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Old 01-15-2012, 11:19 PM   #12041
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Went straight from Stross' Rule 34 to two demonstrated iterations of it, in f/m/m and what, disappointingly, did not turn out to be m/f/f flavours.

Every so often I get morbidly curious about something that shows up in the Fictionwise New Releases listing. And every so often, it happens to coincide with a 50%+ sale, which makes it more economically viable to indulge said morbid curiosity, provided the samples read well and it doesn't look like I'll be spending that "saved" money on brain bleach and mental floss instead.

And thus did I acquire two novellas by one Diana Bold, a reasonably-literate grandmotherly writer of historical erotic romance, published by Cobblestone Press.

Mind you, I didn't buy them both at once, but spaced with several weeks/months between, as I was curious enough about the first one to pick it up during a previous sale, and then this new one showed up this week with the current 50% off coupon so I had to read the first one to decide if I wanted to get the second.

Briony's Soldiers is a grand sweeping saga set in the Civil War US South, as a fiery former belle, now saddened and wisened by bitter experience, struggles to maintain and restore her beloved plantation, while her heart is caught between her attractions to the mild-mannered fair-haired beau of her youth and the forceful, darkly compelling new man of her fancy.

No wait, that's Gone With the Wind.

But Briony is indeed set post-bellum. And it's got the classic Blonde, Brunette, Redhead trio, with the "scarlet" woman in the middle.

Long story short: BFFs Heath and Morgan return home from the battlefield to revisit an old childhood friend and flame, which promptly rekindles. The problem (one of them, anyway) is that Heath and Morgan have been doing some impromptu battlefield male bonding, so to speak, and at least one of them doesn't want to stop now that the war's over. In the meantime, Briony remains attracted to both, and while her heart pulls her more strongly towards one, she really doesn't want to give either up.

Fortunately, this is the sort of sensible story where she won't have to (not a spoiler, it Says So Right In The Blurb, which was one of the reasons why I picked it up).

The major hurdle is everyone convincing everyone else and being convinced that it could all work out, despite convention and society and personal insecurity and all, which refreshingly provide the relationship drama in this, rather than setting up the standard sort of love triangle, which personally I've always believed should simply resolve into a threesome provided the parties involved are reasonably balanced and compatible and affectionate with each other instead of going with the angst and heartbreak and "we'll always treasure you as a dear sweet friend" option. Treasure them as a dear sweet friend with benefits, eh?

In any case, despite the wish-fulfillment and unrealistic sex aspects of this (certain acts do tend to require more preparation and practice than depicted for people who've never had any experience before), the personal/historical aspects of the situation are handled well enough.

There's reasonable explanation for Heath and Morgan breaking the taboo against "male bonding" in the first place, and Briony is right to worry about loss of status/social leverage from marrying the overseer's son instead of the heir to the neighbouring plantation, and all three of them worry realistically about unequally-experienced attraction and affection and the corresponding jealousy and sharing issues that will undoubtedly arise.

I especially like how they negotiate boundaries and consent in advance to making any commitment, which is how most successful (or at least reasonably functional until they implode) poly relationships actually work. Unusually, the potential jealousy in centred around one of the men; usually in f/m/m ménages it's the woman who's presented as the primary attractant, at least in the freebie-offered ones whose blurbs I've skimmed.

Overall, while this was a bit of a superficial story, it did have enough depth and promise that it could have been reasonably fleshed-out into a moderately compelling novel, and I liked it enough that I did indeed go and buy the author's FW new release in this morning's batch o'purchases, which I read on the bus (not the entire batch; just this one).

Forget Me Not has as its premise a pregnant woman stumbling across an amnesiac outlaw who seems perfect to take the place of the man who abandoned her with child on the Western frontier. Or does he… ?

Apparently late-term pregnancy romances and amnesiac romances form small but significant subniches of mainstream genre romance, and is probably exemplified in the sporfle-tastic Harlequin-published Pregnesia, which in addition to having a cracktackular (but very self-explanatorily descriptive) title, also comes with a thoroughly hilarious review from the SBTB blog.

So yeah, I was morbidly curious about this one, too.

And again, while the issues were dealt with in a not-particularly-deep manner, they do arise and are given reasonably realistic weight.

Not really a spoiler for how things turn out, but just in case you really want to have no notion whatsoever going in:

Susannah feels guilt over deceiving Josh by omission and worries quite rightly that her actions will cost her the love they are building. But despite that, she can't bring herself to tell him the truth for fear that he'll abandon her to her uneasy and potentially-fatal abandoned-and-widowed-single-frontier-mom situation and keeps making excuses and justifications for putting off "the reveal". In the meantime, Josh notices that she's not telling him the truth and himself worries that it's due to his having been a neglectful and/or abusive husband in the past, until his own past catches up to him thus giving him more important things to worry about, like whether what he though was love was simply quiet desperation. Oh, and people trying to kill and abandon him for dead.

Given what conditions were historically like for isolated and dependent women with no money or means at the time (even ones that weren't about to give birth right in the second chapter), I can't really blame Susannah for grasping at whatever support she sees. On the other hand, I'd be far less forgiving also, since if I'd spent several weeks
with no notion whatsoever of who I was and someone kept allowing me to believe that I'd spent my life as neglectful/abusive/incompetent life-partner and they were giving me a second chance not to screw up when they themselves knew perfectly well otherwise,
I'd have walked and never looked back the instant the memory flashback hit.

But this being romance, it all ends happily ever after, even for
the girl whom Josh thought he left behind when he lost all memory of who he really was.
But they do not resolve that particular potential love triangle with an f/m/f threesome, although they do all end up as friends. Just not friends with benefits, alas.

Mild recommend for both novellas, if they're the sort of thing you might be interested in. Emotional and ethical parts of the stories dealt with decently enough considering, prose reasonably well done, characters with realistic concerns drawn okay.

Not great stuff, but good enough with potential; enough so that I'm considering for future FW deep-discount purchase one of the author's longer works which has elements which look somewhat interesting, just to see if she does flesh things out accordingly with more room to work in.

Last edited by ATDrake; 01-16-2012 at 01:49 AM. Reason: Minor clarifications for context. And tag possible spoilers.
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