Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Review: Dona Nobis Pacem by Willa Okati


Mute saloonkeeper Donnell knows all about prejudice; he's had to battle it all of his life. He also knows how self-righteous and judgmental the people of the old west town of Nazareth can be, so he isn't surprised when he sees them spurn requests for work from a man who walks into town looking to be all but on his death bed. Donnell takes the man in and nurses him back to health, falling in love along the way. But is Donnell destined to have his heart broken?

Title Translation: Using Latin to English translator - A Votive Offering Us a Passus (a section, division or Canto of a poem or a story, a medieval one. Origins: late 16th Century: literally 'step, pace' in Medieval Latin 'passage of a book.') ETA: See link for more information.

I must admit to having a bit of a problem reading M/M romances set in historical times. Not because I don't love history or M/M -- I love both. The story's plausibility becomes the focus for me, especially when or if the mores of our times are applied to a historical period. For example, the total, unquestionable acceptance of a M/M relationship by one or more characters when the story is set in times of yore, becomes a tough one to buy. Of course, it all depends on the culture and time period being addressed, as well as in how the writer addresses the situation.

On the other hand, I love it when a writer takes an issue that could easily be addressed in a contemporary setting, places it in a historical context and still makes the story work. In Dona Nobis Pacem, Willa Okati goes back to the time of the gold rush in the west. The setting is a mining town called Nazareth by the "good" people of the town and "Hell" by the old timers. More than heat and dust can still kill a man in good old Nazareth where civilization is attempting to make itself felt under the guise of strict morals and tough religion.

Okati didn't take the easy way out with this story. Her heroes couldn't be more different or have a tougher road ahead. Donnell is a mute whose mother was a whore. He has two talents: Lady Luck is on his side and he can play the piano. Lady Luck helped him win Treighton's Saloon, of which he is now owner, and playing the piano allows him to not only entertain his clients, but to express otherwise repressed emotions. He is a man scorned by the town for his deficiencies as well as his occupation. His cynicism and lack of trust in people, and religion in particular, seem thoroughly justified.

Nathan is Donnell's opposite in almost every way that counts. He is a beautiful young man who arrives in town begging for work on the streets, wearing nothing but tattered clothing, and too proud to take food unless a job comes with it. Nathan is also a believer in crisis. When the good people of Nazareth refuse to help Nathan, Donnell takes him in, saves his life, and in the process loses his heart -- but what of Nathan's soul? This is where Nathan's conflict lies. Can he accept what his heart and body demand after a lifetime of strict religious beliefs? Will he come to terms with the heat and passion he and Donnell share?

The battle between the "good" and "bad" guys takes on a different twist in Dona Nobis Pacem. The adversaries here are not your usual gunslingers. Instead, the saloonkeeper and his employees are fighting the new preachers and self-righteous townspeople. Specifically Michael Mallone, a ruthless priest who through zealotry and manipulation wants to purify Nazareth by having Donnell's clientele "reconsider their sins." As portrayed in some westerns, the "good people" of Nazareth are quick to judge those who are different or even those who need a helping hand. In this case accepting a helping hand may mean paying a high price. So, who really qualifies as the "good" people of Nazareth? The reader becomes the judge, as the writer lays out plenty of black and white areas but leaves enough gray for further exploration.

Dona Nobis Pacem offers a good balance between the erotic, the romance and the plot. The main characters are well developed and secondary characters add to the story and the historical flavor of this piece. I am hoping Ms. Okati will further explore the overall story arc in the future.

You can visit the author here.

4 comments:

  1. Wow, this really is a new twist! It looks great, but I know what you mean - in my mind, it seems like in history, a major M/M obstacle would've likely been internalized homophobia, or at least reluctance to accept it as a sexual orientation. However, M/M as a genre, well, it departed from reality long ago, anyhow.

    I love the western twist and the saloon backdrop though. And the mysterious name. Thanks for the great review!

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  2. It's interesting that not only does the author bring in the time periods skewed views by making it a historical but also the whole religious issue. I'm definitely intrigued by Donnell being deaf but I get kinda angry at stupid religious zealots in books. lol

    Great review though, Hilcia! :)

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  3. Very interesting story!

    It's funny, the book title caught my attention because that's the title of a hymn we sing at church.

    I like the idea of a different setting, like a historical Western, for M/M. I've only read JL Langley's contemp M/M Westerns, which I love!

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  4. However, M/M as a genre, well, it departed from reality long ago, anyhow.
    CJ - Too true! - The title and cover caught my attention, but the story kept my interest.

    Tracy - Thank you. The interesting thing about the religious issue in this story is that it could have easily been written as a contemporary -- with some changes -- and it would've work. You can see today in the past.

    Renee - The title of a hymn makes perfect sense. Thanks for the info! J.L. Langley's The Tin Star was one of my first 2 M/M reads and is still one of my favorites. Still, Chris Owen's "Bareback" is my favorite contemporary M/M western. :)

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