This anthology of ten stories by different authors first attracted me for two reasons. Firstly, I liked the premise and wanted to see what could be do...moreThis anthology of ten stories by different authors first attracted me for two reasons. Firstly, I liked the premise and wanted to see what could be done with the idea of a character experiencing things for the first time and secondly, I especially wanted to read the story by JL Merrow as I'd really enjoyed her stories in the Sindustry anthologies released by DSP.
The anthology turned out to be a mixed bag as you might expect. I enjoyed many of them a great deal and some were just OK. However, I still feel that the anthology as a whole is worth reading.
My favourite story turned out to be the one for which I'd bought the anthology: Different Strengths by JL Merrow. It concerned 1st person narrator Michael who is dragged along to a strip club by one of his clients. Whilst he's sitting there pretending to be interested in watching the girls, his attention is caught by the hunky bartender. After a while Michael needs to escape for a while and is taking a breather in the alley outside the club when the bartender, Kyle, approaches him. Michael thinks he looks vaguely familiar but can't place where he's seen him before. It's only after he's back at Kyle's place with half his clothes off that Michael remembers where he knows him from and it's not a good memory.
One thing I've noticed about JL Merrow is that she likes to inject a certain amount of darkness into her stories. This appeals to me as I like my heroes to work a little for their happy endings. In this case Michael has a lot of forgiving to do and his internal confusion is realistically done. I felt quite a lot of sympathy for Kyle, especially his frustrations at having to hide his sexuality throughout his life. I finished the story feeling that both men had come to a realisation that you can't be controlled by the past as they make a conscious effort to move on with a tentative HFN which fitted in entirely with the story.
There were a couple of TQ 'big names' with Sean Michael and BA Tortuga both contributing great stories. Graduation Cherry by Sean Michael was a cute 'second chance' story about ex-roomies who come together at graduation which was the perfect lighthearted way to end the anthology. File Gumbo by BA Tortuga was a Roughstock story which will appeal to both fans of that series and those who have never read BA's stories before. This time it's the turn of Sam and Beau to realise that cowboys can be rough in and out of the bedroom.
Nice Girls Do by Mallory Path was an intensely sweet story of two young men who have been brought up together in the same house. Alan has no experience with girls so Taz offers to let Alan practice on him at first with kisses then with more. It sounds contrived but it wasn't at all. I liked Alan's calm, serious nature as he attempts to get things right and Taz was a delight as he tries so desperately to pretend that he is just doing Alan a favour. His attempts to keep his voice from getting too strained and the way he tries to pretend almost up the last minute that he's just a substitute for a girl was quite charming.
There were other highlights as well: Particularly Alpha Male, Beta Male by Taylor Lochland, where vet Aaron is seduced by the much younger Nathan and, surprisingly for me, Just Like Him by Dallas Coleman, which was a well written twincest story where the door is firmly closed on anything other than a kiss. This might not be to everyone's taste and was in fact the first twincest story I've read, but I felt that the characterisation and story was so realistically done that I had a great deal of sympathy for the brothers.
Overall I enjoyed reading these stories and I would recommend Cherry to those who like anthologies and also those who are fans of some of the authors who have contributed. (less)
I'm a big fantasy fan and I love inverted fairy stories so this anthology of short stories all of which take an established fairy story or ideas from...moreI'm a big fantasy fan and I love inverted fairy stories so this anthology of short stories all of which take an established fairy story or ideas from fairy stories and turns it around into a m/m story seemed just the thing for me. Surprisingly for an anthology, all the stories were well written with clever plots and interesting characters. In fact, it's been quite difficult for me to single out one or two stories to highlight as my favourites.
Swan Made by Mina Kelly caught my interest because its themes were slightly darker than the other stories. It tells of lonely older man Joseph who discovers a cloak made from swan feathers in a local lake. He takes it home, puts it in a cupboard and forgets about it. Later that night a strange naked man turns up at his house and the two men have sex. The nameless man stays with Joseph, easing his loneliness, but whenever Joseph leaves the house he returns to find that the house is being systematically searched.
The story is written from Joseph's point of views and we follow him as he is at first bemused and then reliant on the strange man who enters his life. It isn't difficult to know who the man is and there were a number of sly, amusing comments about the difficulties the two men have to overcome in order to live in harmony. Their relationship is tinged with sadness though as Joseph faces the inevitability that at some point the man will find what he is looking for and leave, leading to a poignant scene which left me feeling quite heartbroken on Joseph's behalf. Don't worry though, like all good fairy stories, he gets his happy ending.
