by JF Smith
Difficulty: Easy
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Matthew leads a pretty normal life in Richmond. He’s got a job, an attractive boyfriend, his softball team, and some meaningful volunteer work to keep him busy. He’s content, even if his boyfriend does act weird sometimes. When Matthew travels overseas to work for Doctors Without Borders, he finds himself in a perilous, life-or-death situation, and things are looking grim. He’s soon rescued by U.S. Special Forces, but relief and gratitude eventually give way to irritation as he finds himself stuck with a bunch of bigoted macho men for an indefinite period of time. Before long, Matthew comes to learn that there’s more to these men than meet the eye, and his experiences with them give him a new perspective on his own life.

One way in which Latakia immediately stands out is that its protagonist is already a mature, complete individual. It’s not about coming of age, coming out, or healing a broken/wounded soul, it’s about a person who undergoes difficult experiences and learns and grows from them. Smith works with some themes that can be challenging in gay fiction, like masculinity, the military, or infidelity, but never moralizes or passes judgement on any of them, which leaves space for the reader to reflect on these ideas themself.

I really enjoyed Latakia. There aren’t a lot of men out there writing gay romances, and I often find them to be noticeably different than those authored by women. Smith has a major focus on fraternal relationships that’s just as prominent as the actual romance, which itself is slow to develop though satisfying in the end. Matthew is a likeable character, if a bit dense, and it’s easy to root for him throughout the book. I admit I’m a little skeptical of the brotherly camaraderie depicted in the story. Of course it’s possible, but it seems too good to be true to me, perhaps a bit of wish-fulfilment on the part of the author. That’s only based on my experiences of course, I’m sure there are those for whom the book rings much more truly.