This book was different than anything I have ever read before. In a good way.
The stories here, which evolve into 2 romances between 4 of the MCs, take place during the Crusades. In modern m/m romances, societal pressure often serves as an intangible protagonist in the story. Here, however, the religious beliefs, both Christian and Muslim, were so indoctrinated into the lives of the MCs, that each believed he was going to hell for the love that he felt for his partner and was willing to bear that fate, so devoted they were to each other. A love that strong always makes for a compelling story.
The author successfully made the stories seductive and erotic without betraying what felt like appropriate language and situations for the time period. The MCs spoke to each other sensually and the sex smoldered without resorting to modern slang, expressions, or euphemisms to convey the desire they felt for each other. In too many historical romances I have read, the author gets lazy and allows the MCs to say things during sex that seem completely out of whack for the time period. Not so here. There were only a few times I found phrases used in the characters' conversations to seem off period (or at least what I would consider to be off period) enough be distracting.
In addition to overcoming the fear that their mortal souls would rot in hell for their sexual activities, the MCs also had to come to terms with the fact that the persons painted as their enemies for so long, people who they were supposed to hate and they were taught would be damned as nonbelievers, were not only moral and good people, but worthy of love and trust. Fear of betraying God, king, and country was not enough for love and friendship to be denied, however.
I appreciated the fact that the Caliph was portrayed in a better light that the English kings whose concern for their subjects fighting this "holy" war thousands of miles from home seemed to be little more than lip service paid to persons deemed as expendable to society. In Western literature the focus is too often on the Christian side of the story.
All of these juxtapositions made for a great read. The author could have made this book overly angsty but, fortunately, did not.
As a side note, the author starts off with an explanation that this is historical fiction, not an historical novel, so she did her research but it is not supposed to be an accurate reflection of actual events. In other words, she is saying, sit back, enjoy the story, don't sweat the small stuff. So, that's what I did.
Thanks to Wency for agreeing to do a guinea pig BR with me on this book. I might not have read it so soon otherwise! Let's do it again sometime W!