Another unusual story was Japanese set, Kintaro by S.J. Frost which told the story of a man, Kintaro, with extraordinary strength who lives in the forest with his mother. One day a Samurai finds him and after losing to Kintaro in a wrestling match takes him to the feudal Lord to train as a Samurai. The lord is impressed by Kintaro's strength and wishes him to fill the gap in his personal guard left when one of his men was killed. What Kintaro doesn't realise is that the guardsmen are always paired and that lone Samurai Suetake is still grieving over the death of the previous guardsman and his lover.
What attracted me to this story was that it had a different setting to the other stories in the anthology. Instead of kings and soldiers we have lords and Samurai. Kintaro had a lovely innocence about him that contrasted nicely with the weariness of Suetake and I liked that despite their opposite natures they worked as a couple. I also liked the relationship that the feudal lord had with his guardsmen and how the young and inexperienced Kintaro seemed to breathe a new spirit into the the men. Overall a well written and engrossing story about how innocence can overcome grief.
There were a couple of stories with similar themes about young men who refused to conform and marry the princesses. The Rebelliously Single Prince by Lenore Black was one such story where the king is so despairing of his son who sneaks out each night to cavort with the stable boys that he locks him in his room with a guard outside. Every morning the prince is still debauched, so the king makes a hidey hole for his most trusted advisor to watch over the prince at night. What followed was a delicious mix of a beautiful, tender sex scene and voyeurism which I found both amusing and romantic. The second story was Kings Honor by JL Merrow where a young soldier arrives in a strange land to solve the riddle of the twelve dancing princesses. Before arriving at the castle he meets a young woodsman who, along with his grandmother, offers to help the soldier solve the riddle. The writing in this story was a mix of cheeky humour and seriousness which blended together to create an interesting tale of the pitfalls of too much power and how the simple things in life are often the best. Great stuff.
Honourable mentions also need to go to A Merman's Tale by Jay Di Meo which was a sort of cross between The Little Mermaid and The Frog prince but still managed to pack a strong emotional punch and Cry Wolf by Mercy Loomis which crossed magic and shifter romance to tell the story of a shepherd who falls for the big bad wolf.
One thing I feel I ought to mention is that the story Handsome and Grateful by Kilt Kilpatrick had both m/m and f/f sex scenes in its irreverent pastiche of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. This is not a criticism, just a warning for those who aren't interested in f/f stories.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this set of stories. Recently, my main complaint about anthologies has been that many of the stories have been too similar in theme. I was pleased to find that this anthology had a set of diverse stories whilst also sticking to the theme of the book. I highly recommend Bedknobs and Beanstalks to those readers who like fantasy and inverted fairy stories and also who are looking for a set of well written, amusing tales which nevertheless give us the emotion and happy endings that all good romance should contain.(less)
I was attracted to this book because I'm a big UF fan and thought that the premise sounded interesting. Whilst all the stories in this anthology were...moreI was attracted to this book because I'm a big UF fan and thought that the premise sounded interesting. Whilst all the stories in this anthology were well written with good characterisation and structure to them, what ultimately let it down as a whole was the similarity between all of the stories. Nearly every story followed the same pattern: Demon hunter/human meets demon, they have an antagonism towards one another, lots of sex, they fall in love, the end. Many of the demons were incubi and their falling in love with the human heralded a change for them as they found meaning in that relationship. Non of this is bad, just that I did get to the stage where I was thinking 'what again?' when I read the stories and began wishing for more originality in the stories.
Having said that there were stories which stood out from the crowd and are worth mentioning. Reasonable Force By Meredith Shayne told the story of Daniel who as far as I can tell is a lapsed monk who hunts demons with the other 'brothers'. He's a bit of a loose cannon as he suffers guilt and grief over the death of his lover and fellow brother, David. He meets a demon, Karim, who proves to be a worthy foe and they often meet to spar with one another until all that aggression and pent up emotion takes a different turn altogether. I very much liked the character of Daniel and empathised greatly with his grief and how he used his aggressive behaviour to deal with that. I also liked that the relationship between Daniel and Karim wasn't something that was wrapped up in a neat bow, but we are left with the promise of things to come - an ideal ending for such a short story, especially one packed with so much detail as this.
