Sam reviews ‘Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco: The Fall of the Sforzas’ by SA Collins . Published on Nov 28th, 2015 and is 730 pages.
A complimentary copy was given by the author.
Why I read this: This week is Reviewers Choice, I choose Angels of Mercy Volume Two: Marco. After reading and loving the first volume, I had to know what happened next.
NOTE : This is Volume Two in a series and should be read in order. Continuing on will lead to spoilers in the first volume. Read my review for Angels of Mercy Volume One here: https://rainbowgoldreviews.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/angels-of-mercy-volume-one-elliot-by-sa-collins-lgbt-review/
“Starting today, I’ll tell the story my way. The King of Imperfections takes back his Prince of Mistakes.” – Jay Brannan, Ever After Happily
Those words, penned by a modern day queer bard, Jay Brannan, became the very heart of why I write what I write. So much so that I quote that line in Angels of Mercy (with an unbelievable blessing given by Mr. Brannan himself: “Go for it. I trust you.”). It was a kindness from one queer wordsmith to another that I don’t take lightly. Indeed, telling the story my way has become my absolute vow for whatever I write.
You see, those words are from a song that Mr. Brannan wrote about queer boys and girls (across the GLBT spectrum) who don’t have fairy tales of their own. The perception has been propagated to each generation and lays plainly before us: boys meet girls, get married, and live Happily Ever After. Only for my queer brothers and sisters, as Mr. Brannan successfully points out, that isn’t how the story goes.
“’Cause, boy meets boy and boy runs away, or girl meets girl and she’s afraid to stay. We end up home alone watching Court TV. Not living Ever After Happily.”
Jay’s words are both biting and heartfelt in Ever After Happily – his spin on how fairy tales can work for us. It is from that wellspring of inspiration that Angels dared to draw its first breath.
Put plainly, I am not a romance writer. I can’t adhere to those tropes because by and large, queer people write our own rules when it comes to seeking and securing our happiness. So I am definitely not of the tropic crew when it comes to romance. What I will say is that I am a writer who uses romantic threads in a very queer manner – born from life stories I’ve collected from my queer brothers and sisters and distilling them down to elements I weave with my characters. They are rooted in reality because they spring from those life experiences.
Angels was born on a freeway overpass while I was waiting to turn onto the freeway to head home. Jay Brannan was playing my car stereo and Rob Me Blind (the title song from his seminal album of the same name) and his lyrics began to thread through me. In the matter of seconds I had a vision of two boys, seniors in high school, clutching to each other on a storm swept foggy bridge. Police cars were positioned at either end of an iconic bridge, the Bixby Bridge here in Northern California where I live, with their lights swirling in the mists. In the distance, leaping from the bridge to his imminent death, another boy with arms outstretched cutting through the fog leaving trails in his descent that resembled angel’s wings. I knew one of the boys standing on the bridge was the leaping boy’s brother, the other boy clinging to him was his boyfriend. By the time the song ended I had the premise for what Angels would become all laid out before me. In the span of one exit from that overpass, I knew their names, what they did in school, the name of the town, all of it. As an author, you live for these moments and you learn very quickly never to mistrust them. They are gifts from the muses and should not be questioned.
Mistakenly I thought, and said as much to my husband, who with great amusement, watched me scurry into our room mumbling something about angels, football, high school and death – that since I knew all of this, I could bang it out in about a month’s time.
It’s now been two years I’ve been working on what has now become a series of six books. I’ve learned never to utter those words “Oh, this’ll be easy. I’ll bang this one out in no time.” Muses have a way of fucking things up for you when you get cocky.
“But I thought we were working on the Fae Wars story?” my husband gently asked (he is my editor).
“Eh, it’ll keep. This one’s gonna write itself.”
That part was true; it has nearly written itself. But that’s not to say it wasn’t a crap load of work to get it there, either.
By now I’d read many M/M romance stories, mostly to get a feel for the genre as a whole. For the most part they were okay, pleasant, safe, and to a very great extent, predictable. I get that they’re comfort reads. But I’m not in it for the comfort. Life is rarely comfortable – even for the rich and powerful like the Crawleys of Downton Abbey. They had their drama woes. Money only sometimes intensified the action or drama, but it seldom made it better.
I knew I wanted to do something different with Angels. So I borrowed heavily from my own past and that of my husband (who played college ball for Clemson University back in his day). I also had a treasure trove of experiences I’d collected over the years from other gay men I’ve known and talked about our loves, losses and friendships. Why as queer men, we think and act and love the way we do, that is what I wanted to explore.
