Title: Haji’s Exile
Author: Alan Chin
Length: 33 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: m/m historical
Nathan has cared for horses all his life, but Haji is the first he’ll train on his own. When the Arabian stallion arrives at Bitter Coffee Ranch, Nathan thinks he is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. And then he lays eyes on Haji’s handler, Yousef. Nathan has much to learn about horses, about pride, and about love, but with the ranch’s hopes riding on Haji, he’ll also learn that all things have their price.
This is one of the Bittersweet Dreams titles that DSP put out every so often, and so armed with the knowledge that this wasn’t going to have a happy ending I girded my loins and started reading.
Instead of a conventional romance, I got a story about love. In this case the love the narrator Nathan feels which follows two strands: that of his love for horses and one in particular, Haji, a proud North African stallion; and the love he develops for Yousef who travels from Africa to America with Haji. In both cases this love develops slowly over the course of the story as Nathan has to adjust first of all to the stubborn horse and then the strange feelings that Yousef brings out in him. It’s all rather cleverly done, the narrative taken from a much older and wiser Nathan looking back fondly at the first time he fell in love. I really liked the youthful arrogance of Nathan and how that is slowly transformed into a young man whose wisdom we see in the older narrator. I’m not a huge fan of horses, but the author manages to bring to life some of the beauty in horses, plus their very distinct personalities and I found that I didn’t mind the section where Nathan describes his love of horses.
Another part which worked for me is that this is a story of growing sexual awareness in the narrator. There were pleasing touches in his feelings for Yousef which burn hot and strong, like all young men. Despite knowing that the story was not going to end well, the way things work out was a still a shock. it comes during the time of a huge climactic action scene where our emotions are switched suddenly, just as that of Nathan in the story. It was powerful and affecting.
Overall, I really enjoyed this story. There’s a lyricism in the writing which pleased me greatly, as well as a sympathetic hero in Nathan. I was left wondering whether he ever did find love again and that thought really did leave a bitter-sweet taste in my mind.