Screaming Demon by Kiernan Kelly was another story I greatly enjoyed. This time the demon is Azarian, who is half-human. He has little in the way of powers and is despised by the other demons for his human side, so spends quite a lot of time hiding from the demon hunters. Azarian is tracked by Demon Hunter, Mick, who tries to 'send him back to hell' but eventually, through pleading his case and the approach of dawn, Azarian manages to convince Mick is isn't a threat to anyone. Mick refuses to release Azarian until he helps him track down the meaning of a mysterious stone found at the site of a demon hunt. The strength of this story lies in the character of Azarian who is the 'little guy' of the demon world. I felt rather bad for him that he is hated both by humans and demons and I was cheering him on at the end. Mick is the typical alpha demon hunter, but had enough about him to gain my sympathies. An overall entertaining story.
There was one story, The One Who Comes in the Night By Kate Roman, which probably would have been my absolute favourite were it not for the last 11 lines. It tells the story of Drew, a timid man who works hard to make ends meet. He is gay but has had a bad experience in the past which shook his confidence. As a result he seems unable to find to courage to meet another man so he lives for his job and is incredibly lonely. Through no fault of his own, he is in danger of losing that job and now despairs of what his future holds. That night an incubus, Blaise, visits him in his dreams and gives him, for one night, a taste of what life would be like if Drew had someone who cared about him and protected him. He pleads in his dream for Blaise to return and even though it's against the rules, Blaise comes back. My heart ached for Drew and his situation and I felt so sorry for him and his situation. The scenes where he is with Blaise were a mix of wonderful and yet heartbreaking because there seemed to be no future with them. I rejoiced when they found a way to be with each other and then everything was spoiled in the last few lines when, instead of leaving the two men to work out their life together and the difficulties of making ends meet, Blaise is suddenly, out of the blue, gifted with powers to make everything OK and all the loose ends are magically (and improbably) tied up without any foreshadowing of these powers earlier in the story. I was so cross about this as I felt it ruined the story. What a shame.
Honourable mentions need to go to A Calling for Pleasure by JL Merrow whose incubus, Rael, had the best character and lines of the entire anthology and Payday by Sean Michael, whose darkly erotic tale of two men and their deal with a demon was a deliciously sexy read.
I said at the beginning that all the stories were written well, so there wasn't any story that I can highlight which didn't work, or had major flaws. This can only be a good thing in an anthology, but I did find it a disappointment to find that this anthology, which seemed to have a lot of promise in that it was an original idea for a set of stories, turned out to be so similar overall. Because of this similarity in the stories, I can't highly recommend the anthology, but I do think that if you like stories with a UF theme, or if you fancy a set of stories mostly about incubi and their demon hunter lovers, then The Care and Feeding of Demons should appeal to you. (less)
I've had real mixed feelings about this anthology. Normally, when I read an anthology, I have a general liking for most of the stories with maybe one...moreI've had real mixed feelings about this anthology. Normally, when I read an anthology, I have a general liking for most of the stories with maybe one or two which are outstanding, one or two which are not too great and quite a few in the 'that was quite a good story' category. With this anthology, the majority of the stories were in the 'not too great' category, a couple in the 'good' category and maybe two or three outstanding ones. This made the anthology a bit of an up and down experience for me. I'd read a few stories and think 'this is not good' or 'this is rather dull', and consider giving up on the whole thing, but then the next story would be really good and make me want to keep reading.
I was attracted to the anthology by the theme, which is that of 'firsts'. In most of the stories this translates to the first time having sex, either at all, or with another man. Out of the twelve stories I there were two that I enjoyed a great deal:
My favourite was Bar None by GS Wiley, which is a good thing really, as her story was another one of my reasons for wanting to read the anthology. It followed British prosecuting barrister Jeremy, who, after losing a case, goes for a pint with friend and police officer, Nick. They enjoy a friendly evening together and Jeremy picks up the clues that Nick might be interested in more than friendship. Jeremy hasn't thought about sex with a man since he left public school behind him but his attraction to Nick and curiosity about what it would be like lead him to accept the feelers that Nick is giving out. Like many GS Wiley stories the story is steeped with description of place and a depth of characterisation which appealed to me. The story is told only from Jeremy's viewpoint and as such we follow his thoughts as he thinks through going home with Nick and whether that is something that he wants. I liked the way that Jeremy is logical in sorting out his feelings and yet is also quite nervous and insecure about what is going to happen and about his body. A great all round story about going with the flow and trying out new experiences.
There were a few stories which didn't have a conventional HEA or even HFN in the romance. One of those stories even had one of the heroes dying part way through the story, which isn't really my idea of a romance. However, my second favourite story, about two close friends, did have a happy ending - even if it wasn't a conventionally romantic one.
