About the Book
Publisher: Mischief Corner Books
Author: J. Scott Coatsworth
Cover Artist: Freddy MacKay
Release Date: 6/14/17
Genre: MM, Sci Fi, Fantasy, Romance, Myths, Legends, Gods, Post-Apocalyptic
Dwyn is a young man in the small, isolated town of Manicouga, son of the Minstor, who is betrothed to marry Kessa in a few weeks’ time.
Mael is shepherding the remains of his own village from the north, chased out by a terrible storm that destroyed Land’s End.
Both are trying to find their way in a post-apocalyptic world. When the two meet, their love and attraction may change the course of history.
The Great North was inspired by St. Dwynwen’s Day, also known as Welsh Valentines Day:
This is a fairly quick read, both in terms of length and pacing. I was able to finish it in just an afternoon. It’s enjoyable, and the characters are likable. I ended up with some mixed feelings, but overall, the positive outweighs any hesitations.
What I loved: The setting. The reason I agreed to review this is that the author is outstanding at world-building. Everything is flawless. It’s not hard to understand the context, right from the beginning, and there are no long, dull expository passages. The cues are built right into the narrative.
I also love the way fantasy, science fiction, and dystopia are seamlessly integrated. The writing style reminds me of Madeleine L’Engle in that regard. This story in particular has, for me, some of the same emotional similarities to a couple of my favorites of hers. What a delight to be not only taken to a new place but to be reminded of something familiar and beloved.
I have a soft spot for retold fairy tales, and this one delivers. Although it’s not a story I was familiar with, that certainly didn’t take away from my enjoyment. Covering an old story is often done by giving it a contemporary setting. This novella is unusual in placing it in a post-apocalyptic world, which I think is brilliant.
There were only a few things that made me pause. I like to hope (because I know the author’s work and really appreciate it) that this was not anything intentional. However, I was mildly irritated at the social setup of the people of Land’s End. They are sort of a bisexual, polyamorous society, except…not. There’s a distinct split between “people you love” and “people you make babies with.” So they engage in bisexual behavior exclusively for reproduction unless they happen to be straight. Which seems somewhat odd to me. I would think such a society would allow a person to have more than one person they love, even if one of those is also for babymaking. It’s okay, I guess, and better than a lot of book bisexuality. But I’d have liked it better if it didn’t seem like the society was built on navigating the gay/straight binary. I know it’s hard to show in such a short space, but a passing mention would’ve done.
The other thing was that this story seemed to have an Agenda. That’s okay, and I like books like that. I just wish I’d known. It’s pretty anti-Christian, which is also fine with me, but it was another binary split: evil Christians vs. good whatever-Mael-is. Something Pagan-ish. It wasn’t even particularly subtle, which might have made it seem less like a whomp on the head. Probably something LGBT+ readers who are also Christians might want to be aware of before reading.
The other things were more minor, such as the instant-love between Mael and Dwyn and the odd ending. They weren’t enough to make me dislike the book, but those might have been my lack of understanding about the original myth this came from. Otherwise, this novella is pretty solid.
For exceptional world-building, a different take on retold fairy tales, and likable characters, this gets 8/10 fountain pens.
“We celebrate Dwyn’s Day as a testament to true love and sacrifice. It’s a remembrance of the way things were and the way they’ve come to be. In the end, let it be a reminder that every one of us has the power to change the course of events through love.”
—Dillon Cooper, New Gods and Monsters, Twenty years After Dwyn
The gray clouds scudded by overhead, blowing in quickly from the east.
Dwyn shivered and pulled on his woolen cap. It was cold out, unusual for so early in the fall. The rains had been heavy this season, the wettest in a generation, and Circle Lake was close to overflowing its banks. If he stretched to look over the rows of corn plants, he could see the waters lapping at the shore far below, as if hungry to consume his village of Manicouga.
His father had consulted the elders, some of whom had seen more than fifty summers, and everyone agreed things were changing. Whether that augured good or ill was anyone’s guess.
He shrugged and moved along the row of plants, breaking off ears of corn and throwing them into the jute sack that hung from his shoulder.
Ahead of him, two of his age-mates, Declan and Baia, were working their way down the next two rows.
Dwyn frowned. He got distracted easily, and he’d let the two of them get a jump on him. That wouldn’t do.
He redoubled his pace. He moved with focus and purpose, and soon he was closing the gap with his friends.
“Someone’s being chased by a lion,” Baia said with a laugh.
“Or a tiger.” Declan grinned, his nice smile only missing one tooth, lost to a fight with one of the Beckham brothers the year before.
Dwyn grinned. “Or a bear?” Dwyn only knew lions and tigers from the fairy tale his mother used to tell them, “The Girl and the Aus.” He had no idea what an Aus was, either.
Bears he knew. The hunters occasionally brought one home, and old Alesser had a five-line scar across his wrinkled face that he claimed came from one of the beasts.
A shout went up from ahead of them. Dwyn craned his neck to see what the ruckus was, but he couldn’t make out anything. “What’s going on?”
Declan, who was half a head taller, looked toward the commotion. “Hard to tell. Something down by the road.”
Dwyn laid down his sack carefully and ran up the hill to one of the old elms that dotted the field. He climbed into the tree, scurrying up through the leaves and branches until he had a clear view of the Old Road. It ran from up north to somewhere down south, maybe near the ruins of old Quebec if the merchant tales held any truth. Hardly anyone from Manicouga ever followed it, but occasionally traders would follow it to town, bringing exotic wares and news from the other villages that were scattered up and down its length.
They swore it went all the way down to the Heat, the great desert that had consumed much of the world after the Reckoning.
“What’s going on down there?” Baia called from below.
Dwyn tried to make sense of it. “There are three wagons coming down the pass. They’re loaded up with all sorts of things. They don’t look like traders though.”
The first of the horse-drawn wagons had just reached the field above the main township. It stopped, and someone hopped off to talk with the villagers who had gathered from the fields.
“We need to get down there,” Dwyn said, scrambling down the tree trunk. “Something’s happening.” Nothing new ever happened in Manicouga, and he wasn’t going to miss it.
He grabbed his sack and sprinted toward the Old Road, not waiting to see if Declan and Baia followed.
About the Author
Scott spends his time between the here and now and the what could be. Enticed into fantasy and sci fi by his mom at the tender age of nine, he devoured her Science Fiction Book Club library. But as he grew up, he wondered where all the people like him were in the books he was reading.
He decided that it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at his local bookstore. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
His friends say Scott’s mind works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He loves to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.
He runs both Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own lives.