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Book CoverStevie‘s review of Under Leaden Skies by Sandra Lindsey
Gay Historical Fiction published by Manifold Press 01 Aug 16

I grew up on the Biggles books and their ilk, so I love a good wartime adventure story; while these days there’s not such a shortage of those books where gay characters play a considerable part in the plot, nor is there any shortage of gay romances set in war time, it’s still not as easy to find adventure stories centred on a gay hero, where romance features but doesn’t necessarily dominate. Having said all that, I’ve been excitedly awaiting this debut novel from Sandra Lindsey, featuring not just a gay hero and his comrades, but also a very special aircraft and a complicated love story (it’s not a conventional romance for those who insist upon those kind of things).

Teddy Garston – very few people are allowed to call him by his given name of Maximillian or its short form, Max – has grown up knowing his duty as the heir to his grandfather, Lord Albury, whose only son was killed in the First World War; however, Teddy is more down to earth than many of his class, spending most of his holidays from school and then university in a Welsh mining village, home to his former nanny as well as to his best friend, Huw. When war breaks out again, Huw is destined to remain a miner – coal being essential to the war effort – while Teddy joins the RAF.

On the final day of his last visit to Huw’s village before receiving his posting, Teddy finally finds the courage to confess his feelings for Huw and is amazed to discover that they are reciprocated. The war separates the men for long periods after that, and Teddy finds solace with one of his crewmates on the Sunderland Flying Boat he has been assigned to. They both acknowledge that the relationship is unlikely to last beyond the long years of the war – Teddy still corresponds with Huw on a regular basis and knows that once he returns home he will have to marry and provide a son to inherit his title in the future. Meanwhile, Teddy’s wartime lover has a string of girlfriends and seems to be serious about the latest one, Sylvia.

I loved the glimpses we get of life on the Sunderland as well as on the various bases at which her crew are stationed, and then, after Teddy’s world is dramatically altered again, those of military hospitals and the work of the ATA – the Air Transport Auxiliary – back in Britain. Teddy manages to do his duty to his men, his lovers and his title, but as I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a conventional romance by some people’s standards, and being a war story, not everyone survives – or comes through the war in one piece.

I loved this book, both for the story told within it and for the style in which it is told – addressing the reader throughout, as Teddy passes his story on to an individual whose identity only becomes clear at the very end. There’s a lot of scope for sequels – and possibly a prequel about Teddy’s grandfather here – so I hope this isn’t the only visit we pay to the characters and their world.

Stevies CatGrade: A


Love. Loss. Betrayal. Forgiveness. Honour. Duty. Family.

In 1939, the arrival of war prompted ‘Teddy’ Maximilian Garston to confess his love to his childhood friend, Huw Roberts. Separated by duty – Teddy piloting Sunderland flying boats for RAF Coastal Command, and Huw deep underground in a South Wales coal mine – their relationship is frustrated by secrecy, distance, and the stress of war that tears into every aspect of their lives.

After endless months of dull patrols, a chance encounter over the Bay of Biscay will forever change the course of Teddy’s life. On returning to Britain, how will he face the consequences of choices made when far from home? Can he find a way to provide for everyone he loves, and build a family from the ashes of wartime grief?

Read an excerpt.