KJARTAN THE GENTLE (Tales of Forbidden Love from the Danelaw Book 3)
Catherine L. Byrne
GENRE: Historical fiction, gay romance
916 A.D. East Anglia under the Danelaw.
In Dark Age Britain, you knew your place and if you didn’t keep to it, you faced the consequences…
Hot-blooded Kjartan, accidental hero, has settled down into married life, with a baby on the way. But when he meets handsome glass maker Lini, their unlawful relationship provokes angry and passionate reactions from their kinfolk.
They have to fight back against the prejudice of Norse culture, and find out who their real friends—and enemies—are. And this conflict leads to murder.
But who is the victim, and who the killer?
Kjartan the Gentle is a fascinating look at early Britain when Norse and the native cultures have finally come to a tentative accommodation. The story picks up after Kjartan’s grudging welcome back into his community after saving the village from being ransacked by invaders. He’s settled with a new wife and a child on the way, but his place in the social order is anything but clear. He is admired and feared, and given his past history of violence there’s a level of mistrust that’s hard to overcome.
One man who is unafraid of Kjartan is the glass-maker, Lini, who forms a bond of friendship first, keeping his feelings for the warrior secret as best he can. As their friendship blossoms into more, it is the slow stutter steps borne of curiosity and mutual regard that leads Kjartan into accepting, and finally acting on, his own confused attraction.
Both men take great pains to avoid overstepping the letter of Danelaw which has very specific conditions under which the act itself may and may not be permissible. Both men have much to risk—wives, children, their place in the social order—yet they find it impossible to set aside their feelings and need for each other.
In such an insular community, it is inevitable that this relationship be discovered, and the consequences for the men is harsh and immediate. How the village responds to the discovery, the ways in which shaming and disapproval are expressed, how the two cultures (Norse and British) respond, is an intriguing exploration of how the legal and the social interact to inform each person’s place in the social structure. That it culminates in an act of violence is not unexpected, and the final denouement rests on Danelaw and its interpretation.
Kjartan the Gentle is a tale delicately woven, told with honesty and attention to detail, and transforming a time and place few of us are familiar with into a landscape populated with compelling characters and the richness of everyday life during a time when survival meant fitting in and conforming to the community’s needs.
The one quibble I had was the resolution to the mystery (no spoilers here) and how the final act played out. Other than that, this is quite a good read, one I can heartily recommend to history buffs and lovers of a romance told with respect and restraint.
Kjartan the Gentle is a solid Four Star read.