Scrap Metal – Harper Fox

I first wound up on the Samhain Publishing website through a Goodreads group announcement about a big sale there. Every now and then I remember it and go wander around for a while. I do believe my luck there has held up better than with several other smallish presses I could name; I have come across some stinkers, but most of the books I’ve sampled have boasted some genuinely fine writing, with good characterization and well-formed plots and all the things you basically look for in a book to read for enjoyment. (Oh, and usually lots of sex.)

Something in the description of Scrap Metal sounded interesting, so I clicked on the sample, and my eyes widened. In a good way.

Glass shattered somewhere off in the dark. I jerked my head up, listening. That was all I needed, for the wind to have broken a barn window. I’d have to get out there and patch it, or we’d lose another set of lambs to the cold.

The sound came again. Exactly the same as the first time—brief, deliberate.

Human agency, then. I threw back the quilt. Prodigal son or not, I didn’t really have to guess at the source. I knew every inch of Seacliff Farm. My nerves twitched out into the night, my body responding as if the broken glass had been my bones. Me, my mother, Harry, untold generations of us living and dying on this land… Two panes from the window at the back of the second-largest barn, enough to get a hand inside and undo the catch.

I surged out of bed. Heat blazed through me, a pure and perfect rage. God, it felt wonderful. I had a bloody burglar on my hands. He couldn’t have arrived at a worse or better time. I grabbed my dressing gown, shrugged into it over my pyjama bottoms and slammed out of the room.

This is Nichol, the first-person main character. He grew up on the farm, and was giddy to get away from it and go off to school – he has a gift, and he was having a wonderful time developing it (along with his social skills in a city far less judgmental than the too-close-knit isle of Arran). But when a terrible accident killed his mother and older brother, he had no choice but to go home and try to help his grandfather, Harry, keep the family sheep farm. Which may be impossible. The place is bleeding money; it seems like sheep are straying and dying every other minute; it’s winter and he’s been ill and every day is a brutal slog through just to bail out most of the water pouring in and stave off sinking just a little longer. He dreams about installing Harry in a nice rest home and going happily back to school, but he knows that won’t answer – even if there was money for it, he would never be forgiven, either by Harry or himself. He’s trapped.

And into that comes the intruder breaking into the barn: Cam. He’s young, he’s scared, he’s running from something he won’t discuss; he can only bring trouble to the farm … and Nichol can’t stomach sending him off into the cold. The fact that Cam also happens to be beautiful has nothing (really!) to do with Nichol’s inspiration to help him (though it doesn’t hurt). Nichol has an innate need to fix things, and if anyone’s situation needed fixing it’s this young man’s – and even if he doesn’t know one end of a sheep from another, perhaps he’ll be of use on the farm. It’s a turning of the tide, in many ways, and a quiet example of karma: Cam changes things on the farm and for both Harry and Nick in ways that could never have been predicted. I as the reader didn’t predict most of it, which is always a good thing.

The writing is several rungs above the vast majority of what I’ve been reading. This immediately climbed above “romance novel involving gay lovers” to “good lord, I’d recommend this to absolutely anyone except a) I don’t recommend things anymore and b) the idea of two men in love is not going to work for everyone. I loved the heavy use of Gaelic. I loved the slight edge of the supernatural – not enough to push it over the brink into paranormal romance, but enough to fix the story securely in its Gaelic setting. The tale’s ending might have been a little too tidy; but – to risk spoiling things – a happily ever after is, sometimes, just what is needed, particularly when the characters have earned it as thoroughly as these lads did. I really enjoyed it.

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