It's been two years since the release of the rather excellent Her Majesty's Men, the last book by this author, but I was so impressed by that book that I've hung in there waiting for a new book to be published. Basic Training is that book, and in my opinion the two years have been worth the wait, especially as this book shows some increased maturity in the style of writing from this author.
Basic Training follows Col who is a platoon sergeant in the Royal Marines, in charge of new recuits as they face the 32 weeks of basic training. At the beginning of the book we meet him at a bit of a bad place. He's recently divorced and, after a drunk driving incident, recently demoted. Whilst he loves his job and feels pride in his ability to turn a rag-tag group of men into a fit fighting force, his private life is crashing around his ears with the knowledge that his failed marriage is likely to do with his disinterest in women. As the story begins, Col's about to begin with a new platoon of trainees. One of them, Christian (or Chris) has openly stated on his paperwork that he is gay. This opens up a whole can of worms for Col as he seeks both to keep an eye out for Chris as well as fight his attraction to the man. The book then takes us on a slow journey, spanning several years, where Col and Chris meet, start a relationship and then have that relationship develop over time.
There were two things in particular that struck me about the story, and which added greatly to my enjoyment of the book as a whole. Firstly, I enjoyed following the unfolding of the relationship between the two men, especially in Col's emotional journey towrads accepting his homosexuality. Those of you who may have read Marquesate's other books will know that her men are rough and tough; find it difficult to express emotion; and engage in almost brutal sex with each other. Whilst the first two are certainly the case here, the third element was very much toned down from previous books. Col's one of these men who prefers not to think about emotional mushy stuff, and definitely feels uncomfortable talking about his feelings. As a result he tends to adopt the 'think about it later' way of facing up to things which concern him, such as his changing views on his own sexuality. I loved the gradual way that Col deals with these difficult for him issues, and especially the small steps towards accepting himself. Some of my favourite scenes in the book were when Col really thought through his jumbled emotions, or when he bit the bullet and spoke to others. However, when in private with Chris, he does let his guard down and the sex between them was quite beautifully tender in places, whilst also containing some of the roughness that this author is known for. They matched so well as a couple, both of them riddled with their own insecurities and hang-ups whilst providing a solid support to the other. It was more than love or romance, it was friendship, comradeship and a solid foundation for a life long relationship and I loved reading about it.
The second aspect which I really liked about this book was the way that the life of a Royal Marine was so ingrained through every thought and action of both the main characters. There's enough detail given to understand the life of a soldier - both during the basic training and then on into a career in the Royal Marines - but not so much that I felt overwhelmed by knowledge that wasn't important to the story. The two heroes are at opposite ends of their careers - Chris is just starting out in the RM and Col, at 35, is nearing retirement - and I liked the way that Col acts as a guide for Chris, whilst having to make some difficult choices about his own future. At the beginning of the story much is made of Chris' struggles for acceptance as a gay man in the RM and this is contrasted with the closeted Col, whose struggles are more internal than those of Chris. As the story progresses the military theme develops to focus on the difficulties of an overseas tour for both the one away and the one left behind. By the end of the book I felt I had gained a really good understanding of life in the military from both the enlisted and the partner of the enlisted. It made me think a little, without ever feeling that I'd been preached to, whilst also providing an extremely entertaining and engrossing story.
I have very few niggles about the story except that maybe the pacing began to drag a little in the last 50 or so pages, but not so much that I wanted to stop reading. A second niggle is that, even though we spend nearly the whole book in Col's head, we never find out much about his past, except that he had a 'bitch ex-wife' and had served several dangerous tours in his military career. In fact we find out much more about Chris, than we do Col. I suppose though that this was because Col is private and unassuming, saving his boasting for when he needs to show that as 'Bulldog' he's fitter and stronger than the recruits he whips into shape. It's a curious contrast, but is also what makes Col such a great character.
This has to be the most romantic story I've read by this author so far. It never gets anywhere near sweet, but I loved the playful banter between Col and Chris. They resolve their problems by talking to each other and also through a careful consideration of the feelings of the other person, without rancour and bitterness because they understand each other's situation. I don't think I've read such a delightful and well matched couple in ages.
Overall, I can highly recommend Basic Training with a grade of 'Excellent'. If you like military themed stories and want to read a book with a pair of complex heroes who are drawn to, and complete, each other, then I suggest this book is for you. I only hope it's not another two years until the next Marquesate book!
Buy this book HERE.