Christopher Moss (formerly Nan Hawthorne)
Historical novelist with a particular interest in the power of historical fiction to explore the lives of GLBTQ people. Periods of expertise: Anglo Saxon England, the Middle Ages in general, and a new focus on the American Civil War. Editor of Our Story: GLBTQ historical Fiction at http://www.glbtbookshelf.com . Hawthorne's first novel, An involuntary king: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England, available here on Smashwords, is one of the 2012 IndieB.R.A.G. Medallion Honorees www.bragmedallion.com/ . I am transgender and formerly wrote as "Nan Hawthorne."
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Smashwords book reviews by Christopher Moss (formerly Nan Hawthorne)
- The Confession of Piers Gaveston
on Nov. 09, 2009
This is a wonderful story of an oft-villefied yet rarely examined life, the life of the lover of King Edward II of England. Told with an awareness of just how unreliable a first person memoir can be, Purdy handles this coplex love story with sensitivity and a real skill at character development and storytelling.
- The Amber Treasure
on Dec. 11, 2009
The Amber Treasure
The Amber Treasure is the story of Cerdic, a young Angle living in the Dark Ages kingdom of Deira at the end of the sixth century AD/CE. During his lifetime Cerdic is fated to find himself in the midst of the last Celtic attempt to drive the descendants of the Germanic invaders from what was once their land. Starting in childhood, Cerdic is as much subject to the legends and songs of the great Northumbrian warlords told by the bards as any other boy. It is how he learns what warfare really means to him as a person that makes The Amber Treasure the gripping and satisfying tale it is.
Cerdic is the son of a farmer of higher rank, the nephew of a warrior lord whose heroic death is the impossible standard for a young man's plans. He lives a secure life in the Villa, the old Roman farmhouse now crumbling but nevertheless symbolic of a time he cannot quite understand. He has every reason to believe his placid life will continue as it is, that is, until Celtic raiders come and steal a precious treasure from the Villa, amber jewelry presented by the king as reward to the great hero's wife and now the possession of Cerdic's mother. The Celts, which Denning calls "Welsh" from the old English word for foreigner, take more than the jewelry. They take other precious things, his older brother's life, his sister as a slave, his innocence and youth and his trust in both a Welsh slave and his own half brother, his father's unacknowledged and bitter bastard. As part of a small force he travels to Welsh Elmet to get his sister and the treasure back and to avenge the violation of his home and trust. His heroism in freeing all the captives leads to his involvement in a larger effort to prevent a huge Celtic force from overthrowing Deira. The constant impact of disappointment, disillusionment and compromise not only constitutes Cerdic's own growing maturity and leadership but sets the stage for his future adventures.
The Amber Treasure is the story of three swords, the image that is the spine of this novel. Cerdic's warrior uncle's sword stands for the heroic heritage the young man longs to live up to. The second is a fine newly forged sword that is too rare and dear for anyone to wield until it is won by an unworthy man. The third is the sword of a long dead Roman that Cerdic takes from the hand of the first man he kills in battle, the sword that is the reality of war to both the young man and to us, the readers. The symbolism here is also emblematic of one of the things about this novel I most appreciated. Unlike so many depictions of the Middle Ages of late, Dennning provides us with a credible disillusion with battle and glory that is untouched by false modern sensibilities. Cerdic's falling out of love with his uncle's legacy is the natural outgrowth of real experience, coming from an intelligent and reflective mind. It is a grim recognition of the consequences, not a lecture from a distant post-modern future.
Denning presents us with an interpreted early England that does not much stray from what is known but rather offers a flavor of it enhanced with engrossing descriptions, such as the King's hall, the nature of shield wall battle, the stink and fascination of the city of Eoforwic.
The author has a knack with characterization as well, constructing distinct and consistent main and secondary characters, Cerdic's family and friends, the leaders he watches for how to inspire and also not to inspire men and how to make decisions, the enemies who become clearly human to him, and the two young men who challenge his prejudices. Along with the imagery of the swords, the common binding of the novel is a bard, Lilla, an almost unworldly figure who represents the illusion of glory. You know Cerdic has fully matured when he turns to Lilla at a critical moment and tells him to tell his tale another time, for something more important must come first.
This novel is intended to be part of a continuing story and as such is told by Cerdic from the perspective of many years later in his life. I look forward to what Denning does with this.
