“I see your sadness and I can't let it be.... Don't be scared, I just want to know, what makes you so sad, that you don't want to show. I don't think you even realise the pain I see reflected in beautiful blue eyes ...I want to be a friend, perhaps a little more. I'm giving you the key, be brave, open the door”. ~ Mandi Ducroq
In 'Blue-Eyed Stranger’ by Alex Beecroft, Billy Wright's life is a contradiction. On one hand, he's a talented, cheerful, vibrant person and on the other, when his depression strikes, he's fragile and self-deprecating. Like many people with depression, Billy is plagued by inner voices that tell him he's worthless and sometimes cripple him to the point of catatonia. As things are, he's fighting a losing battle of sadness and isolation. Billy's life changes when he meets Martin Deng, a Viking re-enactor, at a country fair. They begin a romance that is wonderful and liberating for both of them, but if Martin can't find a way to burst out of the closet it is doomed. Billy has hidden, in other ways, for too long. He's not about to walk back in the darkness for anyone.
Although there are days when Billy literally can't get out of bed, he always finds the energy to be with his morris dancing group, either in practices or at performances. It's the one constant in his life. Behind the dancer costume, Billy feels secure, safe to be himself since no one knows him or can judge him. Billy is a bright, talented dancer and musician. He also gives historical tours in a nearby church. He struggles with his depression daily; although some days are worse than others, Billy still keeps on trying to live as well as he can. Billy is definitely not a quitter. When Martin shows an interest in him, Billy can hardly believe it. He finally accepts that it's possible he's worthy of someone's love. An off-handed statement by Martin, which he didn't intend Billy to hear, crushes him and fills him with doubts all over again. Even with his heart broken, Billy may be down, but he's not out and he searches for a way to survive without Martin.
Martin is a remarkable guy. For one thing, Martin is huge and has a penchant for all things Viking. Martin is also black which, while not entirely out of the question for a Viking, is certainly not ordinary. Martin has a group of like-minded people who do Viking battle reenactments at fairs and other events. When he meets Billy, his face is blackened, as is customary in morris dance tradition. Even so, Martin is entranced by Billy's beautiful blue eyes. They both love history and after doing some more research, decide to try to coordinate the two groups. The more they work together, the deeper in love he falls. Once Martin realizes what he's feeling, he knows in his heart that he wants to be with Billy forever, but there are roadblocks. Martin's family life hasn't been ideal, so he's particularly cautious about his father discovering anything. He is a big businessman to whom money and prestige mean success. Martin has already disappointed him by becoming a high school history teacher, rather than the corporate climber his father is. Martin can't imagine what his father would say if he knew he was gay. Staying in the closet causes a lot of conflict between him and Billy, especially with Billy's fragile state of mind. Martin doesn't realize that Billy interprets his hesitancy to acknowledge their relationship as Martin's being embarrassed to be seen with him.
This is a brilliant story, with lots of interesting historical facts concerning the morris dance tradition which I found fascinating. I love Billy and my heart ached that this very special man didn't realize how perfect he was, just as he was. I loved that Martin was black, instead of the typical Viking-looking character. It put a whole new twist on the story. I also loved that Martin was able to see through Billy's fog and recognize his true beauty and talent. I have personal experience with depression so Billy's depression made my heart ache even more. I'm happy that Alex, through example, reiterated the fact that depression is not something one can handle on their own and there's no shame in getting help. I also enjoyed seeing Fin again, the bookstore owner from the first book in the series. If you enjoy music, dancing, Vikings, history, healing, and, of course, happy endings, then you may like 'The Blue-Eyed Stranger'. Thank you, Alex, for the lovely history lesson and for giving Martin and Billy their happy ending.