The Cross and the Black by Luwa Wande
Blurb: Claude Severin lives amidst the squalor, the excitement, and the Catholic fervor of Renaissance Toulouse. He is a servant by day and a male prostitute by night. All he wants is the simple easy life free from love’s demands. But his master, exasperated with his selfishness, orders him to move out. And Claude is thrust into panic over difficult options: give up wantonness and learn a serious trade or return to the adrenaline and the savagery of the streets.
However, a mysterious stranger of aristocratic manners offers him another choice, the golden chance for education and advancement. Even as destitution looms, Claude hesitates to take the opportunity to raise his station. For one, the stranger is evasive on the question of payment. Also there is a chance, a slim but real chance his master may change his mind and love will finally bloom between them.
Read here as Claude must find his true way between the Cross and the Black in a world strangled by the demands of God and men.
Review: The format of this story is a serial novel, and while I normally dig serial stories tremendously – *sings* anticipaaaaaaaaaay-shuuuuunnnnnn – I wouldn’t have chosen that kind of format for this story. Here’s why.
It’s 1584 in France, and I’m in 2012 America. It takes some getting used to the language and the way people think from back then, so I needed a few thousand words under my belt before I found my reading groove. That’s not to say the story is poorly written. On the contrary! There were great gems throughout the book, like these:
The night buried the church facades, the belfries, the monasteries in the mass grave of darkness.
Anger flamed anew, and he made for the strip of light lining the road, which skimmed off to sanity.
Once I could wrap my head around the way of speaking—handy to know: the term ‘Oc’ means ‘yes’—and norms of thinking, there were moments that made my heart leap. I was about half through when I finally found said groove. Then the story bloomed in my head and by then, I was almost finished and now I have to wait for the next installment… and likely take the time to get into it again. So, hmmm. My smooth reading experience is interrupted by the format. Not ideal, but I’m going out of my way not to be annoyed by this. Why is that?
Because the story, once I could get into it, was interesting. Claude is an underdog, and I love me a pretty boy underdog. He does what he has to and has his arbitrary internal rules in order to sleep at night. Survival is his intent, but he won’t do it at much expense to others. We see his compassion when he saves a local village girl form a crowd of bullies, delivering her to her mum mostly unscathed while still protecting his own ass…ets. Claude finds amusement when he can, comfort where he can get it, and loyalty in no one, not even the man he serves during the day to keep his household in working order. Serge, Claude’s employer, chooses loyalty to his newly negotiated bride rather than Claude, who has been with him for years. The betrothed woman will have no scruffy, questionable queer manservant in her home.
Enter Guy Sewell. He’s a dapper man, obviously educated, but after their initial tussle over Guy’s hat, they enter into a strange interaction with one another. Claude’s normal conversations have him convincing people he’s not a rat, but with Guy, their roles are reversed. Guy is mysterious, has a way about him that speaks of creepy stalker motives, and generally scares Claude though tries to convince Claude his danger is less than what Claude will face on the streets once he’s homeless. But he also intrigues Claude, constantly referring to him as human, (the book is categorized as historical paranormal, so I assume the next installment will explain the nature of Guy’s identity), and is invasive enough in their interactions to get Claude interested in learning more.
When Claude realizes his options are to leave his home and become the apprentice of a curmudgeonly woodworker with absolutely no use for Claude other than to show him a trade Claude has no interest in learning, or to take Guy up on his offer of education and exploration, the only reason he initially chooses the woodworker is that Guy won’t specify payment. It may be more than Claude can pay. When Guy accelerates Claude’s ousting from Serge’s home, Claude is faced with a very real life he knows he doesn’t want or the chance at a life that scares him.
In the end, we know he chooses Guy, so I won’t consider that a spoiler, and this is where the story leaves off. It did its job—I want to know more. But for a 15,000 word serial installment, I’ll have to wait for the next bit. It’s a promising beginning once I was able to get used to the wording, and I’m entertained. However, I don’t know enough about the plot to rate it higher than a C at this point. I had to work too hard to get to where I am right now, and by the time I did get there, I’m put on hold to wait for more. Future installments have the potential to raise the rating on this entire story. Stay tuned…