Rating: 4.5 stars
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Ten years ago, Elric was offered a choice: suffer the full punishment for attempting to steal from a farmer or serve that farmer as a slave for a decade. Homeless with zero prospects, Elric opted to live in servitude. Truth be told, Elric found himself more than a little attracted to the man who owned him. Or he did until, on the very day Elric is set to be freed, that same man sells Elric to a band of fearsome Vikings warriors. His new captors care nothing for Elric’s claims of freedom. They don’t, however, sell him with their other prisoners. No, it is worse: the Vikings are taking Elric away from England and into the great white north. He is sure he is going to be miserable—even if the one smaller, darker-featured Viking attempts to show him kindness.
Ari is as much a Viking as anyone else, but his dark hair and slight build unquestionably mark him as one with the blood of a slave in him. Indeed, his skill with a bow is the biggest reason he was spared from the life of a slave. Nevertheless, he works hard and contributes to their community. Most importantly, he bonded with Vidar, the nephew and heir of the chief. He and Vidar are blood brothers, sharing the manly type of intimacy permitted in their society. But they are also secretly lovers. Ari longs to join with Vidar in every way possible, but there are some acts neither he nor Vidar can condone between men. When Elric arrives, he sparks intense desire and enormous conflict in both Ari and Vidar. The blood brothers had been so sure their bond was complete…but Elric embodies a most enticing promise of something so much more. Even better, Elric might be amenable as a third member of their intimate relationship. But there are a few powerful members of the Viking tribe that would not hesitate to put Elric in his place and, by extension, punish Ari and Vidar.
Godsend is a historic poly romance from author Elvira Bell. Apart from the initial introduction to Elric and his soon-to-end (or is it) slavery situation, the bulk of the action takes place in Ari and Vidar’s home village in the Northern lands. The chapters cycle through third person narration from Ari, Elric, and Vidar’s points of view. I really enjoyed getting to experience the story unfold from each of the three MCs’ perspectives. For one thing, it really highlighted how different Ari and Vidar are. Bell also does a great job of stringing the different chapters together, giving a sense of time passing and the two warriors doing warrior things while Elric does thrall things. I just liked that the characters’ places and functions in the village were separated without feeling like they existed in a vacuum…most of the time. More on that later.
Elric’s reaction to being re-sold into slavery and dealing with both new social customs and a new language were about what I would expect. He’s outraged; he tries to escape and lets his general animosity towards the situation be known. He initially loathes the Vikings that bought him, even when one (Ari) tries to show some kindness. But it was Ari’s and Vidar’s reaction to Elric that I really loved reading about. Both have similar physical reactions to Elric—Ari and Vidar find the new thrall attractive and arousing. But where Ari comes across as wistful regarding the potential for a dalliance or more, Vidar is steeped in guilt.
What makes this work so well, I think, is that neither Ari nor Vidar knows the other is into Elric at first. And while Ari is definitely more open to the idea, the moment he realizes Vidar isn’t chomping at the bit, Ari immediately curbs his expectations. I just loved the idea that Ari doesn’t just value what he has with Vidar more than what he might have with Elric and Vidar together, but that Ari actively chooses to protect what he and Vidar already have. When Ari and Vidar realize they both have an interest in Elric and Elric is receptive to them both, things still don’t go instantly to wild sex. I really loved that there was a false start and that Vidar gets the time to mull over what being part of a triad would mean.
While the interpersonal drama is playing out, life in the village continues. I’ll admit, the “day in the life of a Viking village” feels less engaging than what’s going on between our three main characters. Vidar and Ari go with the other warriors to train while Elric goes about chores with the rest of the thralls. There are a few scenes where the other thralls/Vikings give Elric a hard time for being new, for being attractive, etc. The most significant part of the slice-of-life elements of the story is how the “bad guy” Viking crops up pretty reliably to make Elric’s life miserable, either by trying to get Elric punished for something or by trying to sexually assault him. When that bad guy character ends, we also get a glimpse into how these characters treat their own.
The two reasons I didn’t rate this story higher (I think it does have a more “re-read” appeal to me than the average bit of fiction) relate to Elric’s character and how this Viking society views same-sex couples. First, there was this odd chunk of the book where it seemed like Elric did exist in a vacuum. Once Elric was sexually linked to Ari and Vidar, it felt like he sort of just floated above the existence of a thrall—and no one seemed to really mind? It made me feel like he was cruising for a bruising…someone would notice and put him in his place for being presumptuous. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be taken as such, but he seemed to take on this overconfidence that I usually associate with characters who know they’re taking advantage of a situation. I didn’t want to view this sweet character, for whom I had a tremendous amount of sympathy because of his past, as a jerk.
Second, a lot of the drama that keeps Vidar and Ari from being as affectionate with each other as they’d like and that serves as a hurdle to the two of them opening their relationship up to Elric is the way same-sex pairings are viewed in this society. It felt pretty damn clear it was frowned upon to have a sexual relationship between two men…and it was downright taboo to be a man willing to be penetrated. All of that instantly falls away, no questions asked, the moment Vidar becomes chief. For me, it just made me wonder why Vidar and Ari were so deathly afraid of being seen as more than friends when everyone knew what they were up to and the couple (thrupple?) themselves all but confirmed it when Vidar is chief.
These admittedly nitpicky gripes aside, I was extremely entertained with Godsend. It scratched the itch I have for stories that explore romantic relationships between more than two people. Ari and Vidar being toppy tops and Elric learning he’s a super bottom worked very well with the drama and plot of the book. I thought the tension that ebbs and flows between Ari and Vidar as they contemplate broadening their love to include Elric was deliciously spun out across the book, and not instantly resolved once everyone got naked. If you like very steamy books with historical settings and some thoughtful exploration into two characters’ decision to open their relationship to a third, then I think you’ll enjoy this story.