowed ground.
The rest of the rather motley volunteer team of the MPA don’t entirely trust Ben. His aura is all wrong, and though Ben has the Sight, that’s not enough to explain what’s going on around him. As the two men get closer, Chris has to deal with memories of the past. During WW2, elvish magic downed the Lancaster bomber that Chris was flying and shot him forwards in time to 1995. Chris was the only survivor of the attack—he lost his lover, Geoff ‘Flynn’, and hasn’t been able to forge a proper relationship since.
But Flynn is very much alive—but not in this dimension. He’s trapped in a strange parallel world ruled by Oonagh, Queen of the Fae, and he’s a passive, bewildered prisoner who’s free to roam until the day he meets Sumala, a beautiful hostage princess. Flynn and Sumala team together to make contact with their loved ones—Sumala sees a vision of her brother, while Flynn calls out to Chris. Elves capture Sumala, and Flynn, ever the gentleman, decides to rescue her. His move from passivity to action starts a chain of events that will, in due time, bring fulfilment of a prophecy. Suddenly Flynn is in the middle of things that are much greater, and far more dangerous, than he could ever have imagined—and it’s pitting him against Ben and Chris.
I’ll just preface this part of the review by saying that I’m not fond of fantasy and haven’t read the genre since I was a teenager. Now I’ll tell you that I loved this book. Absolutely loved it. I enjoy Alex Beecroft’s writing and I trust her skill as a storyteller, and she does not disappoint with Bomber’s Moon.
First of all, the characters. The three main leads are all exquisitely drawn. I particularly liked Ben, whose control issues come from a traumatic past and an awareness not only of his sexuality and how it’s perceived but also of his cultural identity. Ben’s parents were from one of the lowest of the Indian castes and were persecuted, so were ‘rescued’ and brought to the UK, where they tried to reinvent themselves as very British people. Ben grew up knowing that he was from this vilified part of his culture; he was bullied at school because of his race; and he’s gay, which is considered ‘wrong’ in both cultures. It’s hardly surprising that Ben is incredibly proud and extremely touchy, alert to the slightest hint of homophobia.
Chris is completely different but shares certain similarities with Ben. Both of them experience PTSD flashbacks, and both of them have a habit of not broadcasting their sexuality, which causes a few issues between the men at the start! During Chris’ POV we get to see his memories of the war and flying on a bombing mission, and I very much enjoyed these glimpses into the past. Though he’s been in the modern world since 1995, Chris often still thinks and speaks like a man from the 1940s. His lover Flynn is grounded even further in that time, and I liked the subtle comparisons and contrasts between the two of them.
Flynn is probably my favourite character. He starts from a position of total ignorance and passivity and then slowly—thanks to the impetus provided by Sumala—begins to realise the role he has to play. He’s a true gentleman and absolutely typical of his era and upbringing. My great-uncle served in the RAF during the war and stayed in the service for many years after, and I recognised the same ‘stiff upper lip, get things done, lads’ nature in Flynn.
The rest of the diverse cast are just as real, from the slightly batty Phil to the not-judging-just-warning vicar, Grace; to Ben’s snotty boss Paul and his colleague Enid. And I must mention the elderly Mr Smith who is in the wrong place at the wrong time and who delivers an absolutely hilarious line after a monstrous elf-creature attacks Ben at the bank.
It’s not just the human and elf characters that sparkle here—the locations are wonderfully described with such rich, vivid details you can almost reach out and touch the mulch of a forest floor or feel the ooze of ectoplasm down the wall. Beecroft’s hyper-real descriptive style immerses the reader in the action. It’s one of the things I’ve admired in this author’s historicals and also in her contemporary novel, but with Bomber’s Moon it’s taken to a new level. The lusciousness of Beecroft’s prose, even when describing ordinary things, is a perfect fit for the fantasy genre. Here’s an example, comparing what Ben can see outside and inside the wards erected around Chris’ house:
If Ben opened the gate and stepped outside, onto the road, the stars glared at him, the smudgy light of the lamp rolled and dripped like water vapour, and in the corners of his eyes, he caught dim silver tendrils of light writhing over the distant hills. If he stepped inside, he saw rust and weeds under a mundane sky. Cheery blue paint peeled from the front door and fell into the warped wooden porch, where Ben barked his foot on a rucksack full of bricks as he went inside.
Not only is the language beautiful, the story is very fast-paced—I literally sped through this book in a few hours and couldn’t put it down. I love it when key chapters end on proper cliff-hangers, and the revelations at the end of one chapter made me gasp out loud. I couldn’t press the ‘forward’ button of my Kindle fast enough 😆 and I startled my neighbours (I was sitting in the garden) by making a ‘gahhhh!’ sound when I reached the end of the book and read the absolutely brilliant cliff-hanger there.
And finally, I loved the time/stealing time theme and the way that the faerie world mimics the human world to give (Flynn especially) the sense of fighting more than one battle. The sideways worlds concept is brilliantly done, and Beecroft brings the same attention to detail to bear in constructing the faerie world as she does in describing the human world. Things like the constellations and ancient doorways into the elf houses—they’re descriptions you can crawl around in, they’re so visual.
So yes. This is quite simply a perfect story—no slow moments, no ‘meh’ characters, gorgeous writing, a complex and coherent plot. I cannot wait to read the second part, Dogfighters, which is released in May and which I’ll be reviewing later this month. Fantasy fans absolutely must pick up this book—and if you’re not a fantasy fan, I urge you to get it anyway—you won’t be disappointed. This is a keeper for me.