A guest review by Sirius.
Summary: A well-researched historical and a hot love story with a lot of torture scenes thrown in.
During the Civil War, two young soldiers on opposite sides find themselves drawn together.
One man, Ian, is a war-weary but scholarly Southerner who has seen too much bloodshed, especially the tortures inflicted upon the enemy by his vicious, sadistic commanding officer, his uncle.
The other, Drew, is a Herculean Yankee captured by the ragtag Confederate band and forced to become a martyr for all the sins of General Sheridan’s fires.
When these two find themselves admiring more than one another’s spirit and demeanor, when passions erupt between captor and captive, will this new romance survive the arduous trek to Purgatory Mountain?
Lammy-winning author Jeff Mann’s first full-length novel brings two opposed war heroes together in a page-turning historical drama of homomasculine love
Big warning up front: this book contains scenes of violence and torture, so if this bothers you, you should stay away from it.
Me? I cannot stay away from “from enemies to lovers” themes, and this book certainly did not disappoint. As you could see from the blurb, the action takes place during the US Civil War, and Drew gets captured by a unit of Southern soldiers, among which is Ian.
It seems that the story was extremely well-researched, but as always a disclaimer: while I am trying to learn as much as possible about American history, I cannot claim deep knowledge of any of it. From whatever I have read and learned about the Civil War though, Purgatory seems very authentic. The speech of the characters definitely transports you to another time and place, though I cannot say though whether there are any anachronistic words in the text or not as I have no idea. There is also an impressive bibliography at the end, which the author read in preparation for writing of this book. I have not read a single one of those books and definitely planning to, so I want to say a personal thank you. 🙂
I have to say though, that while the author certainly does not demonize the soldiers who suffer and die on both sides of the conflict and does not glorify the war, I was kind of thinking that I did not notice a shred of sympathy towards the Northern cause. Let me stress that I did not feel that the author portrayed the Southerners as Angels and the Northerners as Demons, and he definitely showed that on both sides there were tired, stressed-out men who would want first and foremost to go back to their families and who were very hurt by the years of war, but when he talks about the war on the bigger scale, the impression I got was that he portrayed Northerners as invaders (which had nothing to do with slavery, but only with desire not to let the Southern states to get away, and I always thought it was both) and the South as brave defenders of their lands. I hope I am making sense; I felt that the author portrayed the shades of gray on the smaller scale very well, such as when we see interactions between the soldiers, but felt none of it was shown on the bigger scale. Surely Sheridan’s troops were not the only ones who committed atrocities to the civilian population for example? We see the band of Southern soldiers committing those atrocities towards Drew, but as I said, I felt a disconnect of sorts between the larger and smaller scale of events in that aspect. This has nothing to do with the grading of the book, but I felt a need to comment on it anyway.
I thought that the writer combined historical settings with the erotica and love story perfectly. It is violent, tender, beautiful and very hot. It really surprised me how believable the torture felt, even though it was obviously meant to be erotic as well, in my opinion. I think it was a very wise choice to place the love story during the war times, when capturing prisoners and torturing them is something that can easily happen unfortunately. I have read a couple of stories where it was obvious that the authors were writing with fans of erotic torture in mind, but they seemed to forget that the characters were not just sexual objects and their other actions also should make sense. This is not one of those stories; despite long scenes of torture I could believe that something like this could easily happen during war times.
I really liked how the author portrayed both Ian and Drew, how believable their connection was and how their initial dislike and distrust changed to tenderness and love. It was really interesting to see how the author portrayed the BDSM-like mindset of both characters (sadist and masochist), did not talk in modern terms and contrasted it with what Drew had to endure from the real sadists and thus managed to inject a lot of tenderness and kindness between these two guys and still made it believable for me.
The writing itself was just lovely. This is one of those books where I feel that the writing is so beautiful that I am not qualified to even say anything about it, except to say how much I liked it.
“I pray for Jeff, for Drew, for all the young men out under the cold skies, huddled under oilcloths and by campfires, or rotting in graves, their pine boxes collapsing, their uniforms molding, their splendid bodies melting down to bone, their graves sinking in woodland or field, innumerable little depressions like a finger might make in a clay. I might have loved so many of them, living or dead, if we’d been given a chance to meet.
“I’m falling in love with you,” I say. “I’d do anything to save you, Drew. I’ve fallen in love with you.” The words wing out of me sudden, the way a hawk, out of nowhere, swerves surprise through the sky.
Drew’s silence is a solid thing, a sharp bayonet that could open me up and tear out the frailest part of me. But then his silence becomes a sigh, something liquid like dew or the sweetness a country boy can sip from a honeysuckle flower. In his hard grip, the bones of my fingers ache. The cloth blocking his mouth and obscuring his words makes no difference. His response is clear. “I love you too,” he says. I wrap my body around his like a husk about a walnut, a shell around a seed. I rock him in my arms till he’s fallen asleep”.
I hope this lengthy excerpt can show you why, despite a story containing a lot of torture and usually not being my cup of tea, I really loved this one. If you think it is too poetic, my feeling is that the text justified it very well as Ian is well educated.
I also did not mind at all that the story is written in present tense, a device that I dislike more often than I like, but here I thought it suited the story well. I also thought that it showed off the writer’s skill that there was no head hopping at all, or at least I did not notice any. I thought the author showed us Drew and the other characters through Ian’s eyes to such a degree that I felt I knew them very well when the story was done.
Lastly, the ending was as hopeful as it could have realistically fit the story.
Very highly recommended.