I’ll Be Your Drill, Soldier by Crystal Rose
Ryan Gracin had a good life until he told his parents he was gay. Since they yanked their support for college he had to find a way to pay for it. Little did he know that joining the Army was going to change his life forever. Especially when he was introduced to a Drill Sergeant who was nicknamed ‘Big Daddy’. Phillip Grabowski had joined the Army to follow in his father’s footsteps; by the time Ryan entered, he had already made a name for himself. He was a soldier’s solider, but Ryan was making it really hard for him to remember that.
I had some apprehensions about this book considering it is 566 pages and from an unknown publisher and author. To be honest I figured this would be marine porn and saved it for a rainy day. I couldn’t be more wrong about this delightful, relationship driven story set among Army men. Firstly don’t be put off by the page count, it’s actually just under 70k words but the formatting sucks. The type must be triple space (at least) and there is maybe a paragraph or two per page –there is that much blank space, at least in PDF format. The story also has a lot of dialogue and email communication so what seems like a huge story is actually manageable and reads incredibly fast. The setting is a parallel reality where “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” doesn’t exist and there are no problems in the military regarding sexual orientation. All that matters is that the soldiers perform their job.
The story is very much relationship driven as it starts with basic training. Giving an incredibly detail orientated view into this humbling and painful time for new recruits, the friendships and bonds formed last a lifetime. Here four men and two drill sergeants form close relationships that will serve them well over the next several years. The story follows these men over the course of six or seven years as they move from basic training, serve overseas, get injured, experience painful reintegration into society, and struggle with their romantic and friendship connections.
The main narrator is Ryan. A 22 year old young man that joins the Army when his family refuses to put him through college when they find out he’s gay. Ryan’s slow maturation from wide eyed innocent to intelligent, capable soldier is one of the driving forces of the story. Similarly, his early friendship with three others –nerdy Brandon, crazy Kenneth, and stoic Patrick- will become the bedrock of his new family. The first half of the book goes into depth about the activities these young men experience while in basic training. The harsh conditions, seemingly evil drill sergeants, and lasting friendship are portrayed wonderfully. Two of those evil Drills end up in relationships with the men. The first is a pairing between Drill Mark Connelly and Patrick Smith. They are a secondary couple but important as Patrick and Ryan are especially close. Ryan becomes involved with the main Drill Sergeant, Phillip Grabowski. The sexual tension between these two is incredibly high during basic training and only satisfied once Ryan graduates.
Here the author’s knowledgeable and use of the detail comes into shinning focus. While the writing is good, the story rarely offers full descriptive quality. The shearing heat of the Missouri sun doesn’t translate very well since the focus is so strongly on the men. The conditions are told to the reader through entertaining and often humorous “fuck” laced dialogue and internal rants. The harsh sun, unending physical conditions, mental demands, and so on are relayed instead of shown to the reader which does take some of the impact away. Instead the story leaves a light, somewhat distant affect that has the reader able to enjoy the crazy antics as the men grumble, complain, and whine their way through basic training. The level of detail is incredible and although I’m no expert, clearly the author knows what she’s talking about.
The story follows the men and takes some big leaps in time, catching the reader up with short emails and communications between the men to show the forward movement. The next five years after basic training are summed up in a series of emails between the various men showing they’ve been overseas, made mistakes, some left the military, and others have re-enlisted. The writing focuses on the camaraderie and closeness between the men, their teasing, affection, anger, and support. These men need each other and lean on each other through the harsh realities of military life and manage to make lasting connections not only in their friendships but also romantically. As this is an erotic romance, there are some sex scenes but only a handful. The focus is on the interaction, dialogue, and close friendship that are depicted in such classically great scenes as when Ryan is getting ready for his first official date with Phillip. This is such a fabulous scene that shows the fun loving nature of the four men and their connection, while injecting humor and some juvenile antics for fun.
While the book is highly entertaining and absorbing, so much so it’s hard to put down – the writing is definitely not perfect. Towards the end of the book, the pace and intensity is lessened when the story looks through Mark’s point of view. This would have been much more effective and interesting to look through either the person injured or their loved one’s POV to show the intense impact such an event can have on both individuals. Additionally as I’ve said the descriptive quality is low and the story relies on telling almost everything through dialogue and a few inner monologues rather than showing. This doesn’t decrease the enjoyment factor, but it does make the story more light and easy. Also, the women depicted are very pro-gay as are most of the families. There is only a smattering of anti-gay sentiment, which seems out of place in the fictional environment created and the story didn’t necessarily need the over the top support.
Overall this is a highly enjoyable light read highlighting the lasting connections that exist between military men. The lack of problems regarding sexuality in the military is a nice change and one I particularly enjoyed. It’s clearly not a reflection of reality but here I didn’t mind. The light handling of the subject matter never loses sight that these men fight for their lives and serve their country. All in all, an absorbing, entertaining, and thoroughly enjoyable book.
Get it HERE!