A New Zealander artist, Matt Quintal, is living the wild life of a good-looking gay man in Los Angeles, but his soul is seriously undernourished, and he’s become restless, cynical, and detached. His sister Rachel, who lives in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, convinces him to come visit and regroup. He jumps on a plane and is soon enveloped in the mystical beauty of the island, so similar to the New Zealand homeland he’s rejected, but different enough for him to let its spell take deep hold.
As Matt and Rachel are out kayaking in a lagoon, an old Stearman biplane flies over, and something about it transfixes Matt. He has no explanation why, but he has to meet whoever is flying that plane. Rachel, far more in tune with her intuition than her brother, is delighted to join the adventure.
They get to the local airstrip just in time to see the biplane taxi onto the apron. The pilot’s face is obscured, but Matt is entranced by the lithe woman who climbs out of the cockpit, her hair tied in a long braid hanging down to her waist. When the scarf, helmet, and goggles come off, it’s not a woman but a man—Japanese/Hawaiian/Tahitian Beau Toyama.
This book is a really interesting and enjoyable read, on many levels.
First, it’s different, starting with the narrative choice. It’s written in first person present, alternating between Matt’s and Beau’s POV. I generally don’t enjoy first person present, but this story actually dictates it.
It’s different in the way the story is conceived. In so many current M/M stories it’s the struggle, pain, and obstacles that provide the landscape of the story. In this book Amor raises the interesting question, “What if love actually drove the story instead of the problems?” She comes up with an equally interesting answer: Love forces the men to face old wounds, heal, and grow in order to keep the love they’ve found, and love is what gives them the strength to do it.
Think, for example, of how many stories are built around woundedness, being disowned for being gay, or the main characters being forced to work together to defeat a common foe and fall in love almost in spite of themselves. Or the main characters who oppose each other until they really see who they’ve been fighting with. Those are great tropes, nothing wrong with them. But our stories have to be more far-ranging than that.
Did I say this book was different? This is not a story of two wounded twenty-year-old white kids struggling to engage the world and achieve their HEA. Not that there’s anything wrong with that dynamic, but let’s face it, we have lots of those, and it does wear a bit thin after a while, at least for me.
Here, the two MCs are Polynesian, one approaching his first Saturn return just before thirty, and the other almost forty. The story itself is “Mix-Plate” Polynesian, and draws on the land, the history, and the cultural values of New Zealand, Hawaii, and Tahiti in particular. That creates a clear difference in communication style, the pace of the story, plus a distinct generous openness, and of course deep, mystical connection with the sea.
Second, in order to sink into the story the reader has to let go of the western European model of logic and causality. The story is mystical, and the mysticism is not a big deal in itself, just a fact of life—like being a lawyer, or having to earn a living.
Animal totems, spirit guides, the spirits of water, air, earth and fire, the wisdom and guidance of ancestors—they all take their place in the story without fuss. This is a story built on magic—the real kind, the kind that comes from that part of the soul that many of us don’t honor often enough.
Here also the exaltation of the individual in white European culture is softened by the over-arching power of connection with life as a whole. As I read, I encountered an underlying intimacy in the workings of the natural world, and the healing the MCs must go through to connect with the world and with each other. The nourishing power of loving family is a powerful force, too: both the MCs are guided in their journeys by women family members, alive and passed.
The author uses a large number of Polynesian words in the story, which seemed heavy on occasion. On the other hand, those words prevented me from ever slipping into an unexamined habit of thinking the characters were Caucasian. Before you begin reading, you might want to graze through the glossary provided, just to familiarize yourself with those terms.
If you require heavy helpings of angst, and that your MCs wallow in their brokenness for chapters on end, this is probably not the right read for you. This is a sweet story, but sweet in the sense of men reclaiming some rare aspect of natural, child-like innocence.
That sweetness is itself part of the gift of this story, as it is not just the story of two men in love, but a story of regaining place in family. Its culmination is not just the men’s HEA, but the integration of the two characters as a couple into the expanded family constellation, an incredibly satisfying element for this reader.
On a technical level, the writing might have been tightened here and there, but those issues did not detract from my enjoyment of this truly touching story. I recommend it to any who are attracted to soul magic.