I found Brute, a disability-themed gay fantasy romance by Kim Fielding, when the excellent Lola of Hit or Miss Books reviewed it in January of 2015. And then it took me two years to read it because public libraries don’t carry many books like that, and I just never got around to buying the ebook. I’m glad I finally did, though, because it’s awesome!
Brute leads a lonely life in a world where magic is commonplace. He is seven and a half feet of ugly, and of disreputable descent. No one, including Brute, expects him to be more than a laborer. But heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and when he is maimed while rescuing a prince, Brute’s life changes abruptly. He is summoned to serve at the palace in Tellomer as a guard for a single prisoner. It sounds easy but turns out to be the challenge of his life.
I’m not crazy about that description, to be honest. It doesn’t do the book justice. I usually save ebooks for reading in line, reading at lunch, other situations where I’m unexpectedly killing time, but Brute was so engrossing that not only did I want to gulp it down as quickly as possible, I also couldn’t read it in public because I kept getting agitated and exclaiming out loud. It’s both a fantasy novel and a romance, which is just how I like it — a thrilling blend of worldbuilding with deep character work. I often think fantasy novels have too much worldbuilding, and romances have too much character stuff and not enough plot (especially when they claim to be fantasy or sci-fi), so I’m super glad to be finding books like this that actually combine the two.
This is a light kind of fantasy, with magic as a known but slightly-feared thing, but not too much beyond that. It’s also really cool as a romance: there’s explicit sex, but it’s less voyeuristic than most romances (especially in the m/m genre). Sex is a thing that happens, and both characters are kind of surprised when it takes on such emotional significance for them. It’s plot-driven in the sense that their relationship drives the plot, and the details are included when they feel significant for Brute.
In the same vein, I was saying recently how hard it is to find stories with disabled characters who aren’t stereotypes, especially in genre fiction. Fielding does a great job with that too. Disabilities are part of the plot, part of the characters, but mostly part of the truth that in a pre-technological world, life is unpleasant, especially for the lower classes. You get used to aches and pains and inconveniences, and grievous injuries aren’t really that uncommon. I appreciated that both main characters were disabled in multiple intersecting ways, which helped keep anything from seeming stereotypical or exploitative. Plus they’re just really strong characters with personalities and hopes and dreams and lives that seem entirely real, hence me exclaiming at the book and grabbing for it every chance I got. I also liked the worldbuilding insofar as being gay or bi is unusual there, and unexpected, but not totally unacceptable. There’s some realism but we don’t get bogged down in homophobia.
All that said, I did hit a bit of a stall at about 60%, largely because things were going well but there was ALMOST HALF LEFT and I didn’t want anything bad to happen. In a book that isn’t strictly a romance, you’re not guaranteed a happily ever after. I’d been rooting so hard for Brute that I didn’t want it to all fall apart on him. I won’t say anything further and risk spoiling it for you, but yes, you should finish the book. It’s good stuff.