Bee Among the Clover by Fae Sutherland and Marguerite Labbe
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: Full Length (346 pgs)
Other: M/M, M/M/M, Ménage, Voyeurism, Forced Seduction
Rating: 4.5 cherries
Reviewed by Phlox
Roman, a slave to Wulfgar, is less than pleased when the thane acquires a new pet: the beautiful and prideful Aron. Aron has never been with a man and has no wish to be now, but when he is claimed as a thrall to pay his father's debt, his choice in the matter is lost.
Captured from Roman-held Londinium four years prior, Roman has learned that life as Wulfgar’s bedslave can still be sweet. He is intrigued, threatened, and ultimately frightened by Aron and his feelings for the young man as they are thrown together by both cunning plan and charmed circumstance.
Roman and Aron will form a bond greater than any other claim upon them and determine that whatever the cost, they will find a way to be happy—even if that means risking their lives to find freedom together.
Even between hearts meant for each other, the hidden pain, the unspoken hurt, can do far more damage than words spoken in anger. This thought is at the core of Ms. Sutherland and Ms. Labbe’s engaging collaborative effort. Clashes of wills, of culture, and of perception drive a story of hopeless love, betrayal and, above all, miscommunication.
Set in early Britain at approximately the time when the Romans are beginning to consolidate their military power and, hence, are pulling out, this is a refreshing change from the majority of historicals, which take place post-1700. Having grown up on Rosemary Sutcliffe and attempts to place King Arthur in historical context, I was excited to see such a piece. Historicals are in the details, and this one does not disappoint. The mead hall and its fortifications are well drawn, the technology appropriate. One could smell the woodsmoke and male-dominated (mostly unwashed) air of the place. While it is debatable whether the Norse/Teutonic people had established kingdoms prior to the Roman withdrawal, I’m willing to allow the possibility since the rest of the scene setting is done so well.
Of the three principles, Roman is by far the most sympathetic. He has been the victim of a common practice of the time, forced into slavery as the result of a raid. While he is the son of a powerful family, he is intelligent and adaptable, and has carved a valuable place for himself in the thane, his owner’s, household. His emotional scars run deep, though, and he has withdrawn into himself, unable, to large extent, to voice his desires and fears.
The thane, Wulfgar, is a powerful, rough-hewn warrior, just the sort to keep a bunch of rowdy Norsemen in line. He keeps slaves but it was common practice at the time, throughout most of Europe. It’s quickly made clear to the reader that while he has a temper, Wulfgar is not an evil man. He expects the people beholden to him to deal with him honestly, he tries to be just, and he does try, in his own way, to take care of Roman and to please him. And, let’s face it, as the dominant force in the bedroom, he’s darn sexy.
The last male in this interesting triad is more problematic. Aron is a selfish, arrogant brat. I’m sure there are readers who would disagree with me, but the more I turned the story over, the more I reached that conclusion. Roman’s inability to express himself certainly led to misunderstandings, but it is Aron’s need to have what he wants, now, without consequences, that causes all the true harm and near tragedy. If there is a flaw in this story, it’s the fact that Aron fails to undergo much of a change. He comes to certain understandings, yes, but he never really blames himself (or at least not for long) for anything that happens. (Roman, on the other hand, takes responsibility for everything.) His broken promises, his oath-breaking, are somehow Wulgar’s fault, and he remains obstinately bitter towards the thane to the very end, no matter how many times Wulgar rescues them or forgives them. That being said, one can never accuse the writers of having Aron act out of character.
Oddly enough, my inability to find much to like about Aron did not spoil the story for me. There is still a sweet tenderness in Aron and Roman’s courtship, and a poignancy in the hopelessness of their situation. The detailed portrayal of this unsettled time period, a well-drawn cast of characters, and the desperate hope that, somehow, all will be well in the end more than keep the reader’s attention. There are plenty of historical novels out there – few are as adept at transporting the reader as this one. As a side note – I had some concerns in the end about Wulfgar, but I see there’s a sequel just for him. I’m looking forward to it.