Her Majesty’s Men by Marquesate
Her Majesty’s Men is the story of two soldiers in the British Forces and of a friendship taking unexpected turns. In the eyes of the Army they are just two mates who are close. But from the revelation of personal secrets, ensuing hatred and aggression, through terror and danger, to loyalty, triumphant strength and courage, grows their own realisation of what they are: comrades first and foremost, but something else too, something more significant. The two Royal Engineers, Sgt Tom Warren and SSgt Alex Turner, learn to understand the real meaning of loyalty and strength. Their fight for survival cuts through all the discipline and rules, to tie them together in a unique bond of companionship and trust.
This is a unique and different book about two men who are soldiers to their very core, friends and comrades second, and eventually lovers third. While these would seem to cause problems not only inherently within the military but the order of priorities between the men, surprisingly for the span of the book, it works. Whether it would always work between these two is questionable given their very different personalities and needs, but for the entirely of this story, their romance within the brutal atmosphere seems solid and realistic. While this book was not without its flaws, I felt as though the author knew the problems with the characters and decided to leave them as they were, letting the readers decide if they accepted the flaws or not. I could be wrong, but that was the impression I got.
As the blurb suggests this story is about two best friends and their friendship defined by sex, love, torture, selfishness, obsession, and the military over the course of several years. This device of slowly changing their friendship and relationship over the course of years is very clever and works well in this particular instance. Although the passage of time is hardly noticeable other than comments by the narrator that whatever amount of time had passed, this created a long-standing pattern to their behavior while advancing Alex’s slow and difficult recovery. It’s along these lines that the reader can understand that Tom will never leave Alex, ever, and actually accepts the pseudo-relationship they’ve developed without anger or regret.
Tom is an interesting character and the narrator for the first part of the book. It’s his third person perspective that describes their friendship and sets up the foundation for their relationship, which is Tom’s devotion and adoration along with his acceptance of whatever meager affection Alex offers. Tom is almost unsympathetic in his undying need and desire for Alex, his one track mind almost simple and animal like with the initial repetition of wanting, needing Alex. Once they’ve gotten together, Tom still accepts Alex whenever and however he can get the other man, relying on their almost violent coupling and cherishing the time they are together. Surprisingly Tom is never upset, never angry, never wanting more than Alex is willing to give and accepts that while Tom wants Alex, the reverse isn’t true. Alex wants the release he gets with Tom, but he doesn’t want Tom sexually. This leads to a very unbalanced relationship and characterization for the majority of the book, only giving hints of turning at the very end.
Alex is undoubtedly selfish and in love with himself and the military first and foremost. He’s unquestionably straight but after his torture while being held captive and subsequent PTSD, he’s unable to function sexually. Surprisingly Tom seems to find the key to both Alex’s mental and physical needs and is able to tap into those needs to arouse Alex in ways no one has been able to in the past. Alex cruelly uses Tom’s desire for him to slowly heal the mental and physical wounds he’s had inflicted, and it’s only when faced with the possibility of Tom’s death that his own emotions are examined. At this point the book flawlessly transfers to Alex’s point of view for the narration and exposes a relentless will and struggle for survival, putting Tom’s life and worth above all else. It’s only during this experience and subsequent recovery that Alex realizes the extent to his feelings and while his confusion over his own sexuality remains, the important point is his need for Tom in all ways. The friendship and companionship within the military continue being just as essential as the sexual aspect.
The additional character of Alex’s ex-wife was a surprising element towards the end and very much a clue to any readers who might have missed the subtle underpinnings as well as giving Alex an objective viewpoint of his own sexuality and needs. While the ending was a rather nice tie up, the ex-wife did come off as slightly annoying when comforting herself even as her inner commentary gave more insight into Alex. But no doubt that slight annoyance is reader specific. She was however an intelligent and well-written addition to the story that rarely shifted focus from Alex and Tom for long.
Overall this was an interesting story to read and the writing was very different from most available stories. The prose and phrase choice was almost as if the author is not familiar with Americanized English, which worked extremely well considering the English setting. I’d guess the author is not American, but that’s just a guess. The writing style and flow will appeal to some and not others but also the high level of violence in the book may turn some readers off. Alex and Tom’s sexual coupling is often violent for the majority of the book and the second half deals with military problems such as capture and torture. This however, is not prolonged thankfully but is there for those that may have a problem with that. The unbalanced relationship and polarizing personalities of selfish Alex and weak Tom are interesting choices that seem to have worked for the author and created a story that stands out for sure. I’ll be very interested to see what the author does next as the themes and style used here, may not be successful in the long run. You decide.
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