En route to polite exile in the Galapagos Islands (field work, to quote the dean of my university), I have found myself marooned on a deserted tropical paradise. Deserted, that is, except for my savior, a mysterious American called Marcus. He is an inventor—and the proof of his greatness is the marvelous new clockwork arm he has created to replace the unsightly one that was ruined in my shipboard mishap.
Marcus has a truly brilliant mind and the gentlest hands, which cause me to quiver in an unfamiliar but rather pleasant way. Surely it is only my craving for human companionship that draws me to this man, nothing more? He says a ship will pass this way in a few months, but I am welcome to stay as long as I like. The thought of leaving Marcus becomes more untenable with each passing day, though staying would be fatal to my career…
Island of Icarus, a bit of gay steampunk by Christine Danse, takes place in the 1800s and was the first GLBT (Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender) book I had read. I was unsure of what to expect. Was it going to be trashy and exploitative? Have gratuitous sex or be nauseating? It was none of the above.
The protagonist, Jonathan Orms went through life the same as any other healthy young male. He taught at University and was engaged to be married – both completely normal events – until he lost his arm in an accident. He was fitted with a clockwork prosthetic arm that helped him function normally, but was heavy, bulky, and clumsy. After the accident, his fiancé dumped him, as some are wont to do.
Those two events, in and of themselves, would be enough to depress anyone, and Jonathan was no exception. Hoping a change of scenery would help him recover, the University sent him abroad to do botanical research. The thought that they no longer needed him depressed him even more. After many weeks at sea, he’s washed overboard during a terrible storm and wakes up on a deserted island. Deserted except for a genius doctor named Marcus who does research of his own. His most ambitious project is creating clockwork wings that will allow him to fly, hence the reference to Icarus.
Marcus not only nurses Jonathan back to health, he also builds a smaller, sleeker, more responsive arm for him. Nothing untoward occurs and there is nothing to indicate the doctor is anything other than what he appears. Because he is reluctant to have his sexuality known by someone who may not approve or might harm him because of it, Marcus keeps that side of himself hidden.
The friendship between Jonathan and Marcus develops like any other friendship, slowly, tentatively. Through her sensitive writing, Christine allows Jonathan to explore his deepest, darkest feelings, deny long-buried urges, despise himself for his thoughts and longings, and eventually come to terms with his newfound sexuality. His journey of self-discovery is well written, illustrating the angst that many GLBT people feel as they try to discover their own path in life.
The love scenes are well written rather than going for the shock factor and there are many poignant moments throughout. The author could easily substitute a female character in Jonathan’s role and have a beautiful, sensitive love story; instead, it is the beautiful and sensitive love story of two men.
Given the recent deaths of gay and lesbian students who are bullied, beaten, or intimidated until they choose suicide over a life filled with harassment, this book highlights their dilemma and handles it in a very positive way without condemnation.