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Mostly Cross Posts from my blog, Readings From the Dark Side

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The Pharaoh's Concubine - Z.A. Maxfield I just reread this and upped my rating to a five. It's one of those books that grows on you, unfolding beauties and insights, much like the hero Dylan, a man whose physical beauty turns out to camouflage his inner beauty. On the first page he comes off (and even thinks of himself) as a spoiled plaything, a man with a weekly appointment at a high-end spa. But Dylan is emphatically more than he seems and the botched kidnapping ends up becoming one of those catalytic events, irrevocably changing the direction of his life.

Mild Spoilers. A series of impulsive decisions brings him back home to the life he'd thought he'd left behind--as a devout Mormon in Utah. Though I thought everything in the book was well done, here was where I thought Maxfield's originality really showed. The book is like Dylan himself--both move in totally unpredictable directions. Without much fanfare, the story quietly develops in very unexpected ways as we learn the circumstances of Dylan's leaving home and his family's rejection of his sexuality.

But instead of being just another condemnation of a narrow morality, the book allows us to see how much of that old self Dylan kept, and even how much of what is best about him could be tied to his upbringing--the emphasis on family, work, nature, helping others, reaching out, listening to an inner prompting that tells you what is right and wrong. And though the LDS faith's condemnation of homosexuality is shown to be unjust and destructive, Maxfield is careful to distinguish doctrine from people. Moreover, Dylan himself was not always fair to members of his own family--was too quick to judge in a way that left a huge hole in everyone's life.

I don't know enough about the LDS church to judge if Maxfield's portrait was too rosy--I hope is wasn't. Certainly the book demonstrated the kind of nuance and insight that spoke of a deep familiarity with her subject. I admired that she avoided cheap shots or easy condemnations throughout, but instead focused on a particularly gentle, but also strong man, how he was shaped by the best aspects of his faith, but forced in the end to forge his own identity when that faith couldn't accept a crucial part of who he was--and that identity really was an unusually beautiful person.

It seems ironic that William, the young Latino gang-banger, would come off as the more familiar of the two, but his is a character we see far more often in the media, if not through my actual experience. Maxfield also gives him unexpected nuances (as well as a gift for hot bedroom talk--always a favorite here). Like Dylan he has his areas of strength and vulnerability. The two men are crazily different from each other, much more so than most romance couples, and yet the reader totally buys the chemistry between them--and that they are each in a unique position to recognize how special the other is.

All in all, a book that grows on you, revealing its special qualities quietly over time, rather like the two wonderful men at its heart.