You see, as a young queer boy, I read the likes of John Rechy and Gordon Merrick, two gay New York Times best-seller authors who wrote about us as we are way before the M/M tropic writes we have now. And these men nailed it in so many ways that it gave me hope as a young man in the 70s that I could have something meaningful in my life. It was going to be work, but it was work I knew I’d love doing.
So Angels is very much a nod to those two literary heroes of mine, men who kept me safe and sane during my hellish days of high school. I write to keep that spirit of what they wrote alive, culling from our lives and loves, leaning into the harder topics that often plague loving relationships.
I also knew I wanted to play with perceptions. You see, at its very core, that is what Angels is: a perception play, the perceptions between the characters, perceptions about the characters, even so far as to what they perceive of themselves that may or may not be wholly true. To do this, I decided to have two opposites as the core romantic relationship I would challenge.
Elliot Donahey is my Prince of Mistakes. He makes a lot of them. He is the sole out gay kid at his high school. He keeps to the shadows, stays away from everyone to stay safe in a world that he is all too aware cares little for his existence. Elliot is a cultivator of words. They are his shield, even if he doesn’t have the life experience to wield them successfully.
His boyfriend, star quarterback Marco Sforza, is the golden boy in town. Unlike the soon-to-be love of his life, Marco lives in the spotlight. He is the most popular guy on campus. He is a gifted athlete with solid male-model good looks, the richest kid in town (though he never flaunts it – I like that he’s rather low key about his wealth even if the other students in school won’t let him forget he’s the rich one). Marco is my King of Imperfections, and while everyone sees him as the perfect boy, his world is not quite what it seems which leads him to make some decisions that will have enormous unforeseen consequences for his boyfriend down the road – painful consequences that nearly crush Marco. Marco is American born, but reared in Italy during his formative childhood years. That is a critical difference between Marco and his teammates: his world view is very worldly. But to what degree does that play into his teammates’ perceptions about him?
I also wanted to make sure that even though it is rooted in two boys who come together hard in the first chapter, you find out how long that moment was in the making. And as an author, I was so fascinated with the whole what comes next aspect that really got my creative juices flowing.
Marco and Elliot are deeply in love with one another. But what does that mean for a boy who stays to the shadows to keep safe, and a boy who lives in the sun? How will they cope and blossom with those sharp contrasts hanging over them? And being in love skews perceptions about your loved one, too. What Elliot and Marco think of one another might not be spot on. That element intrigued the crap out of me. When we’re in love, we rationalize things we probably wouldn’t otherwise. We write situations off that should be a red flag. We adjust and compromise because our heart tells us it’s worth it. But is it? Marco and Elliot think so. But are they truly seeing each other clearly enough to make that decision unfettered by what their heart wants?
Everything in Angels is tangled in perceptions, mostly because we use perceptions in our daily lives and think little of it. Yet, they are some of the most powerful tools in our decision making chest. That fascinates me.
Angels is not a comfort read. It was never meant to be. It attempts to push at your perceptions of what these boys tell you about themselves and their world. I wanted each book to be from one of the central character’s voices – and to put an extra twist in it, they know you’re there. I broke the “fourth wall” so you have access to where they’re going with it. It doesn’t happen all the time, but Elliot, Marco and Pietro will address you as the reader. You’re their conscience, so to speak. The books are a series of character studies. It was far more important for me that, as a reader, you come away with who these men are, rather than the situations they find themselves in. While the series is told from three boy’s perspectives, it is very much an ensemble piece.
Angels of Mercy Volumes 1 and 2, along with a companion to Volume 2 (Phoenix In the Fire) are out now. Next up are Marco’s prequel stories (Diary of a Quarterback I: King of Imperfections and Diary of a Quarterback II: Prince of Mistakes, due late spring and late summer 2016, respectively) which tell the story of how far Marco had to go to find his way to Elliot that is presented in the first chapter of Angels of Mercy Volume One: Elliot. The final Angels book in the series, Volume Three: Pietro, will be out toward the end of this year.
Queer romance shouldn’t follow standard romantic tropes. As queer people, we operate outside the norm, finding our own rules and our unique journeys that don’t adhere to mainstream tropic rules. That is the very nature of queerdom. It is an aspect of writing I embrace.
“l’ll tell the story my way …”
No truer words were ever written. This out, proud, queer author will write stories culled from our own experiences in heightened drama form, operatic in scope in a tumultuous and sometimes brutally harsh landscape – where Ever After Happily can mean so many things. Honest to goodness page turners where you don’t have a safety net. There is no automatic anything. Think of the possibilities that spring from that – it’s just like life!
