THE RELUCTANT BERSERKER by Alex Beetrooft
Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd. (February 25, 2014)
It is the 800’s A.D. in England, the time of the Anglo-Saxons. The warrior Wulfstan has accompanied his lord to another lord’s hall where he encounters the harpist Leofge. In a mad impulse the latter engulfs Wulfstan in a kiss, an act that Wulfstan has longed for but denied himself so as not to lose status as a man. But later he is drawn to a friend to share his bedroll, a friend who chooses to out him and whom he accidentally kills. In the meantime Leofger has been traveling with his master musician who dies of old age in another land. The two, Wulfstan who wants expiation for his sins, and Leofger who just wants to get away from the bed of his new chieftain, are both headed for a shrine at Ely.
They meet when Wulfstan is has been attacked by bandits. Wulfstan is amazed that this man who kissed him and who has occupied his thoughts ever since is his savior. The two find refuge at a convent, but Leofger is discovered by his erstwhile chieftain and forced to return with him. When he learns of this, Wulfstan goes after to rescue Leofger.
This novel is, among other things, remarkably true to the culture, beliefs, and ways of life of the 9th century Anglo Saxons, something the author attributes to her involvement with the historical reenactment group, Regia Angler,. The fact is that while, as it ever has been, there are men who are drawn to other men for love and sex, the culture did not encourage this, seeing the passive role of the “bottom” in mean on man sex demeans and effeminizes that man. Neither Wulfstan, a warrior, nor Leofger, a proud man, wants to be seen as the “woman” in their relationship. It will take a great deal of love and self-acceptance for either man to give over their lives, hearts and bodies to each other.
In the meantime the mother of the slain fried of Wulfstan’s follows him and tries to destroy him with magick. This provide the dichotomy of the new religion, Christianity, and the old Pagan ways that comes forth in every character’s self view and actions. It would be hard to imagine what it would be like to live with these two warring religions always in conflict within oneself.
Beetroot has done a fine job weaving a meaningful tale into this piece of remarkably accurate historical fiction. The culture demands a careful hand at interpretation, but the needs of the real men it portrays requires some artistry to make them believable. Plus the characters, not only Wulfstan and Leofger but all the other secondary characters, are well drawn and complex.