When sword for hire Teodoro Ciéza de Vivar accepts a commission to “rescue” Lord Christian Blackwood from unsuitable influences, he has no idea he’s landed himself in the middle of a plot to assassinate King Philip IV of Spain and blame the English ambassador for the deed. Nor does he expect the spoiled child he’s sent to retrieve to be a handsome, engaging young man.
As Teodoro and Christian face down enemies at every turn, they fall more and more in love, an emotion they can’t safely indulge with the threat of the Inquisition looming over them. It will take all their combined guile and influence to outmaneuver the powerful men who would see them separated… or even killed.
Way back when I started reading romance novels, I read historicals. Any that I could get my hands on. And I still to this day love historical romance novels. There aren’t a lot of them in the m/m romance world, so when I see one I grab it like I’m dying of thirst, and I just came upon an oasis. This one didn’t disappoint.
The book is set in the year 1624, during the height of the Spanish Inquisition, when sodomy was a crime punishable by death, and the right words placed in an ear could cause a man to be arrested, tried, convicted, then paid with his life, all in the period of days.
Teodoro fought his attraction to Christian for quite a while, not because he had issues being with a man, but because he knew that it would prove a distraction for him as protector. Christian, however, was not deterred and when they finally were able to give in to their passion, it was that much sweeter, because by that point the love had grown so strong between them.
There were swordfights to the death, as well as treason which began the journey for these men. And the vocabulary was amazing. To have that much written word be so timely and accurate, for someone who has always enjoyed historical novels, was amazing to read. It never took me out of the story, in fact it kept me fully engaged. Even when I looked up a word because I wanted to know what it was, or what the origin was, it kept me involved in the story. (In fact, one of my favorites was seeing a word that became an origin for pedophile-weird I know, but I love vocabulary.) These authors mastered the vocabulary so well that it flowed seamlessly through the book, which is not always the case.
There was one piece that did pull me from the story, at least in the first 30% or so, until I became used to it. The entire book has changing point of view, quite often paragraph to paragraph. This was challenging as a reader, as I hadn’t experienced that type of POV change before. It did point out to me that sometimes I do skip over the names of who the narrator is, as I quite often had to read back to the beginning sentence in the paragraph to make sure I understood who’s POV I was reading.
All in all, a very engaging read, with dynamic characters, that evolved through the book. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more in this series world.
4 pieces of eye candy
Checking on Checkmate
When writing a historical novel, unless it’s alternative history, it’s expected that you’ll get the facts right and the dates accurate. Only in steampunk can you get away with having your Civil War general use a GPS device to track enemy troop movements. In plotting the All for Love series, we reviewed European history and drafted a timeline of key events that would play into our storylines for each novel. While some elements may seem unlikely—one of our editors questioned whether the king of France and the queens of Spain and England at the time were all children of Marie de Medici (they were)—we were confident the stories would hold up through the mandatory historical content reviews that are part of Dreamspinner’s editorial process.
We hadn’t considered the etymological checking.
Etymology is the history of words or phrases from their earliest recorded usage in the language in which they occur. Failing to check etymology can result in a historical character spouting modern slang, which is guaranteed to pull a reader out of the story even if they’re not quite sure why. So while we hadn’t necessarily considered etymology when writing the stories, the review resulted in some interesting findings.
Checkmate begins in 1624. So while there’s no issue with having our characters refer to “the end justifying the means” (from Machiavelli’s The Prince, written in 1532), or “tilting at windmills” (from Cervantes’ Don Quixote, published in 1605), we were surprised to discover that Christian couldn’t be traveling in Spain as part of his Grand Tour—the phrase wasn’t in use until 1670. That was an easy fix—we just took the reference out. We also made a number of word changes because the terms weren’t in use during the early seventeenth century. A few examples:
- outfit (1769 or 1852, depending on the source) became garments
- hypnotized (1843) became stunned
- sizing up (meaning “estimate” from 1847) became assessing
- risqué (1867) became bawdy
- foodstuffs (1872) became victuals
- needling (1881 in the sense of “to goad”) became baiting
There were a few words we decided to keep, even though the first date of use was slightly later than our timeframe, because they were relatively close (under a hundred years) and we couldn’t find an alternative word that fit as well. These included sardonic (1630s), eclectic (1680s), and rakish (1706).
Even things as simple as everyday household items weren’t always kosher (a term we couldn’t have used, since it dates from 1850). Bedsheet was first used in the fifteenth century and towel in the thirteenth century, so we had no issues there, but washcloth (1863) or washrag (1856) were out. In fact, the whole concept of bathing was questioned as being quite uncommon at the time—and in fact arranging a bath for Christian took quite an effort and was seen, by Esteban at least, as proof that he was nothing but a spoiled, pampered nobleman.
There were several phrases the editor flagged as “too modern sounding” that after consideration we decided to keep. House of cards dated from 1645, but we thought people had been playing cards long enough before then that the concept didn’t feel out of place. The first recorded use of turned on his heels was 1751, but we reasoned that people wore heels and turned on them before then. And take a page from his book couldn’t be dated, but since books and pages had been around since the invention of the printing press in 1440 and as handwritten manuscripts before that, we didn’t think it felt too modern.
The most significant sections where we ran into challenges were, maybe not surprisingly, in our love scenes. While the editor nixed our using working girl to refer to a prostitute, we had quite a few options to choose from—strumpet (early fourteenth century), harlot (fifteenth century), courtesan (1533), temptress (1594), bawd (1700). Engaging in frottage was out—the term wasn’t in use until 1935—so we substituted erotic friction instead.
The biggest issue, though, was that the edit flagged our uses of lover, making love, and lovemaking. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, while lover meaning “one who has a predilection for” (a thing, concept, pursuit, etc.) is mid-fourteenth century, as a form of address to a lover, it dates from 1911. Lovemaking meaning “courtship” is from the mid-fifteenth century; make love from 1570s in the sense “pay amorous attention to;” as a euphemism for “have sex,” it is attested from about 1950.
We responded that we would consider period-accurate alternatives if someone could provide us with any. Unfortunately the only suggestions the editors could make were companion in place of lover or joining in place of making love. And to us, those just don’t have the same connotations. We were willing to take a stand here since we felt it would be more distracting to our readers to not use words like lover or lovemaking in a romance novel, even if they are “too modern” for the historical period.
What do you think? Are you bothered by words like lover or lovemaking in a historical romance, and if so, what terms would you use in their place? We’ll pick one comment to give away an eBook from either of our backlists.
Growing up in Chicago, Nicki Bennett spent every Saturday at the central library, losing herself in the world of books. A voracious reader, she eventually found it difficult to find enough of the kind of stories she liked to read and decided to start writing them herself.
When Ariel Tachna was twelve years old, she discovered two things: the French language and romance novels. Those two loves have defined her ever since. By the time she finished high school, she’d written four novels, none of which anyone would want to read now, featuring a young woman who was—you guessed it—bilingual. That girl was everything Ariel wanted to be at age twelve and wasn’t.
She now lives on the outskirts of Houston with her husband (who also speaks French), her kids (who understand French even when they’re too lazy to speak it back), and their two dogs (who steadfastly refuse to answer any French commands).
The authors are offering a free eBook of any title from either of their backlists to one reader who leaves a comment on the post. Tell us, what words would you have used to describe lover or lovemaking?