All in all, The Amber Treasure is a strong and engaging tale told with skill and eloquence, satisfying and yet thought-provoking by an able storyteller.
on Aug. 14, 2010
From That's All She Read http://allsheread.blogspot.com
My regular readers are watching me spread my wings and read novels from other than the Middle Ages. Thanks to the proliferation of independent publishing, and in the case of Libertas, many more small publishers, divers authors' love for and knowledge of so many more times and places is becoming available. This novel is a case in point.
The time is the first century BC, the place Roman Spain. I should say "grudgingly Roman" Spain, but then that is one of the themes of this novel. Pito is a young boy whose heritage goes back to the seafaring Phoenicians. He lives in a town in south central Iberia which has been "civilized" by Roman influences. The Romans did an excellent job of coming in to a culture, offering the best of their civilization, sewage disposal, clean wells, communications systems, and so forth, and winning their tacit support of "the Roman Way". The trouble is that the Romans did not stop there. Ultimately it was the sword they wielded to command loyalty. In Libertas what Pito and his people face is Julius Caesar just as he is angling to be God and Emperor. The two sons of the great Pompey are in Spain to try to keep it Julius-free, part of the on-going and fascinating struggle between republicanism and dictatorship throughout the Roman Empire. The younger, Sextus, is a charismatic and fun-loving fellow, very clever and just flexible enough to be a survivor. He befriends Pito, who turns out to have a flair for engineering and invention in general. He develops a signaling system to warn the republican armies of Julius Caesar's movements. Sadly the resistance is not successful, many of the leaders are killed, and the rest are refugees. Pito's family is enslaved and he leaves with no less a celebrity as Agrippa for Rome.
Thanks to mischance Pito winds up in Sicilia, which just happens to be where Sextus has flown. He remains and helps this old friend to develop some improvements in weaponry in exchange for Sextus finding and rescuing his family, who are now slaves in Rome. It is the downfall of Julius Caesar, "Et tu, Brute" and all that, that facilitates their emancipation. Pito and family return to Spain where they discover that in Caesar's wake the petty warlords they set up have gone to town, especially Arsay, Pito's long archenemy. Arsay is a real S.O.B. and is crucifying people right and left. The mountain people, Celts I assume, are only too happy to help Pito and his friends fight Arsay's force. They are outnumbered and "outgunned" and though encouraged by a talking eagle who tells Pito to get over himself, Pito is not so sure they can win.
There are several things I really liked about this novel. One is that it takes place in a new time and place for me. I mean, I have read about the depredations of Julius Caesar in Gaul in Druids by Morgan Llywelyn, and about the Peninsula Wars in Portugal and Spain in Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels, but putting Spain and the Roman era together was fascinating. I am starting to want to know more and more about more and more times and places. I personally find historical fiction offers a more human and identifiable way of telling about a place and time, so I am in hog heaven with books like Libertas.
One thing I have discovered about myself is that I am most drawn to novels with what they call in Hollywood "a good ensemble cast". Translated to novels, that means distinct characters who are believable because they think differently, they talk differently and they act differently. Forrest did a fine job with this. Besides Pito, who is daring but painfully aware of the odds he is up against, and Sextus who is not surprisingly bound to become a sort of swashbuckling pirate, there are Liandra, Pito's early girlfriend who becomes a leader and warrior in her own right - nicely done, Alistair! - Ziri, the Berber who is mystical, Pito's mountain friends who are rather like Native Americans in that they live on the land, value it, and stick to themselves, Agrippa, valiant and capable, and, of course, Arsay, the epitome of the big dumb bully who is nevertheless able to take over.
The spirituality in this novel tends to an amalgam of polytheism, angels, mystical monotheism, and Earth religions. Eagles symbolize for Pito and the reader the overwhelming power of the elemental. One eagle promised Pito he would be a light to his people. And in regard to that, the next thing I liked about this novel is how Pito handles this knowledge, not at all the brave and bold hero but with self-doubt, fear he has to fight to control, and plenty of humility.
“Libertas” in this novel is not just freedom from oppression of the Romans but Pito’s invitation to and initiation into what the author calls “covenant”, a bonding and promise between people that is their free choice, and the sort of freedom symbolized by the eagles and their flight, their oversight of all below. In contrast, the villain Arsay subscribes to eagles as a spiritual force, but he wore eagle feathers, as a way to co-opt the power for himself.
My single favorite thing in the novel is one line, describing Agrippa's men's departure from the nomad camp where they have stayed for some days: “the hardened soldiers among us were moved, waving last farewells to the women each had befriended.” Befriended! What a wonderful way to describe the bonding, even temporarily of sexual partners! What a female-positive and refreshing approach to the whole issue of soldiers and the women they take to their beds while in foreign places. I think Richard Sharpe would understand that line. Along with Liandra and her companion Cassia it is clear from this characterization of friendship between the sexes that Forrest embraces the strength of women. Bravo!
