Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Wulfstan is a warrior, dedicated to service and determined to do his duty. On the outside, Wulfstan is built for the life of a warrior. He is huge and strong and powerful. He has been fostered by his lord, groomed for battle. But inside, Wulfstan feels the shame of wanting men. And not just wanting sex with men, but wanting to submit to a man, something so shameful he can hardly bear think about it, let alone act. When Wulfstan’s secret is threatened, his rash action has unintended consequences, leaving him cursed and on the run.
Leofgar is a traveling musician who has served his beloved master Anna for years. Now Anna is old and sick and Leofgar fears he will not last the winter. In hopes of giving Anna some peace in his last days, Leofgar agrees to swear an oath to a lord who offers them his protection. This is the ultimate goal of a musician, to have a lord and protector and no longer have to travel the dangerous road. But his lord Tatwine expects more of the beautiful Leofgar than he is prepared to give, and soon Tatwine’s protection turns into more of a threat.
The two men meet by chance when traveling and make a small connection that neither can fully forget. When their paths cross again as both are on the run, they once again find a spark between them that turns into friendship and attraction. But after the disaster at home, Wulfstan is afraid to admit his weakness for wanting to yield to another man. And Leofgar is tired of everyone assuming he can be taken just because his is lithe and beautiful. Figuring out how they can fit together isn’t easy, especially when both men are running for their lives.
You know how some books just have a sweeping epic feeling, where the story feels like a journey? Well, this is definitely one of them. In The Reluctant Beserker, Alex Beecroft manages to so wonderfully create this world that I was completely immersed in it. It is portrayed with such wonderful detail – the settings, the food, the weapons, the language. Every element feels so perfectly part of the time and rings with total authenticity. We can completely imagine life under these Saxon lords, with the complex social structures and the rules for what makes a man. And Beecroft gives us such a lovely story of two men who don’t fit those molds and how they struggle to find their places.
Wulfstan is just fascinating as this man who has been bred a warrior and just exudes strength and power. He is huge and has an often uncontrolled temper. Others fear his skill with weapons and even his anger. Yet Wulfstan hides a secret that not only does he like men, but that he dreams of yielding and being taken by a lover. Though sex with men is at times accepted, it is only as a sign of dominance. A master can fuck a slave, or a lord take a man who is under his service. But for a man of Wulfstan’s position to consider allow another to take him would be such a sign of incredible shame and weakness as to be unthinkable. Wulfstan opened his heart once and was burned badly, so with Leofgar he is slow to trust and to share his feelings.
Leofgar also feels the pain of not fitting in with the expected. Because of his looks and his position, he is always expected to be weak. Men with more physical strength or of greater position assume they should dominate and own him. And for Anna, Leofgar is often willing to swallow his pride to keep them safe and protected. But after Anna’s death, Leofgar is unwilling to be owned and taken. It seems that Leofgar and Wulfstan should be a perfect fit, but even Leofgar has trouble with the idea of Wulfstan’s submission, seeing taking the warrior as shaming him, even though it becomes clear that it is what Wulfstan wants.
Beecroft does such a lovely job unpacking these complexities throughout the story. Both of these men are weighed down by expectations, and even knowing that they both break these molds, they still have a hard time moving past them. Beecroft really gives us fascinating characters in Wulfstan and Leofgar and there is both incredible sweetness and power in their relationship together. And the ending is so moving and beautifully done I just loved it.
In addition to the relationship dynamics, we also have the journey these men undertake. Wulfstan is being pursued by a curse and he is wracked with guilt for the accident that took his friend’s life. He must face his internal demons, accept that his feelings are all right, and come to terms with his past as well as what he wants for his future. And Leofgar must figure out his future without his beloved master Anna. After years of living for Anna, he now is free to make his own choices. Yet his life is not totally his own, and escaping the demands of his lord is not easy. We get lots of battles and chases and excitement here, mixed in with the character development.
While I think Beecroft did an amazing job creating this world, I will admit the book got off to a slow start for me. Honestly after the first couple of chapters I wasn’t totally sure I would want to continue. They are just very information dense, as we meet so many new characters in what, for me, is a totally unfamiliar world. I just felt a little overwhelmed with it all. It takes a several chapters before the story really starts to take shape, but once that happened I became fully caught up in it. This is also a long book, again dense with lots of world building and detail. I think thinning it out a little would have given it some more energy in spots.
That said, I really do think this story is worth giving a chance. Once things hit their stride it is really completing engrossing and kept me fascinated and entertained. Beecroft really excels here in creating a world you can just totally immerse yourself in and gives us lovely characters in Wulfstan and Leofgar. The story also does a wonderful job at examining the idea of strength and weakness, of what it means to be a man, and whether there is power in yielding. It is all so very well done, you should definitely give this one a try.