Blue Eyed Stranger (Trowchester Blues #2), Alex Beecroft
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Folk Dancing, Re-enactment MCs, Depression, Interracial Couple, Contemporary, Series/Same Universe
Length: 230 pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Billy Wright has a problem: he’s only visible when he’s wearing a mask. That’s fine when he’s performing at country fairs with the rest of his morris dancing troupe. But when he takes the paint off, his life is lonely and empty, and he struggles with crippling depression.
Martin Deng stands out from the crowd. After all, there aren’t that many black Vikings on the living history circuit. But as the founder of a fledgling historical re-enactment society, he’s lonely and harried. His boss doesn’t like his weekend activities, his warriors seem to expect him to run everything single-handedly, and it’s stressful enough being one minority without telling the hard men of his group he’s also gay.
When Billy’s and Martin’s societies are double-booked at a packed county show, they know at once they are kindred spirits, united by a deep feeling of connectedness to their history and culture. But they’re also both hiding in their different ways, and they need each other to be brave enough to take their masks off and still be seen.
Twenty six year old Martin Deng is a history teacher who is also involved with a re-enactment group. He’s a black Viking when in the character of Ametel, and he’s gay. He feels like a minority and Martin is very much in the closet. The school he teaches at is run by a principal who doesn’t much care for him or his hobbies. He’s heard plenty of ‘poofter’ jokes around re-enactment campfires so he’s worried about members of his group, Bretwalda, getting wind of his sexual orientation. And his dad is Sudanese and quite conservative – he must have a good job, marry a nice girl, settle down and be sensible. It seems that gay is not an option anywhere in Martin’s life.
“She’s wondering when she’s going to get grandchildren.” He could hear the narrowed eyes even over the phone.
Twenty four year old Billy Wright has inherited his parent’s property and converted it into three flats. He rents two out and lives in the third. To supplement that income he works odd jobs when he can. Billy also suffers from fairly major depression. He finds himself in bed more often than he should when he needs to zone out of the world around him. But he’s a Morris (folk) dancer and it’s something he never misses. It gives him purpose and it gives him routine. The thing is, Billy feels invisible. People talk over the top of him and no one seems to need his opinion. He lacks a sense of self-worth, something people definitely struggle with when depressed.
Martin and Billy meet under somewhat combative circumstances at the Trowchester show when re-enactment and dance clash. But Martin is intrigued by Billy’s blue eyes and Billy finds a warmth and a strength in Martin. From here on in they are, I suppose, an item. It isn’t traditional dating but they aren’t necessarily traditional guys, which sounds funny given they uphold tradition and customs from the 9th (re-enactment) and 15th (Morris dancing) centuries.
The biggest dilemma in Blue Eyed Stranger – a fitting title because of Billy’s eyes and a song he dances to – is how you deal with one man in the closet and one man deeply depressed. And Martin ends up with the rough end of the pineapple at the school he’s been teaching history at. It could have been angst-ridden or frustrating. However, it isn’t either of these, it’s sweet and gentle storytelling with a realism injected that made it even better. Martin’s sister, Sheena, also suffers from depression so he understands it and can empathise. Both men have history in common and embrace each other’s passion. There is a resolution to one issue, Martin coming out, and the beginning of hope for the other, Billy’s depression. The author doesn’t make everything suddenly and magically disappear but both men move forward positively.
The second instalment in the Trowchester Blues series is a nice back-up to book #1, Trowchester Blues. I still have such affection for Finton and Michael, and it was nice to see Finn and his bookstore make a cameo appearance as well as James, an MC from the next book. Billy and Martin are lovely and add their own flavour to this series. I also admire and respect that Alex Beecroft gives a brief thanks to her therapist and mention of her own depression at the beginning. It’s fitting leading into a book where one of the MCs is battling the black dog. The more we talk about it, the less stigma there is. Recommended reading for those looking for a book that is pretty much angst free, has interracial MCs as well as depression well written, and pays homage and respect to British history in a modern world. 4 Stars!
Book supplied by publisher in return for an honest review.