There were times when I thought the action skipped forward too abruptly,the plot becoming ragged. Aetna eripts while Pito is in Sicilia, but I am unsure what the point of this was as it did not seem to me to advance the story. Nevertheless this was a thoughtful and at the same time exciting novel.
The publisher, Queastor, sent me a copy of the digital file of this book in exchange for a review, which I have finally gotten to. I read it using the text-to-speech feature on my Kindle 2.
- For Honor: An Adventure of What Might Have Been
on Aug. 14, 2010
This is definitely a novel for fans of The Three Musketeers. It's written well and fun and mostly in jokes and stories meant to appeal to the enthusiast. I am not a particular 3Ms fan, so it wasn't for me, but definitely might be the cat's meow for you.
- Time Well Bent: Queer Alternative Histories
on March 18, 2011
I am convinced that historical fiction is how you take a series of recorded events and illustrate them to make them real by speculating how it may have been for the people who lived through it. One of my favorite examples is Anel Viz's Memoirs of Colonel Gérard Vreilhac where the experience of living in Paris during the storming of the Bastille but in another part of the city may have been like: how did you find out about it? what did you think? Were you afraid? Did you have a loved one you worried about? Nothing about the sequence of the notable events will give you that insight. That's where the historical novelist comes in, lending his or her empathy, imagination and intelligence to color an otherwise gray set of facts.
How more poignant then that whole communities of people are rarely represented in historical fiction? I am, of course, talking about gays and lesbians here. I remember reading an Amazon review of Brandy Purdy's The Boleyn Wife where the reader was shocked and dismayed at the portrayal of the gay members of the Evergreen Gallants. How much worse was it to be one of those fellows, or others if they were not gay, and knowing that simply becuase you loved and desired a person of your gender could result in your being torn apart and killed. This anthology of "what if" stories about gay and lesbian people, historical, interpreted or fictional, seeks to address that gap in our understanding of the human race and its history. Here, finally, that overlooked insight into what had so much impact on so many lives.
"What if" -- that is what every story in this mulitperiod selection of historical short stories asks. What if T. E. Lawrence could come to grips with his sexuality and realize that he was most effective and fulfilled while helping the people of the Aravbic world? What if Thomas Jefferson had insisted the right to marry as one wished was in the Bill of Rights? What if Isabella had known and loved a Moorish woman when she was young and as a result not pushed for the expulsion of non-Catholics from Spain? What if, instead of Marlowe, the man killed in Deptford was William Shakespeare, and Shakespeare's plays after that were written by Marlowe.. and Shakespeare's twin sister Judith? Those are the famous examples, but the book is full of more ordinary people. What if the woman chemist who parachuted into World War II Brittany had been responsible for the infamous explosion that destroyed a bridge and the Nazi munitions stored there? What if some Dutch mariners discovered that Coleridge's Xanadu was very real?
These stories are fun, insightful, challenging and sometimes quite moving. Of the last, my choice is Emily Salter's A Happier Year, in which a bereaved man seeks out E. M. Forster in the years after World War I because the author's novel allowed him to have a short period of utter contentment with the lover who died on the battlefield. That Lawrence might find contentment and completion made this old fan happy with At Reading Station, Changing Trains by C.A. Gardner. And don't tell me you can resist wanting to know Sandra Barret 's take on what happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke!
Not every story is A+ material, but they are nevertheless compelling. Along with Wilkins' astute introduction they combine to make speculative historical fiction, one of my favorite genres -- though isn't all historical fiction speculative? -- more complete and inclusive... and full of life, love, and hope.
This was originally published in That's All She Read allsheread.blogspot.com
- Southern Rose
on June 15, 2011
Originally published at Bosom Friends: Lesbian Historical Fiction.
Part of the appeal of historical fiction when it comes to GLBT novels is seeing how people find love and fulfillment in a time even more unfriendly to their happiness than now. When they overcome the odds set against them, it is just that much more gratifying to see love take root and grow. That is very much the case with the two women, Agnes and Rose, in Mary Winter’s Southern Rose, a lesbian erotic novel.
The setting is new Hope, Missouri, and the Civil War rages in the background. Rose is a widow who lost both her beloved husband and her child to scarlet fever no more than a year earlier. She has come to live with Agnes, a seamstress, in order to take a job as the town’s schoolteacher. She does not suspect the truth about Agnes, that in fact she is no respectable married woman but a former prostitute whose husband is a gay man who married Agnes to give her what she needed in polite society, a cover story. He is away at war, so the two women are thrown alone together. Each has had experience of love of another woman, though Agnes’s is much more sophisticated. When Rose nervously asks her landlady whether she gets “urges”, Agnes takes her to her room and shows her her wooden dildo collection. You can guess where that leads.
Of course, though this is clearly erotica, there is a story other than the ensuing sex. This is where the historical element shines. Beyond the two women’s inevitable inner conflict about whether she will think this, or whether the other will respond, and whether each is imagining the other’s interest, you have the social pressure that what each is doing is “wrong” and could be dangerous. The level of tension that results can be painful. What pulls the women together in spite of all that is stacked against their union is the compulsion of desire and ultimately true love. Agnes for instance is terrified to let anyone know, especially Rose, about her past. Will Rose be disgusted? Will she reject Agnes once she knows?
An interesting aspect of the two women’s relationship is the play of who’s stronger and who's the more innocent. At first it seems that Agnes, the worldly wise, is the rock. Then Rose, all Southern womanhood turns out to be the “steel magnolia”. Though not so street smart as Agnes, Rose turns out to be the sensible one when it comes to dealing with society.
The story takes place over just a few days, liberally supplied with erotic scenes that are explicit and poetic at the same time. The sense of the era is provided with brief effective observations, such as how a woman could not own property in her own right unless she inherited it from a late husband. Winter offers contrast between the outside world and the two women’s intimacy rather charmingly with the many layers of clothing that a respectable woman must wear no matter the weather, and it is the topic of appropriate dress for a widow that provides the resolution of the story.
If there was anything I found unpleasant in this short novel is that each woman in her own way shows a selfish disregard for the men in their lives when each expresses satisfaction that the guy died, making this new relationship possible. Agnes thinks about whether the official looking letter from the army will prove to be the news that will free her to pursue Rose. Rose tells Agnes that her late husband’s death is fine since it freed her to love Agnes. I was not comfortable with the throw away notion of these men’s lives. It communicated a coldness and lack of empathy on the part of the women to me. They may of course have felt this way, but if so, I liked the two women the less for it.
Though the author supplied me with the Kindle edition of the novel, I decided to buy it myself to support her. A review of Southern Rose appeared here on Bosom Friends before the two originators split and the other one’s reviews were removed. I promised Winter a new review, so I thought I owed her a sale. I appreciate that Winter and her publisher enabled text to speech on the Kindle edition so I could read it.
- Molly and the Vampire: A sensible woman learns about Love, Lust, and Things That Go Bump in the Night
on Aug. 12, 2011
I got to read this delightful novel in draft form, and was I in for a wonderful surprise. Laaksonen is a natural... a good writer, a great storyteller, funny and clever, and plenty sexy. I especially enjoyed the secondary characters, in particcular Crow and Minstrel. This is just such a fun read you will be glad you ran into Laaksonen's work and wit.
- Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure
on Oct. 20, 2011
The story where Arrthurian romance and gritty Hundred Years War "goddamns" (English soldiers) clash is a brilliant construction, done well and effectively. A squadron of knight, soldiers and archers come across a scene in the mountains as they desperately search for food and shelter. At the end of a bridge over a ravine is a knight all in black armor, unmoving, and a beautiful lady in a pavilion. The modern reader, aware of the chivalric image, knows what's up, but, except for the protagonist Jack, no one else thinks anything of it. What happens when the crude meets the ethereal and Jack transcends both is the point of this story. Lorde manages some quite marvelous images and writing. The story's end is intentionally nebulous.
- Queer Hauntings: True Tales of Gay and Lesbian Ghosts
on Oct. 20, 2011
It's refreshing to hear of gay and lesbian ghosts, though in fact that description does not fit all the entries. Many of the stories are of ghosts or imprinted memories of others in gay bars and hotels. Each tends to be long on the history behind the haunting and rather short on the details of the haunting itself. Nevertheless this is a fun, light, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant book. You will run into some celebrities: Piers Gaveston, Lizzie Borden, Rudolph Valentino, Clifton Webb, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Liberace. My personal favorite is the ghost in an English pub who likes to pull at men's pants zippers. The most moving tells of crowds of men fleeing a gay club in 18th century London, leaving the imprint of their terror on the streets. The stories, assuming of course they are true, attest to the existence of GLBTQ people throughout history, but the stories are also full of regret that so many loves and lives had to be clandestine or even unfulfilled because of society's oppression.