Liesmith by Alis Franklin

liesmithRating: 10/10 ★★★★★★★★★★ 
Title: Liesmith
Author: Alis Franklin
Genre: Fantasy/horror
URL: Random House
Price: US $5.97
Other Information/warnings: Horror, gore
Summary [from the publisher]:
Working in low-level IT support for a company that’s the toast of the tech world, Sigmund Sussman finds himself content, if not particularly inspired. As compensation for telling people to restart their computer a few times a day, Sigmund earns enough disposable income to gorge on comics and has plenty of free time to devote to his gaming group.

Then in walks the new guy with the unpronounceable last name who immediately becomes IT’s most popular team member. Lain Laufeyjarson is charming and good-looking, with a story for any occasion; shy, awkward Sigmund is none of those things, which is why he finds it odd when Lain flirts with him. But Lain seems cool, even if he’s a little different—though Sigmund never suspects just how different he could be. After all, who would expect a Norse god to be doing server reboots?

As Sigmund gets to know his mysterious new boyfriend, fate—in the form of an ancient force known as the Wyrd—begins to reveal the threads that weave their lives together. Sigmund doesn’t have the first clue where this adventure will take him, but as Lain says, only fools mess with the Wyrd. Why? Because the Wyrd messes back.

My review:

(Disclosure: The author and I follow each other on Twitter. I bought my own copy of this book.)

Best beloved, I have to confess I read this twisty, fascinating, infuriatingly complex story twice before I was sure what was going on. I still adored it.

At one level, Liesmith is a love story between a geek and a god. At another level, it’s about predestination, reincarnation, and the fuckery of the gods. And at another level, it’s about belief and how we shape the world of gods who shape the worlds of men who make them.

What it is, is lovely and engaging. Sigmund is a far from idealised hero/heroine (look, it’s complicated, okay?) He’s overweight, has stereotypical nerd interests, is a virgin who lives at home with his sad, somewhat perplexed and disappointed widowed dad, and is the last person to realise that his mysterious, dishonest, wildly attractive and entirely deceptive new co-worker fancies him. And despite all that happens, the essential Sigmundness of Sigmund never changes. At the end of the book, he’s still an overweight, nerd virgin (not for long!), but he’s also changed, grown and been tempered by the fire. He becomes a hero.

Lain is a god. But also a trickster, a dwarf, a giant, and someone who fancies Sigmund for who he is, and for who he was. His past, present and future are inextricably bound and promise a world of pain for anyone who gets close to him.

Sigmund also has two friends who have been his friends longer than he’s been a twentyish nerd boy living in an Australian city with a dark and evil past. Em, his best friend, and Wayne, Em’s best friend, modern day warrior and Valkyrie. These four, and Sigmund’s dad, have to wrestle with Lain’s history, myth, legend and lies, to get themselves out safely, save the world, and let true love prevail.

This is not a traditional m/m story. Gender is variable, sex is non-existent, and the love story is one rail on which the plot hangs, but not all of them. And the tribulations are so much more than boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy has hot makeup sex with boy.

Alis Franklin plays with Scandinavian myth in an Australian setting in a way that should not work, but does, completely. She’s comfortable both with Norse legend and nerd culture, with Loki as seen in the recent MCU movies, and in his more traditional version, and twists them around and back again until you long for a cheat sheet to keep up, but with such style and linguistic ease that the journey is a delight.

Apart from my elderly brain confusion, I had only two points to pick on. One is the setting of Norse mythology in Australia, a country with a rich mythological history of its own, which Franklin certainly acknowledges but doesn’t use. The other is the use of the fake word’ misandrist’ to describe Wayne – I can’t read this word and not have my teeth set on edge, and I wonder at the author’s editor letting it through.

But these are nitpicks. Ultimately this is a triumph, one which allows the characters to be true to their present selves and their reincarnated spirits, and which gives the route to a proper happy ending in the future, without making excuses for Lain’s (?) actions in the past. Liesmith is a book which is both good fantasy and a satisfying romance. A rare treasure indeed.