The Only Time by Charles Alan Long, looks at the 17 year friendship of two men, Andy and Tate, and how, one night they stray into more than just friendship. In many ways the sex isn't the important part of the story, but more how their friendship has developed through growing up, girlfriends, disappointments and the general ups and downs of life. I found this to be quite a poignant story which is told in a series of flashbacks, and whilst I may have been slightly disappointed in the end that they remained only friends, I still felt that this was a well written and emotionally satisfying read.
Honourable mentions need to go to The Nine Virgins by Elizabeth Coldwell, which was a slightly paranormal story of a man who finds his first lover in a stone circle, and What a Piece of Work, Is a Man by Heidi Champa, which tells of a research student who falls for a visiting English professor.
The other eight stories were variable in tone, style and written skill. Some were just an average read and some, in my opinion, were really not very well written at all. I'm not going to point the finger at any one story, especially as what I may have found flawed, dull, unrealistic and badly written may possibly be the sort of story and style of writing another reader may like.
I've had to think long and hard about what grade to give the anthology as a whole. In the end I've gone for 3 stars because I would say that maybe only 2-3 stories would have gained 2 stars and the rest were 3 or 4 stars. Even though I cannot wholly recommend I Kissed a Boy, there are some stories in it which are worth reading. I'm leaving it up to the reader to decide whether they are willing to risk spending their money on an anthology with a real mixed bag of stories.(less)
I have to admit that I was a bit unsure about getting this anthology. Not because I thought the writing would be bad, or that I wouldn't enjoy the sto...moreI have to admit that I was a bit unsure about getting this anthology. Not because I thought the writing would be bad, or that I wouldn't enjoy the stories; I had simply convinced myself that the stories were all going to be far too similar in theme and therefore I would get bored of the anthology before the end. I'm quite glad to say that this wasn't the case at all and I was surprised at how varied the themes within each of the stories turned out to be.
The theme that I thought would be most prevalent in the anthology is that of the guardian angel who falls in love with his charge. This story or a variation of that theme did appear in the anthology on a few occasions, but was so well done by most of the authors that two of those stories turned out to be amongst my favourites. The Angel Blues by Cornelia Grey told of world weary cop Morgan who is visited by a strange man. The man appears and disappears at random, causing Morgan to suspect that he is going insane, especially when he holds conversation with the strange man. This story had one of my favourite lines in it which made me smile. Morgan asks the strange man, who he now convinced is his guardian angel, what his name is, to which the reply is, Spencer:
Morgan snorted a half-laugh. “Right. What kind of angel has a name like Spencer? It should sound, like, aristocratic. Something snobby and important, you know. Maybe in French,” he added, suddenly intrigued. French did seem very apt for an angel.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” the angel—Spencer, whatever—said, cocking his head to the side. “I’ll make sure I bring this very important matter up during the next council. All angels should switch their names to French.”
The second story containing this theme that I liked is The Platypus Learns Astrophysics by Matthew Vandrew. The story follows bad tempered Jonas who is not impressed when an angel appears in his office wanting to change his life. When things go pear shaped, Jonas is stuck with the angel until they can figure out how to clear up the problem. The mix of the sarcastic Jonas and the confused angel, coupled with a sharp witty tone to the writing, made this a delightful story to read.
Another theme which cropped up from time to time is that of the angel who uses his powers to help two men who are in trouble or to get them together. In A Voice in the Darkness by Patric Michael, two men are trapped in a car after a rock slide falls on their car. Landon comes round to find his husband, Bryce, unconscious and possibly badly injured. The voice of a strange man outside the car, helps Landon through the ordeal and gives him the encouragement to escape his confinement. This was a poignant story, told partly through flashback, of the relationship between Landon and Bryce and how they came to be travelling that lonely road in a storm. I was gripped by the tension of their present situation, which then contrasted nicely with the parts which showed their love for each other. Another story which used this theme was a much sweeter and light-hearted story, The Archangel of Castro by Diana Copland, which told of a kind hearted older man, Nick, who is in love with Brian, a younger man but Nick's low self esteem means that he thinks he has no chance of love with him. It takes a nudge from a very unusual angel to get them together.
