I’m ploughing a hard furrow at the moment with a mule that’s on three legs and a swinger, and with Christmas coming up it’s enough to drive a body to drink. But I don’t drink so instead I mine the M/M pit for gems and take my mind of the situation by reading a lot.
This weeks gem is a softly glowing pearl of a book – Like Fire through Bone by E E Ottoman.
I’m a real history nerd and feel that some periods and places are unjustly neglected, so it was a HUGE treat to find this book set in something very much like the Eastern Roman Empire. Byzantium/Constantinople is never mentioned and the geography has been fiddled with a bit, but the world was familiar, lush, horrifying and complex. I loved that.
Then there are the characters. Firstly Vasilios, the MC, a castrato who was captured in war and mutilated. Rather than falling into despair he worked hard and has made himself indispensable to his master, a merchant whose health is failing. These eunuch bureaucrats, highly educated, highly motivated, cultured and competitive, were the driving force behind the Roman Empire, both east and west and the Ottoman Empire that followed, in government, th military, financial institutions, the church and right down to household level. Vasilios runs his master’s household, directs his business, disciplines the other servants and has more or less given up on doing anything other than serve others. He’s a sweet, gentle, intelligent man who is appreciated only as a valuable asset rather than a person in his own right. His one little self indulgence is a wistful crush on General Markos, confidant of the Emperor.
Then Vasilios begins to have horrifying dreams and realises that they have a bearing on a task that the General is trying to accomplish. This provides the excuse fr him to meet the General more often and the crush blossoms as he realises that the General too may be harbouring feelings for him. Markos is a tough guy but benign who has attained his rank through competence and loyalty rather than birth or connections. As such he’s a very good match for Vasilios.
Their gentle and careful courtship forms part of the story. Other themes are a dark paranormal tale concerning devils and murder and the utter vulnerability of slaves in a world where they have absolutely no rights and can be killed, discarded, used or brutalised at their owners whim.
I read this book almost at a sitting and enjoyed every word of it. Very highly recommended. If you want a standard romance structure you might be a little disappointed in the slightly ambiguous ending but for me it was perfect for Vasilios and an ending that is good for the character has to be better than one that panders to readers tastes doesn’t it? Get it, read it. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did.