Author: Alex Beecroft
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Rating: 4.5 stars
Type: Standalone Novel
Received from Publisher
Blurb: Billy Wright has a problem: he’s only visible when he’s wearing a mask. That’s fine when he’s performing at country fairs with the rest of his morris dancing troupe. But when he takes the paint off, his life is lonely and empty, and he struggles with crippling depression.
Review: This is the second book in the author’s wonderful “Blues” series, however it can definitely be enjoyed as a standalone. A few characters from the excellent first book, ‘Trowchester Blues’, make cameo appearances only.
I am a huge fan of history, and of the distinctive and gorgeous writing consistently delivered by this author. Reading ‘Blue Eyed Stranger’ was a slice of heaven. I found myself transported smack into the scenes via Beecroft’s colorful, lively and oh so vivid portrayal of characters and settings.
This book hit me in the gut for other reasons too. Beecroft knows well of what she writes, as she has been personally involved in Morris dancing as a member of historical re-enactment societies. In the dedication of this book, she also speaks to personal experience as a depressive. Knowing that she herself has lived and breathed a huge slice of what Martin and Billy encounter on these pages made the reading experience particularly rich.
Martin is a teacher. He loves his job. He loves the kids he teaches. He prides himself on actually sparking an interest in history within the kids through creative teaching methods, and by being true to actual history rather than, shall we say, whitewashing it. His school head sees things differently, and has been pretty much looking for a viable reason to let Martin go. His involvement as well as demands on his time stemming from being the leader of a fledgling Viking historical re-enactment society end up giving her the final straw she has been looking for. Of course Martin, who is of Nubian descent and is gay too, can’t help but wonder if his firing wasn’t truly an act of bigotry. But, Martin was not out at work. He isn’t out to anyone in fact, including his family, other than his sister. He can’t imagine his hard line father accepting a gay son. Not seeking to prove prejudice with the firing, Martin finds himself looking for another job. He needs work, but he does not want to rock the boat in the teaching realm by disclosing his sexuality, nor does he want the fact he is gay known within the ranks of his historic society. Martin already feels he has to “overcome” being black as a teacher, and as a weekend Viking. No need to add gay to the mix. Needless to say, Martin finds himself stressed out and stretched thin.
Enter Billy. Billy is a lovely, lithe and talented young man. Billy is …invisible. Or at least living with depression has him believing so. He needn’t hold a job, as the family home has been divided into apartments, and he lives quite nicely on rent money. This is probably a good thing (well, of course not really), as he has many mornings where he simply can’t bring himself to get out of bed. However, there is one activity he never misses out on. Practicing and participating with a Morris dancing troupe at festivals around the country. He loves to dance, he loves becoming visible as someone else while wearing the costume and accompanying mask. Billy and Martin first meet at a festival when Billy is “on”. Brilliantly, radiantly on. Martin can’t take his eyes off of Billy, who is dancing with panache, abandon and attitude. Blue eyes shining like beacons through the mask. Martin is majorly and immediately attracted… and the feeling is mutual. Billy can’t believe he all but propositioned Martin by way of his dancing and is initially mortified. Martin doesn’t waste anytime pursuing Billy. Literally tracking him down to where he lives near the village of Trowchester.
The romance between the two men heats up quickly. They fit together marvelously well. Martin is completely nonplussed by Billy’s depression. He handles it with genuine patience, understanding and support. If only he had such a clear handle on dealing with his own issues. Billy wonders a bit at his good fortune, but he is happy and grateful. Well, for a while anyway. Until depressive issues involving self- doubt and low self- worth threaten to take over again. And he gets an infusion of “life according to Finn” while visiting a certain book store in Trowchester. The story never crosses into too dark a place regarding Billy’s depression. What it does do is paint a very clear, accurate – and yes painful at times – picture of someone traversing life with this disorder on a day to day basis.
If you fancy history you will love the richly detailed descriptions of Martin and Billy’s re-enactment group performances. The author gifts us with generous amounts of detail, as the men are teaching each other about their respective eras. I bet you will love these scenes even if you are not a history buff 😉 I felt as though I had a front row seat to every performance.
The real beauty of this story is how marvelously the author weaves societal themes and personal issues into a story about two men finding a life together. This type of storyline runs the risk of coming off as preachy, or cliché. Not so here, not by a longshot. Martin gets so absorbed in how he is perceived and perhaps prejudged by others, that he becomes blind to the fact that he is guilty of doing the very same. He lets these fears rule his life. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to Billy’s clinical depression. Martin’s avoidance of major aspects of his life, and his reticence to have faith in his friends and himself put his relationship with Billy at risk. They put Billy at risk. This point is brought home in several sub-plots that end up being integral to Martin’s personal growth and his ability to move forward with Billy.
It was brilliant seeing Martin first and foremost gather the courage to be true to himself – and to Billy – and then watching things falling into place for them because of the work they put into living authentically. I loved the scene near the end that takes place at the archeological dig. Oh my, very original and romantic ♥
I’m certainly looking forward to reading and experiencing the next in the series.