Marc reviews ‘The Bones of our Fathers’ by Elin Gregory. This book was published by Manifold Press.
I was asked quite recently which famous author I would like to meet, spend time with and get advice from and I was surprised to realise that, while I read a lot of books by men, my three most important authors are all women, none of whom, sadly, are still alive.
Firstly, Mary Renault. I think almost any English writer of LGBT+ fiction will have read some of her work. I re-read them occasionally and am shocked at how succinct they are. She expresses very complex emotions in a few perfectly chosen words, with such subtlety that an idle reader can easily miss their importance. Alternatively her history is depicted in broad strokes and bright colours so even people who know nothing about the era can enjoy the visual images. I read The King Must Die when I was 8. I cried my eyes out for the King horse and poor Hercules the bull. It was only later, when I was in my teens that I spotted all the other references that showed that she was depicting a society far more tolerant of other sexualities than 1960s Herefordshire!
My second inspirational author – on so many levels – is Rosemary Sutcliff. Despite very poor health than limited her mobility she never allowed anyone to put limits on her imagination. I love all her books – her Roman cycle starting with The Eagle of the Ninth is still a frequent re-read – but the one that stuck in my mind most was Sword At Sunset, her telling of the Arthurian myth giving it a proper Dark Ages context. She covers the usual desperately sad love triangle where Arthur is betrayed by his adored queen and his equally adored best friend, both of whom adore him but just can’t help themselves. Aged 12, that aspect of the story interested me a lot less than the soldiering parts but there my heart was given to the first absolutely non-critical depiction of a same sex relationship I had ever seen. Two of Arthur’s soldiers are stated explicitly to be lovers. One is a trusted lieutenant and the other, in a different unit, is also a valued member of the band. They stole every scene they were in – loving, brave and playful. Of course it follows the trope of the time and they weren’t allowed to live, but even their deaths were to great purpose. Neither were wasted and they were never belittled. For the time, especially for a book that would be read by children, that was SO unusual. If you haven’t come across it, please read it but it will make more sense if you read The Lantern Bearers first.
The third of the triumvirate I didn’t find until I was in my early twenties, recently married and out of work. I devoured everything of hers I could get from the library and, since they were out of print, even rang the publisher to find out if they planned another edition. Dorothy Dunnett’s The Lymond Chronicles was my crack for years! Her work seems very mannered now, overly scholarly perhaps, a bit rambling because she’s as much about politics and military manoeuvring as romance, but the romance is there and it’s a long delicious slow burn over 10 years and more than ten countries showing all the great statesmen of the mid 16th century complete with dirty linen. Her hero, Lymond, is canonically bisexual and is, as one of the other male characters describes him, “gorgeous”. He roams from palace to palace across Europe collecting and discarding minions, lovers and disciples, survives close contact with both Suleiman the Magnificent and Ivan the Terrible and – OMG I loved every second of it! Very highly recommended but bear in mind that we rarely see what’s going on in Lymond’s head, instead joining the other characters is asking ‘Just what the heck is he up to?’ If you don’t think you can bear it and need that tight focus on the main character’s inner monolgues, read The Captive Prince instead because Laurent is SO Lymond and there’s no higher praise than that. But I hope you’ll start with book one – The Game of Kings. Yes it sounds a bit like A Game of Thrones and there is a Cersei character in it but the whole thing is a lot funnier than ASOIAF.
Of course I have other heroes as well now some of whom I know personally and who allow me to beta read their stories and who beta read mine and I hope that one day I might write as well as they do too. But no names, no pack drill as they say.
Malcolm Bright, brand new museum curator in a small Welsh Border town, is a little lonely until – acting as emergency archaeological consultant on a new housing development – he crosses the path of Rob Escley, aka Dirty Rob, who makes Mal’s earth move in more ways than one.
Then Rob discovers something wonderful, and together they must combat greedy developers and a treasure hunter determined to get his hands on the find. Are desperate measures justified to save the bones of our fathers? Will Dirty Rob live up to his reputation? Do museum curators really do it meticulously?
Answers must be found for the sake of Mal’s future, his happiness and his heart.
This was my first book by Elin Gregory and by Manifold Press. I have met the author at conventions and heard wonderful things about her writing, so when we were offered the chance to read and review this book, her first contemporary M/M story, I could not resist. The author has written several historical books and works in a museum, when she is not writing. This knowledge and respect for history can be clearly felt in this book.
Elin Gregory really brings Pemberland, a small Welsh border town to life in vivid colors. The book transported me to the quiet and peaceful town and though I love big cities, I could not help but fall in love with the place and the wonderful cast of unforgettable characters that inhabit it.
The book is written in Mal’s perspective. He’s the new curator in the Pemberland Centre for Heritage and Culture, a small museum in a small town with few visitors, but a lot of wonderful history that he can’t wait to dive in to. He is looking forward to updating the exhibition in time, but it is a lot of work with little funding and the library was moved into the same building before he arrived and the museum had to downsize. I loved getting a glimpse behind the curtain of museums and not only did I adore Mal as main character, but his love and passion for history is inspiring and will make me look at future museum visits in a new light.
I really enjoyed the different tone of this book. It seemed quiet, charming and real to me. Kind of like it sometimes feels more captivating when someone tells an intriguing story and you have to lean in to hear it. There is beauty and love and passion, but also tension and mystery. The book really is beautifully written.
It does not take long for Mal to catch the eye of ‘dirty’ Rob, a local öperator of heavy machinery. I loved how open and honest Rob’s lust and later affection for Mal is. Pemberland may be a small town, but it feels like a pretty accepting place where everyone knows everyone else and they all live together in peace. Ironically, one would think that in a bigger city like Bristol, where Mal came from (a beautiful city in its own right) he could have lived more openly, but in fact due to Mal’s ex boyfriend the opposite was the case. Pemberland does not seem like a place where big LGBTQ parades would be held, but Mal and Rob seem to be able to lead a quiet and happy life there and people seem to mostly accept them.
The mystery of this book is a very interesting archaeological find that might put the town and the museum on the map. I loved how it showed me how important historical finds can be even for contemporary times. However, it is also the source of a lot of tension, which made the story more complicated and interesting. It even brings tension into Mal and Rob’s budding romance and the problems are serious and not just silly misunderstandings. Issues of trust and ethics that were handled well by the author.
Mal and Rob’s romance is passionate, without being explicit. They connect in a strong way and fit together very well. They laugh together, have hot sex together (even at times in very unique places), can really talk and listen or be quiet together. The relationship seemed very real and it was great to see how the worlds of both men with friends and family were woven together.
There were so many wonderful side characters and however small their role, the author brought them to life with loving care and made them and the city they inhabit very special.
I can strongly recommend this wonderful story and would like to encourage you to give it a try and to fall in love with the town and ìts people like I did.
Rating: 9/10 Pots of Gold (90% Recommended) – Compares to 4.5/5 Stars
Elin Gregory lives in South Wales and works in a museum in a castle built on the edge of a Roman Fort! She reckons that’s a pretty cool job.
Elin usually writes on historical subjects, and enjoys weaving the weird and wonderful facts she comes across in her research into her plots. She likes her heroes hard as nails but capable of tenderness when circumstances allow. Often they are in danger, frequently they have to make hard choices, but happy endings are always assured.
Current works in progress include one set during the Great War, another in WW2, one set in the Dark Ages and a series of contemporary romances set in a small town on the Welsh border.
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