Gil Cole. Fortune’s Bastard or Love’s Pains Recounted. Chelsea Station Editions, 2013. PB. 247p. $18. 978-1-937627-01-0.
In this historic romance novel readers are drawn into the life of Antonio, son of a wealthy merchant and shipping family who escapes his family and fate during the religious hysteria of Renaissance Florence.
Using the style and language of the Elizabethan period, including lines from Shakespeare’s plays interspersed without credit, Cole describes Antonio’s adventures on the sea and land as a pirate, itinerant actor, fugitive, and merchant.
Excitement abounds when Antonio encounters the open love aboard a pirate ship, a life of only males, who all find sexual release with each other in Cole’s graphic descriptions. After the pirate captain’s former lover sets Antonio adrift at sea, Antonio reencounters the traitor years later when he saves him in a world opposed to same-sex trysts. With two strikes against him—a pirate and a gay man—Antonio’s life goes full circle from the life his father wanted for him as a merchant and his reckless desire for older men to a life as a merchant endangering his own life to support the lives of young men drawn to older men.
Underlying this outward appearance of a pretty young man adrift is the thread of romance and sex during a time when Antonio, a sex- and attention-starved gay man, is denounced by the Church and society.
Antonio’s various roles demonstrate different ways sexuality might have been dealt with in the time, hidden from acceptable society but never far from the knowledge of those who wished to participate. His tale illustrates his personal values, not wanting to hurt a woman by marrying her without any sexual interest in her. Hunted by the people who once held illicit trysts with him, Antonio is forced to hide behind traditional marriages that pretend to preserve the society that wants to kill him. Betrayal, lust, love, and desire abound in this novel.
Well researched and historically accurate, the adventure draws the reader into the life of Elizabethan Italy. Although the language can be confusing at first, it becomes part of the experience and necessary to the narrative. Suitable for historic and romance sections of a public library, the book contains specific sexual acts.