Tuesday 18 April 2017

A Discovering Diamonds review of MAN and BEAST by Michael Jensen

Amazon UK £ 4.90
Amazon US $6.15
Amazon CA  $ n/a

LBGT (sexual content)
18th Century
American Frontier

Savage Lands series

“The year is 1797, and 24-year-old John Chapman is lost on the American frontier with winter falling fast. Near death, he stumbles upon a lone cabin, and the owner, a rugged but sexy frontiersman named Daniel McQuay, agrees to let John winter over.
John and Daniel quickly find themselves drawn to each other, the sex between them unlike anything John has ever known. But as the weeks turn into snowbound months, Daniel begins to change into someone brutish, and the line between man and beast disappears.
With the arrival of spring, John flees, eventually finding refuge in the company of a group of frontier outcasts, including a brash young settler named Palmer. But in the wilds of this savage land, love is not so easily tamed, and John soon finds himself calling upon the raging animal within him to save the man he loves.
Man & Beast is the first book in the Savage Lands, a series that celebrates the untold gay history of the American frontier. ((It) was previously published under the title Frontiers. This edition has been extensively revised.)”

The storyline for this novel is basically simple: in the autumn of 1797, John Chapman, a young man seeking a place in the world, is forced to flee a British garrison on the North American frontier when his relationship with an Army officer is discovered. The officer flees as well, but he is mortally injured in the chase. John then survives a trek through virgin forests until he comes upon a cabin occupied by the horrific yet apparently sexy, Daniel McQuay.

Writing in the first person as John, Jensen describes McQuay as having mood swings faster and more often than a two-year-old, but it is an unfortunate comparison because this man is manic, possibly psychopathic, and wholly terrifying. One wonders if John had come upon the cabin in spring-time how the story would have changed, but as it is, winter sets in and he is trapped in more ways than one.

Eventually John does escape, but then finds himself in the nascent town of Franklin, where everyone is running from something, and everyone has a sad tale to tell. Sad tales indeed, they run the gamut of man’s inhumanity to man – and occasionally, woman: prejudice in all forms; sexism (typical of the period but disturbing nonetheless), racism; incest; attempted infanticide . . .

And as the Ancient Greek doctor Asclepius told his disciples, the things that happen to people are like the people they happen to. The ‘good people’ of Franklin in their appalling ignorance and prejudice against native tribes are responsible for the death of a twelve year-old boy, whose head they proudly place on a stake.

Despite feeling out of place and unhappy with his neighbours, John Chapman tries to make something of the small settlement he’s allotted by planting apple trees. In the process he is also trying to come to terms with his sexuality and personality. Throughout the book, there are lengthy, graphic portrayals of M/M sex, and a number of violent scenes – visceral violence. Whether this is to an individual reader’s taste is obviously up to him/her, but take heed of the male torso on the cover as some indication of content. Not seeing the cover before I started the ebook, I began by thinking the beast of the title would be a bear, perhaps a puma: the beast is the character Daniel, also called Zach, who finds John again, just when John has started to find a form of contentment. To say more would be to spoil the story.

Jensen has created a sympathetic character in John Chapman. This reader, who blanched at numerous paragraphs, warmed to him, wanted him to succeed and be happy – and wanted him to get the hell out of each of the cabins to somewhere more civilised in every way. In this, Jensen has also succeeded, for he has re-created the difficulties and dangers facing those frontier settlers convincingly. This is a well-written book, albeit not for the faint-hearted.

© J.G. Harlond
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