Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
At sixteen, Aidan Swift was swept off his feet by a rich older man who promised to take care of him for the rest of his life. But eight years later, his sugar daddy has turned from a prince into a beast. Trapped and terrified, Aidan snatches an hour’s respite at the Trowchester Museum.
Local archaeologist James Summers is in a failing long distance relationship with a rock star, and Aidan—nervous, bruised, and clearly in need of a champion—brings out all his white knight tendencies. When everything falls apart for Aidan, James saves him from certain death . . . and discovers a skeleton of another boy who wasn’t so lucky.
As Aidan recovers, James falls desperately in love. But though Aidan acts like an adoring boyfriend, he doesn’t seem to feel any sexual attraction at all. Meanwhile there are two angry exes on the horizon, one coming after them with the press and the other with a butcher’s knife. To be together, Aidan and James must conquer death, sex, and everyone’s preconceptions about the right way to love—even their own.
There are certain books you approach with definite expectations of what you will find with the characters and plot. Sometimes those expectations are met, other times they aren’t. But on those rare occasions, something else happens, a book doesn’t exceed your expectations, it blows them all to hell, widening your horizons and smacking you in the face with your assumptions. That’s what occurred with Alex Beecroft’s Blue Steel Chain, the 3rd book in the Trowchester Blues series.
My love for the previous novels is apparent in the reviews I wrote and the author interview I conducted. Alex Beecroft brought alive the small village of Trowchester, with its canals, long boats, antique bookshops, Morris Dancers, historic reinactors and characters of every type imaginable, every type except boring and uninspired. Up until now Beecroft has ushered me into her world with such amazing details such as musical instruments of antiquity I yearned to hear, dances I wanted to watch and a place I desperately wanted to be real. Her characters, wounded, snarky, and amazing made me laugh, cry and nod my head in recognition and joy. Then came Blue Steel Chain and everything went topsy turvy.
Where to start when everything is unexpected and sometimes hard to understand?
Blue Steel Chain is beautifully written and thought provoking. And for me, it was also hard, emotionally, to digest at times. At the heart of all the thoughts and feelings whirling around in my head is the character of Aidan Swift. At sixteen, already thrown away by his family for his sexuality, he is fair prey for an older man hiding sick, abusive behaviors and deeds. Now eight years later, Aidan is a perpetually frightened, submissive, abused young man. Sometimes left chained and alone for hours as punishment, isolated from all around him, his state of mind is one of fear, chaos, an overwhelming need to please and much , much more.
Alex Beecroft makes Aiden so real your heart bleeds for him and your stomach churns during the scenes he has with his abuser. Trust me, those are hard to take because we have quickly come to love Aiden so. But Aiden has another secret. He’s asexual. That makes those scenes where he is being sexually abused even more problematic. Why? Because of the way he sees them. I thought I understood what asexuality meant. Apparently not.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a character (or author for that matter) recently that made me question my assumptions about sexuality and relationships as Aiden and Alex Beecroft have. We live in Aiden’s skin here. Every moment, every thought that occurs from his brief secret excursions away from the house where he is kept, out over the meadows, into the local museum where archaeologist James Summers is toiling over the latest batch of “finds” and having his own relationship issues. Aiden’s brief moments of joy, his initial fear of Jamie, his curiosity and ,man,, this makes me want to cry again, his love of pottery and the art he was forced to abandon…we are there inside him, listening and weeping. And hoping for a rescue.
Jamie too needs help. We’re let into his point of view as well, important in a story such as this one. His long term relationship has diminished to the point that he rarely sees his “partner, and when he does, he dissolves into a doormat for his rockstar lover to walk over. Jamie too is a believable human being, full of frailties, preoccupied with his bits and pieces of antiquity and his life in Trowchester. It takes the arrival of Aiden in his life to shake up the status quo and get him moving again. Jamie is not asexual but gay with a healthy appetite that’s been repressed by his current relationship and lover.
There are some incredibly scary scenes that involve characters from the previous stories who help Aiden escape and start a new life. These moments in the novel are heart-stopping, white-knuckle, “wap your head against the wall” exciting and frustrating, all at the same time. You know those bits where you are yelling at the actors on the scene to get moving? Yep, that happens here. But its what comes later that will blow your perceptions of romance and a relationship to bits. Some will like it, some will love it and others won’t get it at all. At times, I was all three.
Ever think what it must be like to be asexual and love someone who is not? What does it mean to be in a relationship when one partner loves sex and the other doesn’t? How does that work? If it does? Beecroft takes those questions and gives us some answers through the relationship dynamics between Jamie and Aiden. At times I found myself shaking my head, thinking this can’t possibly work But a conversation with a friend who is asexual basically confirmed that is does, more often than we think.
Can a relationship work when you must schedule times for sex because to do otherwise is an abuse of another’s wishes and needs? Can a sexual being truly understand how an asexual person feels and act accordingly? And visa versa? These are all issues Alex Beecroft brings into her characters and storyline. It made me rethink my own assumptions about relationships, what works, what doesn’t and Steel Blue Chain has left me with even more questions and jumbled ideas, making me revaluate what I thought I knew about people, recovery and love. And did so through the character of a wounded,yet resilient young man called Aiden.
Blue Steel Chain came very close to a five star rating but a few things still bothered me at the end. There was so much going on here that I thought the idea of all those years of abuse would leave mental, emotional scarring far wore than the physical marks Aiden wore from his time in captivity. Yes, it was mentioned he was seeing a therapist, but it felt a little glossed over and not in keeping with the realism of the rest of the story. Perhaps that would have made this a 600 page story, who knows?
Still, I find that Blue Steel Chain is the most ambitious and surprising of the three novels. Is it my favorite? No. Is it the most remarkable? Yes, I think so. Blue Steel Chain will challenge your perceptions of love and romance, it will make you rethink your definitions of love and long term happiness. And it makes me yearn for more of this remarkable village, its incrediblely human and addicting inhabitants, and the stories they still have to tell.
Cover Art by Lou Harper. I like the branding, the tone and design works with all three stories but I’m just not sure that model works for any of the characters within.
ebook, 250 pages
Published July 27th 2015 by Riptide Publishing (first published July 25th 2015)
original titleBlue Steel Chain
Trowchester: it’s the fourth smallest city in Britain, and visitors sometimes think it hasn’t left the Middle Ages yet. There’s a Bronze Age barrow, a wide network of ley lines, the best tea shop in the county, and more morris dancers than you can shake a stick at. Trowchester attracts those who have been hurt and those who are looking for sanctuary from the modern world. But scratch the surface and there’s murder and mayhem aplenty. People come here to find love, but they’re forced to learn bravery first.
The release order of the Trowchester series is Trowchester Blues, Blue Eyed Stranger, and Blue Steel Chain, but you can start with withichever book catches your eye; they each stand alone. I highly recommend them all.