I liked the stories which took the angel mythology and worked it into the story. For example, my favourite story from the anthology, Redemption by Clare London, took place in the "Arrivals Hall" of what seemed to be hell. Ziba takes men to work for him so that they can eventually redeem themselves. His attention is drawn to a man, kneeling unobtrusively at the back of the hall. The story then follows Ziba's relationship with this man and his reasons for being at the arrivals hall. The atmosphere of the story was full of oppressiveness and sorrow at the beginning and I liked how this gradually changed as the story progressed. I also liked the faint note of hope running through the story.
There were many other stories I could recommend from the anthology and honourable mentions should go to The Tenth Avatar by Roland Graeme, which told the story of a Indian gay man whose relationship with a delivery man causes him to evaluate his life and his Hindu faith; and In the Hands of the Gods by Jana Denardo whose historical story set in ancient Pompeii, gave an insight into the customs and expectations of living in Roman society.
There were also a couple of stories to which I had mixed feelings. Sariel by Mary Calmes, began really well with a great mixture of horror, sexual tension and angelic mythology, but I felt it lost its way a little towards the end and that the HEA was a little forced. Also A Trail of Feathers by Sarah Ann Watts, was well written but the dreamlike quality to the writing left me feeling a little disconnected to the events and characters.
Overall, I would recommend this anthology. Its themes and characters are varied, the writing is consistently good throughout all the stories, and the ideas are well constructed and executed. If you like fantasy stories then this should be an anthology which appeals to you. I'll also say that for those of you who don't really like angel stories, the definition of 'angel' in this anthology is wide enough that I think that many of the stories should still appeal to you too. I think I shall find myself re-reading some of these stories again in the future, which to me is a sign of a good anthology.(less)
I really liked the first half of this anthology, especially the stories by Dallas Coleman, AM Riley and Lucius Parhelion. The second half wasn't so go...moreI really liked the first half of this anthology, especially the stories by Dallas Coleman, AM Riley and Lucius Parhelion. The second half wasn't so good, and I have to admit, I skimmed at least two stories. The exception was the Vic Winter story which brought tears to my eyes with its restrained emotion and non-HEA.
Overall, this is an anthology worth reading, especially if you like the cowboy theme. I liked the mix of contemporary and historical and the variation in plot in what could have been a very samey theme. However, as with many anthologies the stories vary in quality. It just so happens that most of the best ones are at the beginning of this book.(less)
Forbidden Love is an anthology of four historical m/m stories. The settings are all very different, but the general quality of the writing was good an...moreForbidden Love is an anthology of four historical m/m stories. The settings are all very different, but the general quality of the writing was good and the ideas were interesting. I shall take each story in turn:
My Outlaw by Stormy Glenn This story, set in 1880s Texas follows cattle rancher, Daniel, who is travelling back from a cattle run by coach after his horse was injured and had to be put down. Before the coach gets to the safety of the town, it is held up by notorious bandit Black Bart who takes a shine to Daniel and carries him off to have his wicked way with him.
This story was my second favourite out of the anthology. The beginning is tense, but it wasn't long before I cottoned on the twist in the story, at which point I began to be rather amused by the whole thing. Daniel's attempts to escape from Black Bart and his subsequent 'punishment' are not, I think, meant to be taken too seriously, at least I didn't anyway. Overall, a fun light tale where the historical setting is there but only as a background to the events of the story, so those of you who are sticklers for accuracy - for example the way that Daniel is openly homosexual in the hostile wild-west - may not like this one as much as I did.
Forbidden by HC Brown Set 1075, just after the conquest of Britain by William the Conqueror, this British set story tells of nobleman Renoir who is forced to marry an older woman to please his father and the king. Renoir agrees, even though his heart still pines for Spanish knight Sebastian with whom he spent a wonderful few weeks before being abandoned when Sebastian had to return to Spain.
This is a more serious story than the previous one, and is also more grounded in its historical setting. Renoir fights against his arranged marriage, but ultimately has no choice but to do his duty, especially as the consummation is to be witnessed. I liked that although Renoir did his duty to his king, he was also sly enough to find a way out of his predicament, to everyone's satisfaction. I thought that the way that the romance was written partly in flashback and then moving onto the present was done well and didn't jar within the story timeline. If I have any niggles, it was that I was slightly sceptical about the 'sex on a horse' scene at the end of the story. Other than that this was a nice, passionate story of the conflict between duty and love.
Poisoned Heart by Anna O'Neill This story is set in Japan during the Endo period (1600s-1800s) and tells of Raiden, a student of magic who is sent back in time to prevent a man, Masashi, from murdering his parents, but once there finds it difficult to complete his task.
