Two of my big passions combined: gay novels and historical fiction… I could not resist to pay homage to a writer, Roger Kean who has been writing gay historical fiction for about a decade, and, in the long choice of exquisite texts, one, at least for me, stood out for this post: Thunderbolt.
For those who, like me, love classical history, the Punic Wars, which I believe are the longest wars in history, are a fascinating topic. Why did Cato insist on Carthage being destroyed? That was so unRoman! This novel takes place during such wars, and follows the great General Hannibal, who I believe was, and remained, Rome’s most dreaded enemy. A Punic (or Carthagenian) soldier, he managed to scare mighty Rome to the point that he became the world’s capital’s nemesis.
Kieran’s choice to place his protagonist, Malco, known as Thunderbolt, with the enemy of Rome is indicative. I believe it stands for the vision of Kean’s novels, to explore history from the point of view of the outsider, in this case Carthage, of which we know so little. In this way, gay history and world history meet in an embrace that tells two stories at the same time: how Martian, militarist Rome destroyed even the memory of their enemy and how gay history has been buried under the ashes of prejudice and bigotry.
The novel mixes historical elements with adventure and romance: the action is quick and comes very soon in the novel, in fact, it almost starts in medias res, in the middle of the action, a good tradition taken from epic poems: if you want your reader to become immediately engaged with your words, leave preambles aside and start from the middle.
The story starts in Carthage (modern day Tunis, though the old city was raised to the ground by the Romans and almost nothing remains), and follows Hannibal on his incredibly imaginative, and legendary, campaigned across the Alps. Kean does not wait to sow us action, in fact, his style mixes description and action perfectly, though action is the leading element: descriptions occur only when necessary, there is no dwelling on long descriptive passages, but a series of small and almost impressionistic touches here and there that make the action colourful, vivid and enjoyable.
Along the adventurous path, Malco meets the great loves of his life, Gikson, Juba and Trebon. Each character defies the contemporary stereotype of the gay man, and this is another point which I like in Kean’s prose: warriors, activists, men who, excuse my reference to the stereotype, can be easily identified with straight men, or with what most people think straight men are like, as opposed to gay men. I don’t support stereotypes and Kean’s work to defy them is, in my opinion, praiseworthy.
Along the way, corruption, battles and heart-ache mix, and we will in the end find Malco/Thunderbolt fought between his patriotism and his values, in particular his revulsion towards corruption. Here again, gay men are not represented as monolithic, not as one-themed and one-sided men, but as round characters, with their moral dilemmas and their ethical dimensions, as well as with their emotional and intellectual qualities.
When I say, as I have stated in earlier posts, that gay literature is alive and full of great writers, I include Roger Kean, who certainly bucks the trend of writers who are exploiting the Pink Pound and latching onto stereotypes and fashion to make some easy money. He clearly writes with a literary intent and with the intention to speak to the world, to express a reality which has often been swept aside as irrelevant. And he does this while regaling us with thoroughly enjoyable and very well-written novels…
THUNDERBOLT ON AMAZON