The Reluctant Berserker
Samhain / February 25, 2014 / $5.50 digital
Wulfstan, a noble and fearsome Saxon warrior, has spent most of his life hiding the fact that he would love to be cherished by someone stronger than himself. Not some slight, beautiful nobody of a harper who pushes him up against a wall and kisses him.
In the aftermath, Wulfstan isn’t sure what he regrets most—that he only punched the churl in the face, or that he really wanted to give in.
Leofgar is determined to prove he’s as much of a man as any Saxon. But now he’s got a bigger problem than a bloody nose. The lord who’s given him shelter from the killing cold is eyeing him like a wolf eyes a wounded hare.
When Wulfstan accidentally kills a friend who is about to blurt his secret, he flees in panic and meets Leofgar, who is on the run from his lord’s lust. Together, pursued by a mother’s curse, they battle guilt, outlaws, and the powers of the underworld, armed only with music…and love that must overcome murderous shame to survive.
Romance readers are crying out for historicals in less familiar settings and Alex Beecroft is stepping up with thoroughly researched, diverse, and immersive m/m stories. Set in 8th-century Britain, this takes us into the heart of a complex culture — one in which it's accepted, even expected, for warriors to rape the men they capture and for lords to keep pretty boys as sexual playthings, but actually wanting to receive such attentions is anathema. Be warned — it can be a violent world.
The structure of the book is somewhat unusual. Although our two heroes briefly meet — and haunt each other's dreams thereafter — for the first half of the story they're on separate journeys. Each, though, is dealing with their world's convoluted approach to sexuality and masculinity. Burly warrior Wulfstan is seduced and betrayed by a friend, with tragic consequences. Traveling minstral Leofgar faces rape from a lord, because his slender prettiness equates with womanliness. When they join forces on a pilgrimage, they come up against vengeful pursuers, witchcraft, and outlaws — but the greatest threat to their relationship may be their own internalized homophobia.
This is a rich setting, and the intersection of sexuality with sexism, class, and religion all play into the story. “Do you think I — looking like this — do not know exactly how this world works for boys and women and slaves?” Leofgar says bitterly, while the secretly submissive Wulfstan ponders why “God had, for some reason, chosen to make him nithing — to make him soft, like a woman.” (Our heroes are both Catholic, though still with strong ties to the displaced Pagan religion; in one comic moment, Wulfstan is struck with the thought that the power of confession and repentance means he could have sex with a man and “afterwards God could make it as though it had not happened at all. What a magic there was in this! What a freedom!”) The care with which the story is written extends to the happy ending: the lessons Wulfstan and Leofgar learn about themselves, and the value of women and “womanly” attributes, grow gracefully out of their beliefs and experiences.
This isn't the story if you're in the mood for casual reading with lots of sexy times, but if you want to enter another world and see falling in love through very different eyes, look no further.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of The Reluctant Berserker by Alex Beecroft, available on February 25, 2014: