Her Majesty’s Men by Marquesate – review

Rating: 7/10 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ Title: Her Majesty’s Men
Author: Marquesate
Genre: British military, contemporary
URL: Lulu
Price: $5.17 download, $13.79 print
Other Information/warnings: Explicit m/m, language, extreme violence, torture
Summary [from the publisher]:
Her Majesty’s Men is the story of two soldiers in the British Forces and of a friendship taking unexpected turns. In the eyes of the Army they are just two mates who are close. But from the revelation of personal secrets, ensuing hatred and aggression, through terror and danger, to loyalty, triumphant strength and courage, grows their own realisation of what they are: comrades first and foremost, but something else too, something more significant. The two Royal Engineers, Sgt Tom Warren and SSgt Alex Turner, learn to understand the real meaning of loyalty and strength. Their fight for survival cuts through all the discipline and rules, to tie them together in a unique bond of companionship and trust.

My review:
I have a confession to make. I’ve tried to read this novel several times. It comes up every so often in reader recs, and I wanted to like it – hey, military men, smut, angry sex, what’s not to like? But every time, the first few scenes made me close the browser window with a shudder. So when the author sent it for review, I thought I would try just one more time, see if I could give it an honest read through, and if not, pass it to someone else.

The first few scenes still make my teeth grind. Too many bad gay porn cliches, the wonky, unrealistic dialogue, the entire set up, just didn’t appeal, and still don’t. But get past that, and suddenly you find yourself with a real, decent story, real characters, and sex that really is smoking hot. It’s simply amazing how much it improves, and how different in quality the end of the book is from the beginning.

Let’s dispose of the negatives. The dialogue, particularly in the early part of the story, is crap. The author is not English and it shows – at no point did I believe these two soldiers were British, and the slang is just all over the place. Even the cursing is inauthentic. However, the dialogue becomes much less – less grating and less in quantity – as the story goes on, and the writing over all tightens up, while still betraying the author’s ESL status from time to time. It needs a British editor, and since Marquesate had co-authored further books with another ESL writer, I really hope that Brit picker was found. It could have done with a better editor anyway, but since it’s self-published, I understand the limitations there.

Tom is the weaker of the two characters – to say he thinks a bit like a moony school girl is not an unfair assessment, I think. He’s obsessed to the point of ridiculousness with Alex. Alex, while generally more interesting as the book goes on, is a tad unrealistic. You have to accept, for the sake of the story, the effect of his being tortured upon his sex drive, and while I did accept it, I did think it was a little ridiculous. However, the author uses the trick to good effect, and I’ll let it slide.

I also thought the scenes with the ex-wife and the sister were unnecessary, and heavy-handed. They felt bolted on, and with the ex-wife particularly, the attempt at rehabilitating her just did not work for me. Unless these characters appear in other books, I couldn’t see why they were included in this novel, and I could have lived without them.

However. The story really made me sit up and go ‘wow’ when Alex and Tom brawl and make some interesting discoveries about Alex’s sexuality. The sex and violence in this book are done extremely well – possibly the best, most exciting writing I’ve ever seen of this kind in this genre. The story works best when the two are combined, but Alex and Tom really shine when they’re not moping about their love lives and start being soldiers. Because they are kickass, manly, heroic soldiers who are truly the kinds of people you’d want in your army. I’ve read too many stories of incredible heroism from places like Afghanistan and Iraq to think Tom and Alex are in any way exaggerated. Alex’s bravery under torture and captivity made me ache to read. The tale of sacrifice and bravery, of brotherhood and love and mateship, worked in every way for me. It’s a shame the author dissipated the momentum with so much distracting stuff about the wife and sister, but it doesn’t lessen how very good those last set piece battle scenes are.

It’s worth noting that the author uses her close relationship with a real live soldier to excellent effect, and while the dialogue is inauthentic, the military side of things feels very real, and the details given in a way that makes you feel the environment. There’s no info-dumping, and no sense that this is just stuff the writer found on the internet and tossed in for verisimiltude.

The text needs editing to remove stupidities like

“Fuck!” Tom hissed, glad for the running water.

and the non-English phrasing. However, for a self-pubbed work, it’s pretty decent, and better than I’ve seen from some epublishers.

The early part of the book hits certain nerves with me, but there are undoubtedly many readers who love this style, and will eat it up with a spoon. The rest of the book should appeal much more widely – provided the reader is prepared for some pretty damn visceral torture and injury scenes. Then, if you’re reading military romance, you probably expect this. With these caveats, I recommend Her Majesty’s Men as a solid, enjoyable read.