When it's so common to find a great many books which are rather less than was expected, it's wonderful to run into something that is so very much more than was expected or even hoped for. I trolled the Samhain Publishing site a while back, and short-listed this book, and eventually bought it, and then promptly forgot everything about it. Every time I scrolled past it on the Kindle or saw the cover (I cordially dislike the cover), I thought "m/m romance – not in the mood" and kept going with a faint feeling of embarrassment for having bought it. There are times when I wish I could go back and apologize to my past self for doubting her judgment – because, boy, did I. This was fantastic.
I mean not just enthusiastically but literally – this wasn't simply a contemporary romance sort of thing. In fact, romance was only a very small part of the book, in the conventional sense. By which mean if you're seeking out gay romance novels for the sex scenes, keep seeking; apart from one scene it was a book about two people feeling each other out, not up. In the more traditional sense, the old-fashioned sense of romance in terms of (oh, this is good, Wikipedia): "love emphasizing emotion over libido" – yes. Quite. Also, the older-still meaning of romance applies very nicely to this book: "A long fictitious tale of heroes and extraordinary or mysterious events, usually set in a distant time or place". Yes. Quite.
The synopsis is a little hard to swallow. Bear with me. It's worth it.
The Goodreads description begins: "The faeries at the bottom of the garden are coming back—with an army." Which is brilliant, by the way. And not untrue. Ben Chaudhry, a young Londoner of Indian extraction, has a close encounter of the fey kind, he has no idea what to do. Tinkerbell has nothing to do with these fairies; these are old-fashioned tall-and-beautiful-and-deadly fey, and they scare the hell out of him. As they should. He's fairly sure he's losing his mind, but a giant just shook his house like a rattle – he has to do something. So he - reluctantly - turns to the local equivalent of the Ghostbusters, a local branch of UFO/ghost/what-have-you-got hunters led by an (extremely attractive, of course) older (by which I mean my age) man named Chris Gatrell, ex-RAF.
What Ben doesn't know is just how ex-RAF he is.
Chris, you see, was a hotshot bomber pilot in the early days of WWII. (No, I'm not that old. Neither is he. Sort of.) He and his team went on a mission; something terrible happened, of which he was the only survivor. In the late 80's. He was discharged for mental health reasons, as a not-quite-satisfactory cover, and sent off on his own devices. It's been a rough couple of decades. Not only does he have that stain on his record, but he has the evergreen memories of his comrades, left barely recognizable as human, one of whom was – secretly, of course – his lover.
Meanwhile, those fairies that Ben Chaudhry encountered? They have a human hostage, Geoff, who gives every appearance of being one foretold to either be the key to the success of the fae queen's plans, or to the failure thereof.
One aspect I loved about this book was that although the main characters are gay men, not everyone in the book is either gay or a man. It seems like, in my limited experience, so many of the books I've read that feature gay characters seem to reflect some idea that all the people in the general vicinity of the story must be gay. Here, there was a very diverse set of characters surrounding the heroes – and it was great. There were women, and everything!
Lovely writing, a convoluted and unique and thoroughly enjoyable plot – I love a pleasant surprise.