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Friday, September 12, 2014

Romans in history

For some readers, mention the words ‘historical fiction’ and they will run as fast and as far away as possible. In a recent perusal of the topic, ‘Comfort Challenge Zone,’ on Goodreads, I was disheartened to see that a majority of m/m readers listed ‘historical’ as a restricted category. By this I think these readers mean, “No way will I ever consider reading a historical.”

I understand and can certainly relate to this sentiment. All those strange names and weird clothes and unfamiliar cultural details can be overwhelming and off-putting. History hurts.

I have a confession.

Even though I’m a historian, I too often find it boring to read historical fiction. Yet, I chose to write a story that some would call ‘historical fiction.’ My current m/m series, Dominus, is set in ancient Rome, but it’s not historical fiction per se. Well, not really. It best fits into an even more obscure niche known as historical fantasy. Heck, I say why just write history when you can fuck with it? Spin it on its head and change things up a bit? Now we’re talking.

Let’s talk about the history part of this story. The setting for Dominus is Rome during the reign of the emperor, Trajan (AD 98-117). Trajan is a curious fellow. We know very little about him. No biographies, no detailed histories, no record of his great military campaigns save the images preserved in art. We have letters that Trajan supposedly wrote and we have mentions of him here and there. And, by the gods, we have gobs of archaeological evidence for Trajan’s building projects. By all accounts (very limited accounts), he was a fair and just ruler who preferred to be on campaign smiting the barbarian hoard and gathering up riches than hanging out feasting at the imperial palace in Rome.

The very peculiar thing about old Trajan was that he never adopted an heir, as was tradition. Why not? Did the triumphant emperor think that he’d never die? Was he pulling an Alexander the Great sort of move (another legendary leader who did not officially name a successor)? According to some rather dubious sources, at Trajan’s deathbed his former ward Hadrian was supposedly named the heir to the throne. It was a scandal—a scandal that Hadrian soon squashed through his own political astuteness.

Are you still awake?

All right, so where’s the fantasy part? I decided to create another strong-willed, successful man, Gaius Fabius Rufus. He’s completely fictional, but he’s not a minor character in this long-lost world, as we so often get with original characters in historical fiction. Gaius Fabius is in the thick of it. He’s a military commander—a top dog—and his very existence changes the motivations and relationships of the actual historical figures. I asked myself, what if Trajan had had two ‘sons’ instead of just Hadrian? What if there was competition for the imperial throne? Could a prominent Roman leader have been erased from history? Those were the questions that started my writing journey.

Because I’m a fan of exploring power relationships, I gave our fictional Roman general a family of his own: a loyal ex-slave from North Africa, a group of crusty veteran soldiers, a stable of sensual male and female pleasure slaves, a feisty aristocratic wife, an ornery grandmother, and a secret male lover who happens to be Gaius’s best friend, Lucius. Of course, Gaius also has to deal with Trajan, Hadrian and other historical personalities that I’ve fictionalized with my own twisted spin. Into this complicated mess, I threw a new slave, a recently captured barbarian named Allerix whom Gaius purchases at auction. Gaius’s growing affection for this barbarian from Dacia (modern Romania) upsets the balance of the family hierarchy and threatens his chances to become the next emperor.

There’s a lot of steamy gay sex in this story—not every chapter, but it is m/m erotica. There are also a slew of sub-plots to spice up the romance: a murder mystery, a pregnancy that leads to a dangerous deception, an attempted rescue of a captured comrade, a tragic accidental death, some buried skeletons and a unique dagger…

In sum, Dominus explores the sacrifices made by two strong men who were once sworn enemies but became lovers. Soul mates. Yes, it’s set in ancient times when Rome was at the height of her power and wealth. But it’s more than that. The Dominus series is a slow sexy burn over four (maybe five) books. Peppered with a few cliffhangers, this saga ultimately concludes with a satisfying, passion-packed HFN. It’s a long journey filled with laughs, lust and angst. And, if I do my job, readers will feel that they are living in ancient Rome with all of its smells, tastes and textures. Some, I hope, will fall in love with the story of Gaius and Allerix. And, perhaps a few readers might learn to crave a sprinkling of historical delights in their m/m romance. History doesn’t have to hurt.

In AD 107, after a grueling campaign against Rome's fierce enemy, the kingdom of Dacia, Gaius Fabius returns home in triumph. With the bloody battles over, the commander of the Lucky IV Legion now craves life's simple pleasures: leisurely soaks in fragrant baths, over-flowing cups of wine, and a long holiday at his seaside villa to savor his pleasure slaves. On a whim, he purchases a spirited young Dacian captive and unwittingly sparks a fresh outbreak of the Dacian war; an intimate struggle between two sworn enemies with love and honor at stake.

Allerix survived the wars against Rome, but now he is a sex slave rather than a victor. Worse, the handsome general who led the destruction of his people now commands his body. When escape appears impossible, Alle struggles to find a way to preserve his dignity and exact vengeance upon the hated Romans. Revenge will be his, that is, if he doesn't lose his heart to his lusty Roman master.

Dominus is a plot-packed erotic m/m fantasy that transports readers back to ancient Rome during the reign of the Emperor Trajan (98-117). This is the first book in an alternate history series—a tumultuous journey filled with forbidden love, humor, sex, friendship, political intrigue, deception and murder.

Buy links for Book 1 in the Dominus series:

Contact info for JP Kenwood:

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