While I’ve visited the ruins at Knossos and have a healthy fascination with the legend of the Minotaur, I don’t know as much about the history of ancient Crete as perhaps I should. Not, it seems, that anyone else knows as much about the Minoans as they do about the more dominant cultures of that region and time period, thus leaving plenty of gaps for authors to fill with fascinating speculation. More to the point of this review, having complained recently that I don’t see enough historical romances with gender-fluid or genderqueer characters, a whole spate come along at once, not least this offering by Alex Beecroft.
Kikeru’s mother is a Minoan priestess and so a high ranking member of their society. Although Kikeru sometimes dresses, acts, and feels like the man he was born to be, there are other times when she is more comfortable as a woman. As a woman – and in this society, that would mean following castration – Kikeru could join the priestesses at the temple. As a man, Kikeru would have to find a wife and act male all the time. Neither option fully appeals, but the time when Kikeru will have to choose is drawing close.
While out walking, Kikeru is saved from assault by a group of Greek sailors, thanks to the intervention of widowed ship owner Rusa. Kikeru has overheard the Greeks discussing their plans to overthrow the Minoans and take Crete for themselves and enlists Rusa’s help. Rusa, who has an unconventional daughter himself, is attracted to Kikeru regardless of gender, and agrees to help thwart the Greeks’ plot. Although the two families did not know each other before, Kikeru’s mother and Rusa’s daughter soon take to their respective relatives’ new friends; together, the four try to find ways not only to keep their civilisation safe from invasion but also to solve the problems posed by Kikeru’s gender and Rusa’s imminent grandchild. Kikeru is an inventor, which gives them various options for fooling the Greeks, particularly given the complex layout of the Minoan palace that the Greeks must break into in order to complete their plans.
Rusa’s daughter, meanwhile, is keen to help, in spite of her advanced pregnancy; although she exposes herself to danger when the Greeks realise her connection to the others, she shows no hesitation in rescuing herself. Not put off by her first brush with the enemy, she then continues to help her father and his new love to complete their plans and outwit the Greeks.
I loved all these characters, and the society which was envisioned for them – based on what little we know from archaeology and Greek records, neither of which can really tell us how the Minoans thought or interacted with each other and with their foreign visitors cum would-be conquerors. My only disappointment is that the story wasn’t longer, so that we could get to see more of Kikeru and Rusa’s adventures and life together – once a solution had been found to ensure everyone appeared to be following the conventions of their society!
Kikeru, the child of a priestess at the sacred temple of Knossos in ancient Crete, believes that the goddesses are laughing at him. They expect him to choose whether he is a man or a woman, when he’s both. They expect him to choose whether to be a husband to a wife, or a celibate priestess in the temple, when all he wants to do is invent things and be with the person he loves.
Unfortunately, that person is Rusa, the handsome ship owner who is most decidedly a man and therefore off-limits no matter what he chooses. And did he mention that the goddesses also expect him to avert war with the Greeks?
The Greeks have an army. Kikeru has his mother, Maja, who is pressuring him to give her grandchildren; Jadikira, Rusa’s pregnant daughter; and superstitious Rusa, who is terrified of what the goddesses will think of him being in love with one of their chosen ones.
It’s a tall order to save Crete from conquest, win his love, and keep both halves of himself. Luckily, at least the daemons are on his side.
Read an excerpt.