Title: The Mountain
Author: Ally Blue
Publisher: MLR Press
Cover Art: Winterheart Designs
Genre: contemporary m/m romance
Length: Novel (174 pages, 54 k words)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 rating stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A nice, sweet romance with an interesting twist on the healing power of love.
The Blurb: When glass artist Marco Ravel is commissioned to create a piece for a rich recluse, he’s thrilled for the opportunity to stretch his creative muscle. He doesn’t expect to fall for the man hiring him. For Henrik Schweitzer, the relationship blossoming between himself and Marco shakes his world to its foundation. He wants to keep what the two of them have together, but after eight years of near-complete solitude he doesn’t know if he has what it takes to change. Marco and Henrik both know they can have something special, if they can conquer the mountain of fears in their path.
(from Wikipedia): Agoraphobia (…) is an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives the environment to be difficult or embarrassing to escape. These situations include, but are not limited to, wide-open spaces, as well as uncontrollable social situations such as may be met in shopping malls, airports, and on bridges. Agoraphobia is defined (…) as a subset of panic disorder, involving the fear of incurring a panic attack in those environments.The sufferer may go to great lengths to avoid those situations, in severe cases becoming unable to leave their home or safe haven.
This is twenty-seven years old Henrik Schweitzer in a nutshell. For eight years, he hasn’t left his remote estate up in the mountains, living off the insane fortune he inherited from his grandparents and parents, with his cousin Augustina (“Gus”) as his only companion. Even though their grandfather was too conservative to consider a woman as CEO, it’s competent, smart Gus who keeps the company running; Henrik doesn’t have to do anything except making an occasional appearance on a video conference. So he can take a run in the woods whenever the mood strikes him, soak in the hot tub for hours or even run around naked all day if he wants (which he frequently does). This kind of life suits Henrik–for the most part. Except for the fact that he’s still a virgin and dying to change this, but since he can’t exactly go cruising the bars… and since he won’t stoop so low as to pay for sex… he has long ago come to terms with the fact that no man will ever want to put up with his problems. He has made his peace with living his life alone with only Gus as his housemate. She takes care of everything for him, including finding new objects for his art collection.
This is how glass artist Marco Ravél catches Gus’s eye, or rather his work does as first, as Gus steps into Marco’s shop to buy a beautiful vase for Henrik. Deciding Marco will be just as perfect for Henrik, she arranges a “chance” meeting, and it’s veni, vidi, vici– even though their very first encounter doesn’t quite go according to Gus’s plan, soon happens what was bound to happen. Marco and Henrik fall into lust with each other, and soon, in love. The rest, as they say, is history ( or story, in this case )
I’ve never before come across an agoraphobic character in a m/m romance, and on the one hand, I found Henrik well-drawn in this regard. Which didn’t make me like him, though. Disabling disorder aside, I got a feeling he’d gotten overly comfortable with his agoraphobia, using it as an excuse to not even make an effort to do anything, let alone sully his hands with work–he didn’t show even the remotest interest in the company he nominally owned, leaving everything to Gus. And when Gus did what she’d always done and home-delivered a love interest to Henrik, he lashed out at her? Stress was laid on how intelligent he was, but he didn’t strike me as such, spoiled and childish as he was, having grown up wrapped in cotton wool with everything always handed to him on a silver platter.
Anyways, the relationship between Gus and Henrik. They kept repeating how much they loved each other, but to me, their relationship felt quite unhealthy. Not incestuous, don’t get me wrong; there was nothing even remotely sexual between them. It was rather like a mutual exploit–Henrik leaning heavily on Gus for everything and anything, which allowed him to keep up his idle existence at the price of hindering Gus from living a life of her own, including finding a lasting relationship. With continuing to cushion Henrik, Gus kept him in an almost child-like state of dependency, which in turn allowed her to play at business tycoon.
Compared to Henrik and Gus, Marco remained somewhat pale. Okay, he was hot, and hot for Henrik, and he was old enough to know what he was letting himself in for with someone who had issues like Henrik did, but else? For example, Marco is an artist, and supposedly a good one. I’d have loved to learn more about this facet of him. But he could just as well have been a mason or any sort of craftsman for all the significance his work had for him–the contentment of a job well done, and that’s it. He struck me as just a nice, decent guy, not all that memorable.
Same with the evolving relationship between him and Henrik. Beyond the initial fireworks of attraction and first sex, the giving and taking of virginity (the excitement of which I could relate to, they’re both gorgeous, after all), there wasn’t much; the best I can call it is lukewarm. Certainly not the searing passion and desperate emotion that was supposed to shake Henrik out of his almost decade-long rut.
Overall, this was a sweet and rather nice romance between two nice guys, easy to read and smoothly written even though supportive character Gus almost stole the show from the two main characters. Please keep in mind that my opinion is only mine, and others may very well feel different.