Fortune’s Bastard (or Love’s Pains Recounted) – Gil Cole (Chelsea Station Editions)

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Buy it now from TLAgay.com

I’m such a huge Shakespeare fan that I always approach
imitations, pastiches, and take-offs with trepidation. I want to like them, but
so often they are disrespectful and unfortunately ignorant of their source
material. Not so with Gil Cole, who has mashed-up “Twelfth Night” and “The
Merchant of Venice” into a tasty mulligatawny stew whose flavors are as complex
as they are delicious.

Antonio abandons the home of his comfortable youth in
Florence to make his own gay way in the world, becoming a pirate and an actor
before finally settling down in Venice to resume life as a respectable
merchant. He never, however, forgets his first love, Francheschino, whom he
encounters again in Venice, living a dangerous, boy-loving life. Can they
resume their affair, or is Francheschino doomed?

This sort of blending is tricky at best. How do you keep the
originals intact enough to be recognizable while melding them with enough
invention to make them your own? The question is rhetorical for me, because I
don’t have the answer. However, Gil Cole does. The balance is perfect, and the
original storylines he creates to bridge the familiar episodes seem all of a
piece with The Bard of Avon.

Part of this strategy is the character of Antonio, whom Cole
infuses with such life and lust that you can’t help but follow him and root for
him throughout his adventures. And his adventures are the sweeping, epic kind
that take him from town to town, land to sea and back again, replete with
heroism, hedonism, and—yes—homosexualism. His love for the pirate Rodrigo is
deep and hearty, the bondage scenes delicious torture, and the three way with
the moor Adjullo a hearty serving of horny.

Even the minor characters—chiefly Antonio’s benefactress
Caterina and his fellow merchant Gerald deNorville—are drawn with loving care.
Cole’s Caterina is a wonderful concoction, half bawd and half dame with a
vengeful streak a mile wide, and deNorville is a great comrade with a penchant
for conspicuous comsumption that ultimately turns Antonio’s fortunes.

Altogether, Fortune’s Bastard is a thrilling
Shakespearian epic that approaches the mastery of the plays it’s based on, with
the added virtue of having its tongue firmly in its cheek. Richly respectful,
it deserves a read if you love your swashes buckled. And who doesn’t?

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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