Monday, July 30, 2012

Alike as Two Bees by Elin Gregory

Author: Elin Gregory
Publisher: Etopia Press
Genre: Historical
Length: 20k words

Horses, love, and the tang of thyme and honey...

In Classical Greece, apprentice sculptor Philon has chosen the ideal horse to model for his masterpiece. Sadly, the rider falls well short of the ideal of beauty, but scarred and tattered Hilarion, with his brilliant, imperfect smile, draws Philon in a way that mere perfection cannot.

After years of living among the free and easy tribes of the north, Hillarion has no patience with Athenian formality. He knows what he wants—and what he wants is Philon. Society, friends and family threaten their growing relationship, but perhaps a scarred soldier and a lover of beauty are more alike than they appear.


Elin Gregory draws us into the ancient world of Greece, where democratic ideals didn’t necessarily penetrate to the countryside and the hand that holds the purse rules the world. Lovers are just as sweet in that past. Alike as Two Bees takes us to the sculptors’ yard where beauty we are accustomed to finding in museums is just today’s work.

Philon, plucked from among the stonemasons to train as a sculptor, is old for an apprentice because of his change in trades. He hangs back rather than put himself forward and acts more than he speaks.  He’s drawn to Hilarion, the scarred veteran of foreign parts, whose first duty must be to keeping his impetuous cousin Aristion from setting the countryside on its ear. One way or another, the two find ways to be together—duty always calls, and the demands of family take precedence, but Philon and Hilarion manage to find some privacy.

The slightly formal language of the story and the somewhat distant third person keep us from entering entirely into their heads. This actually works best in the one sex scene, where a few lines of breathless dialog and the barest of actions let us create an entire encounter more completely than describing every grunt and thrust could do. A number of important scenes take place in a third party’s POV, which creates a distancing effect—it isn’t even quite clear who the lovers will be until quite far into the story. One could possibly be thirteen year old Anatolios, who is a much livelier and more interesting character than Philon, although he enjoyed nothing more than admonitions to stay away from an older sculptor if the man had been drinking. The forced innocence of the two young men seemed one of the few modern notions grafted onto the past.

Philon is peculiarly innocent for a man who’s lived in the masons’ yard since he was old enough to leave the company of women, and because we don’t see deeply into his head, he comes across as a little simple. Still, he’s attracted the more worldly Hilarion, whose slightly clumsy courtship comes with choice olives and offers to ride double upon his fine mare. It’s cute, sweet, and fraught with difficulties seldom seen in a more industrial world.

At no time does the language break period, and if the turns of phrase are not translations from the Greek as they seem to be, they are very much in keeping with the world and sound very authentic. Alike as Two Bees is a charming look into the human side of antiquity. 3.5 marbles

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