A.L. Lester

Books: Fantasy | Mystery | Romance | Queer | Historical

Border Magic: An Irregular Arrangement (2021)

Bradfield Trilogy: The Fog of War (2021), The Quid Pro Quo (2021)

Celtic Myth Series: Surfacing Again (2021), Taking Flight (2021), Playing Chicken (2021), As the Crows Fly (2021)

Border Magic

An Irregular Arrangement (2021)

An Irregular ArrangementSet in England in 1920.

This is a short story set in the Border Magic world.

Tim and Flora are best friends who chose to get married to make things safer for Tim and his lover, Rupert.

Val is finally twenty one and ready to leave their family–until Flora finds them in a tree, picking apples for a widow's children, and proposes that Val come home with her.

It's a quick romance about how the four came to be together, starting with the meeting between Val and Flora and closing as London is evacuated for WWII.

It's quite clear that although Rupert and Tim are the couple, Flora is an important part of both their lives, not just Tim, to whom she is married.

Flora pulled a face at him. "I was very polite," she said. "But also, very clear."

"Oh," said Tim. "What do you mean, oh?"

There was a small, nervous pause. "Some people…can find you…quite intimidating when you're being very clear," Rupert finally said, carefully.

I also think it's very sweet that Tim thought becoming a vicar would allow him to do good in the world.

It's less of a short story, and more of a vignette into the lives of these four people.

Rating: 6.5/10

Bradfield Trilogy

The Fog of War (2021)

The Fog of WarSet in England in the summer of 1919.

Dr Sylvia Marks returned to the village where her father had been the local doctor, after the end of the war and her time as a surgeon at Royaumont, where she was later joined by Walter, a nurse she met at Royaumont, after his discharge.

They'd opened up Papa's surgery in the front rooms of the big house again and she'd launched straight into being Young Dr Marks at the age of thirty-four, ministering to people who remembered her as a baby.

Lucy persuaded her parents to allow her to VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment), and eventually became friends with Sylvia. Bored, now she is back in England and once again living with her parents, she reaches out to Sylvia, looking to regain some of her independence.

She'd got over her fear of arduous work at the hospital. Not that she'd ever really had one, but spending a couple of years scrubbing floors and bedpans had changed her perception of appropriate occupation for young ladies of her station for good.

When Arthur Webber starts to decline, for no discernible reason, she assumes cancer, but when she sees something inexplicable, the starts to wonder if the disappearance of the woman she loved on the battlefield might be related to the magic that Arthur claims exists.

I really enjoyed this story. I love learning about bits of history when reading fiction–in this case, e Scottish Women's Hospital at Royaumont.

I was bothered by one thing, however. Sylvia is (not unreasonably) worried that Anna ended up the same place as Marchant. But after their experiment, she suddenly stops worrying about it. Which honestly made no sense to me, considering one of the things they feared after the experiment.

But aside from that, I enjoyed it.

Publisher: JMS Books LLC

Rating: 7.5/10

The Quid Pro Quo (2021)

The Quid Pro QuoSet in England in 1920

Walter met Sylvia when they were both working at the same hospital at Royaumont.

They only got the worst cases here now… had done for a while, since the brass had worked out that the lady doctors had a better surgical survival rate.

Now they are living in the village where Sylvia grew up, Walter working as Sylvia's nurse. But when a woman ends up dead in a pond–and no one quite sure how or why she died, an inspector is sent down to investigate.

Detective Simon Frost isn't expecting to be sent to Bradfield to look into an unexpected death, but at least his has a driver to take some of the strain off his leg, which still gives him pain after all this time.

He sometimes wondered if there was anything still left in there. He should probably get it looked at. X-rayed, they called it, didn't they?

Simon doesn't expect to spend much time in Bradford, but someone accuses Dr Mark's companion, Lucy, of killing the women found in the pond, and that brings him back–and puts him in closer proximity with Walter.

Walter is definitely on the ace spectrum–which perhaps made it easier for him to keep his secrets–but it doesn't necessarily make things easier for him in any other way.

No, it was the person, for Walter, he'd discovered that a long time ago. It didn't matter much what wrapping they came in, tall, short, breasts, cock, whatever. He fell for someone and then he wanted to bed them.

I thought this book was a bit better than the first, mostly because it didn't have the strange inconsistency that bothered me about Sylvia in the first story. Another enjoyable story, and I look forward to the next book.

Publisher: JMS Books LLC

Rating: 8/10

Celtic Myths Series

Surfacing AgainThese are stories based upon various Celtic myths, shifted, twisted, and retold.

Surfacing Again (2021)

Lin (Malinda) is now spending her Christmas alone, after a blow-up with the friend with whom she was supposed to be vacationing with.

The subtext was that she'd turned up on Lin's doorstep because she'd exhausted everyone else's patience.

After watching the sunrise–and otters playing on the beach–she walks into town and meets a lovely cafe owner.

Surfacing Again is very atmospheric, with the sea and the Christmas stars.

It is loosely based upon St Cuthbert and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

Rating: 6.5/10

Taking FlightTaking Flight (2021)

Gwyn is supposed to be learning the ropes at an hotel in Ireland his family business is about to purchase. He desperately wants to succeed, because he wants this to be his project–something of his own.

But after a blow-up with the current manager, Gwyn has to head home, and decide if he trusts the man helping him get back home.

This story is loosely based upon Brânwen, sister of King Brân of Wales, from the The Mabinogion.

I've also cut out the child-murder, the horse-disfigurement, the battles and the resurrection cauldron. Sorry.

It also has on-the-page physical abuse and transphobia.

Rating: 7/10

Playing ChickenPlaying Chicken (2021)

After an unpleasant break-up with his ex, Marc is headed home after a year and a half away to regroup.

Looking back with a clear head, he supposed David hadn't been very kind to him, really. He had pushed Marc's friends away and Marc had let him.

He is surprised to discover chickens nesting on his porch–and an abused man in his woodshed.

"And three, I'm not that sort of person." He paused again and then said apologetically. "I should probably have led with that. Sorry."

This story takes St Dwynwen as it's base and then, well, mostly only keeps the chickens.

I am highly amused by the chickens.

Rating: 7.5/10

As the Crows FlyAs the Crows Fly (2021)

Kevin works as a veterinary assistant, and lives in an old cottage where he is content to draw and hang out with the crows he befriended.

Web spent twenty-some years in the army, and after an injury, is taking a month to walk to coast, to decide what he wants to do with his life.

This is, I think, my favorite story of the lot. I particularly liked the crows, but I also liked how Kevin and Web were careful with each other, and their choices.

St Kevin is the patron saint of crows and ravens.

He is said to have stood still for weeks when a blackbird made a nest in his hand and laid an egg there, waiting for the egg to hatch.

Rating: 8/10

I also want to note that the author created all the covers. The chicken one amuses me, but I like the cover for As the Crows Fly the best.