Monday, February 14, 2011

The Lion of Kent by Aleksandr Voinov & Kate Cotoner

TITLE: The Lion of Kent
AUTHOR: Aleksandr Voinov & Kate Cotoner
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novella
GENRE: Gay historical erotic romance
COST: $3.59

After five years away from his estate, Sir Robert de Cantilou has returned from the Crusades, ready to return to the life he once knew. None is more happy to see him than Squire William Raven. As the bastard son of the manor’s reeve, William is determined to become a knight and bring honor to his name. He’s inspired by the example Sir Robert sets and dreams of finally getting his spurs, but his focus gets diverted by sudden intrigue within the castle and a mysterious man who visits him at night, making him feel things he’s never felt before…

Earlier this year, I reviewed an anthology over at Three Dollar Bill Reviews that introduced me to the work of Aleksandr Voinov. The story he co-wrote in it was hands down one of my favorites within the collection, and I decided to pursue more of his work, only to realize that I had this novella, co-written with a different author, already sitting in my virtual TBR pile. I pulled it out eagerly, and though it doesn’t reach the heights of the short story I read, it’s certainly a strong piece, meriting even more trust for this author and his work.

The story begins with Robert’s return as William is training. From the start, William is enthralled by the man, by his honor and goodness, by his physical attractiveness and keen intelligence. Robert is hosting a hunt for a group of French emissaries, which for William, seems like the perfect opportunity to finally prove his worth and earn his knighthood. His training seems to be a series of failures, however, his anxiety about looking good for Sir Robert getting the better of him more than once. The evening before their guests are to arrive, William is visited in the night by an unknown man, one who gets William off without ever seeking relief for himself. Life seems good to William, until he overhears a plot to kill Sir Robert. The most important thing now is to protect Robert no matter what.

This historical does what not very many in this genre really do for me – made me forget I was reading a historical. It’s not because of the lack of detail to create the setting. It’s the opposite. The story is just so well-realized that it never feels intrusive, never feels like I’m being reminded page after page that this happened a long time ago. It rings of authenticity, which is a credit both to the rather seamless prose and the meticulous structure of its presentation. There aren’t awkward information dumps, or pages of facts that have nothing to do with moving the story forward. I sank into this story as if I was a squire within Sir Robert’s household already, a natural extension of the world the authors created. In fact, the only thing holding me back from believing in it one hundred percent was the occasional anachronistic term.

William gets compared constantly to a young lion, but honestly, I never understood the appellation (though Robert explains himself toward the end, an explanation that seemed utterly superficial compared to the depths of the rest of the tale). Instead, he seemed very much the eager puppy to me, panting to please his master, tumbling over his own gangly legs in his efforts because he has yet to learn his own balance. This manifests in every aspect of William’s life – his fighting, where his impetuosity often gets the better of him; his actions, where he leaps to be the hero rather than take the safer, surer approach; his sex, where he fumbles to be everything he can for the man he adores. It’s symptomatic of his age as he’s very young and green in this, but it also makes it a little hard to take him completely seriously.

Robert, on the other hand, is suitably enigmatic, with an appealing melancholy edge. His characterization suffers, however, as he’s seen so much through William’s rose-colored glasses. I never quite believe he’s as good as all that, in spite of all the right moves that he makes. He’s just a little too altruistic in their affair, though I wonder if that might have been mitigated if I’d been able to perceive William as he does. When he explains in the story about why William, I found myself wondering, “Huh? That doesn’t sound like the guy I’ve been reading about.” It leaves the romance in this feeling only partially formed. The sex scenes are functional without having the real heat I would have expected considering the passionate prose, and my commitment to the ending isn’t complete.

However, considering what an immersive world the authors created, those are minor quibbles. I was still very much invested in following William’s adventures, regardless of how correct his actions were or who he might take up with, and credit for that is due to the wonderful scene-setting constructed around him.


9/10 – Intelligent and immersive

Hero #1

7/10 – More like an eager puppy than the lion Robert kept proclaiming him to be, but still charming in his own way

Hero #2

6/10 – Enigmatic with an air of melancholy

Entertainment value

7/10 – Transports to the time and place, and if I didn’t completely fall for the romance, the setting made up for it

World building

9/10 – Vibrantly realized, the only reason this isn’t perfect is because of some of the modern terminology that occasionally shattered the illusion




Kassa said...

Great review. I've heard a lot about this story around the blog sites and may need to bite the bullet with it. Thanks!

Book Utopia Mom said...

I really like Voinov's voice and storytelling style. There's an intelligence to his prose that appeals to me a lot. If you do read this, I hope you like it. :)