Even before Downton Abbey’s success I’ve been on the lookout for fiction about World War I and the immediate post-war period, and romance in particular. I haven’t found that many romances set in the narrow window between the Edwardian Period/Gilded Age and the 1920s. Several of those I did find revolving around the Great War were male/male relationships. (I’m wondering if part of that is the common cultural images of soldiers bonding in the trenches.) Some of the stories in this post are more on the erotica side, some were clearly romance. Each one takes a different angle on the war and surviving it, as well as slightly different angles on how the characters handle being gay men in a time when they might be arrested for it.
Note that aside from one example (Whistling in the Dark), these stories are all shorter than novel-length. As all are from electronic-only or smaller presses, I’ve included the publisher name to make the stories easier to locate.
Josh Lanyon’s “The Dark Farewell” (Samhain) – This was one of the best stories I read; it’s set in the 1920s, but the War is essential to the characterization of David Flynn, a veteran who’s still grieving for his dead lover. David encounters Julian Devereux, a much younger spiritual medium whose powers are actually real…possibly.
David is investigating a serial killer in a small town, while Julian might have a link to the killer. The mystery plot provides tension as does Julian’s fraught relationship with his overbearing father. David and Julian’s budding romance was gripping, and I wish the story had been longer; the ending makes it obvious there are many challenges ahead for the couple. I’d like to see them!
Also from Josh Lanyon is “Out of the Blue” (Liquid Silver; print format in Esprit de Corps from MLR Press). I consider this one to be historical fiction/erotica. It’s set in the thick of the War, among the pilots of the Royal Flying Corps, who generally had very short lifespans and a consequently immense stress level, which of course lends intensity to the plot.
Once again we have a hero, Bat Bryant, who’s grieving the man he loved, whom he’s unable to publicly acknowledge. When the story opens, Bat is being threatened with exposure; his reaction puts him into a dangerous situation from which he is rescued by an American pilot known as “Cowboy.” A sexual relationship is part of Cowboy’s price for his silence; this is complicated by the fact that Bat and his dead lover never had sex—Bat is very much a romantic, while Cowboy is of the “have sex now, we might die tomorrow” type. Those who like complex Alpha heroes might enjoy this one in particular.
“Dulce Et Decorum Est” by J. L. Merrow (Dreamspinner) is a much softer, more romantic tale set after the war’s ending. Matthew Connaught lost an arm in battle, but he’s the happier, more carefree of the two men; he’s just glad he survived his wound, and plans to make the most of the rest of his life. The protagonist, George Johnson, is emotionally closed-off because he’s hiding a secret (besides being gay!) that is his main obstacle to a relationship with Matthew. This is one that fans of sweeter romances might like.
Finally, Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen (Lethe) is another that fans of “sweet” romances would likely enjoy, as well as those who like historical fiction. It’s a complex story set in New York City shortly after the War has ended; two young veterans find and help each other with the war’s personal fallout. I felt that the main strength of the novel was Allen’s deft use of historical detail, but the romance is fairly complex as well.
Sutton Albright has become estranged from his family and the most important part of himself because of his sexual orientation, while Jack Bailey is suffering from shellshock and the loss of his parents in the influenza pandemic. Since this story is novel-length, there’s room for a number of secondary characters, who gradually form a sort of family with their own secondary relationships and romances. I particularly liked that the novel showed gay culture during that period; underground, but flourishing; this is often glossed over in male/male historical stories, in favor of a tighter focus on the romance.
I welcome suggestions of other stories set during or after World War One!
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.