So thank you, Mr. Brannan, your voice has given me the banner to carry. Like you and my literary heroes, I’m gonna tell it my way while each of my Kings and Princes find their own slice of happiness along that, sometimes forbidding, rainbow road.
Jay Brannan – Ever After Happily video – https://youtu.be/AHvol-aeeYo
Jay Brannan – Rob Me Blind – https://youtu.be/EaMixtNVO8M
Volume Two picks up the same day as the climax of Volume One, only told from Marco Sforza’s (Elliot’s boyfriend) point of view. This is a character study series where each man in the tale takes the reader on an introspective journey of coming to grips with the horrors of homophobia in competitive sports and the consequences when those scenarios become violent. Part two of a three part series.
“L’amore della mia vita, Elliot Donahey, tu sei tutto per me; morirei se mi lasciassi. I’d simply wither away. You are my life; you are my love. Tu sei le mie stelle, la mia luna, l’aria che respiro, eternamente.”
Those words become a lightning rod for Marco Sforza, the man who seemed to have it all – looks, intelligence, charm, money, a certain degree of local fame as the star quarterback of Mercy High. But when his teammates beat his boyfriend to the brink of death, Marco will have to learn what “standing by your man” truly means.
How will these boys cope with Elliot’s recuperation as well as find a way to bring justice for the heinous crime committed against him? Deception, lies and intrigue begin to thread their way into the boys’ lives as they struggle to just hold onto one another. All is not quite what it seems as we reach yet another climatic ending that will turn their whole world upside-down. The hate crime Elliot suffered was just the beginning of their woes. Is Marco and Elliot’s love for one another strong enough to see them through?
Angels of Mercy Volume 2 picks up right where Volume one ended. Elliot has been beaten and left for dead. Elliot’s mom has found him and he is now being transported to the hospital. Marco is completely devastated and blames himself for what happened. He loves Elliott with all his heart and will do anything to protect him.
SA Collins did a fantastic job writing Volume two of the Angels of Mercy Series. This book was told by Marco, which I enjoyed very much. The love Marco has for Elliot is phenomenal. It is what most of us dream of having one day. Witnessing Marco as he sees Elliot broken and almost dead was heart breaking.
I love how strong Elliot is and how he fights for what he wants. His recovery isn’t easy, but he’s determined to get his life with Marco back to the way it was before the attack.
The love they share is very sweet. However, there are times it gets hot and heavy as well. When these scenes happen they are written in explicit detail. The sex may be steamy, but it is the story of how these characters grow and lean on each other makes my heart soar.
There are quite a few secondary characters in this book that impact Marco and Elliot’s story. Some of them you cant help but love, like Danny. I really enjoyed watching Elliot and Danny interact with one another. There are also a couple characters that I wanted to slap or worse. Overall, I was able connect with all of them easily, even the ones that made me want to spit nails.
Just like in volume one, there is a lot of drama thrown at this couple. Which causes several different emotions to expel. On more than one occasion, I wanted to toss my iPad across the room. There were also times, when I was in tears for what these young men were going through. However, the best times were the sweet tender moments that Marco and Eliot share, which I couldn’t help but smile at.
Volume two also ends with a cliff hanger. Fortunately, there is no reason to wait. Phoenix In the Fire, a companion book in the series, is already released. I know for me personally, I will be reading it soon. I can’t wait to see what happens next as their story continues on.
10/10 Pots of Gold
SA “Baz” Collins hails from the San Francisco Bay Area where he lives with his husband, their daughter and wonder of all wonders, a whirlwind of a granddaughter and two exotic looking cats. A classically trained singer/actor (under a different name), Baz knows a good yarn when he sees it. Based on years of his work as an actor, Baz specializes in character study pieces. It is more important for him as an author that the reader comes away with a greater understanding of the characters, and the reasons they make the decisions they do, rather than the situations they are in. It is this deep dive into their manners, their experiences and how they process the world around them that make up the body of Mr. Collins’ work.
Comment on this post for the chance to win one of THREE SIGNED e-copies of:
‘Angels of Mercy – Volume One: Elliot’ and ‘Angels of Mercy – Volume Two: Marco’ by SA Collins
You need to be 18 years or older to participate in this giveaway. Void where prohibited. Etc.
This giveaway will end on May 29th, 2016 at 11:59 PM CDT. GOOD LUCK!