Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-60504-236-6
Fantasy Romance, 2008
Were not for the fact that the author is fond of the words “cock” and “throb”, it’d be easy to imagine that The Englor Affair is a heterosexual romance rather than a steampunk gay romance. We have a shy, hesitant fellow paired with a more experienced been-around-the-block type and the dynamics of that relationship feel distressingly familiar.
In this one, we have our macho fellow in Simon Hollister, a prince who moans about having to dance and mingle with marriage-obsessed debutantes on his planet Englor when he’s not calling folks who frown on same-sex affairs “close-minded”. He is also a Marine Colonel. Your quintessential “nobleman/soldier/rake” archetype, in other words. Payton Townsend, the prince of the planet Regelence where same-sex relationships are accepted as normal, is also playing the soldier, although being the designated “wife” fellow, he is naturally shy, awkward, et cetera. He is aiding Nate Hawkins, whom you may remember as the big brawny designated husband character in My Fair Captain, in the man’s search for Nate’s wife-with-penis boyfriend Aiden when Simon meets Payton and sparks fly. Of course, there are political intrigue and enemies abound to make the path to a happily ever after a bumpy one.
This is an interesting read in that while I can certainly appreciate the readability of this story, I am not sure whether I should admire or sigh at how well this story captures the essence of some people’s argument that the current state of gay romance can resemble the “girls with penises” phenomenon too much. Ms Langley however also demonstrates that an author can write such story where a damsel is merely fitted with a penis to turn the whole story into a gay romance and still make that story readable and even enjoyable. The characters here are likable and the story is well-paced.
It’s just that I also find that the abundance of clichés makes it a disappointing read in many ways. The characters are stereotypes, the setting can be too much of a Steampunk 101 for Dummies at times, and I could do without some of the more intrusive preachy affirmative action sentiments in the story as well. I was hoping for something more imaginative and magical, and instead I get stereotypes reenacting a “let’s stick a penis on the woman and call her a gay man” Regency romance transported wholesale to space, sigh.
The Englor Affair is, at the end of the day, a solid and entertaining read that is also at the same time disappointingly ordinary.