This was certainly the most unusual story of the anthology. Raiden is on a revenge mission to kill the man who killed his parents before it actually happens, thus changing history. When he arrives in his past, he sees himself as a young man and begins to remember his enemy though the eyes of his younger, besotted self. This sends him into confusion and he delays killing Masashi. I found the way that Raiden, who is at heart a sensitive man, battles with his desire for revenge and with his remembered love for Masashi very affecting and I also found the setting unusual and well drawn. What didn't work so well for me was the way that the time-travel element worked - Raiden meets his younger self but has no memory of doing so, how does this work? Also the ending was a little confusing and I was left scratching me head a little over what exactly happened.
Deliverance by Alexsandr Voinov Set during the crusades, this story tells of William, one of the Knights Templar, who has set aside his past misdeeds, which included his homosexual affair with a nobleman, and dedicated his life to God and to the reclaiming of the Holy Land. When the knights come across a pilgrim who is also a skilled fighter, William cannot help but challenge him to a joust, after which the pilgrim reveals his true identity to William, leading to hard choices for him.
This was my favourite story out of the anthology for a number of reasons: Firstly the setting of the Holy Land and the courts of the Knight's Templar was unusual and gave me an interesting insight to a time and place I only know a little about. Secondly, the story did not shy away from the difficulties faced by William as he struggles with what he sees as his unnatural urges. William's attempt to forget all about his previous love through strict dedication to his vows was both admirable and hopeless, and gave us a view of a morally strong and yet fiercely passionate man on the verge of collapse. Finally, I liked the strong bond between William and Guy, their shared history and how they had both, in their own way, sought redemption. Overall a great period story with lots of emotion amongst the historical detail.
As with any anthology, there is a mix in the quality of the stories in Forbidden Love. Having said that, I have a love of historically set m/m stories, so this anthology appealed to me: The writing was good, the settings unusual, and even for such short stories, the characters were fleshed out. I'm giving Forbidden Love a grade of 'Very Good' and I recommend it for someone looking for an m/m historical story set somewhere other than the Regency period or Victorian Britain.(less)
This anthology of four historical short stories takes the idea of the alien or outsider in a foreign land. In the first three stories the outsider is...moreThis anthology of four historical short stories takes the idea of the alien or outsider in a foreign land. In the first three stories the outsider is a British man and in the final story the outsider is an American in Canada. Whilst I enjoyed all the stories, and feel that they are all worth reading for those who like historicals, I liked some better than others. I also found that those who like a high degree of romance in their stories may be disappointed as in many stories the emphasis is clearly on the historical content rather than the romantic relationship. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, especially for me, just that those who like their historicals to be heavy on romantic and sexual content may not find this book to their taste.
The first story, Tributary by Erastes, is set in Italy during the 1930s and follows bored Guy, as he tootles around Europe in his car before settling at an isolated hotel in the Italian Alps. Rather predictably the hotel is full of Brits who are there to take the air and holiday. Whilst there he meets Professor Calloway and his 'assistant' Louis. Guy finds Louis' dark good looks irresistible, but there's the added complication of Calloway's affection and love for his young assistant.
To be honest, Erastes was always going to be onto a winner with this story for me. I studied the literature of the 1930s at College and have a great affection for that era. This meant that I was thoroughly delighted to read about some of the prevailing feelings at the time, especially in relation to the First World War. Guy served in the home office and never saw active service, and Louis was too young to fight. Both men are suffering from a form of survivor's guilt in that Guy is ashamed of his wartime desk job when compared to Calloway and another military man staying at the hotel, both of whom have suffered from war injuries. Louis is disappointed that he never got the opportunity to fight for his country. These feelings lead to a sense of shared feeling between the men and forms the start of their relationship. Other themes such as the ennui of the British abroad , the May to December relationship and the circumspect way that both Guy and Calloway conduct their relationship with Louis all add to the period feel and made this a very enjoyable story.
The second story was The White Empire by Chris Smith. Set in Hong Kong during the Victorian era, the story follows first person narrator Vaughan, a clergyman and the younger son of an aristocratic family, who has decided that in order to win his battle over his homosexuality he needs to volunteer for an overseas mission. he travels to Hong Kong and discovers a city in the thrall of opium. Vaughan is determined to do all he can to eradicate opium but finds his path blocked by British bureaucracy and by his feelings for Lord Runfold.
This was the longest story in the anthology and my least favourite. Not that there was anything wrong with the writing, which was excellent, or the characterisation, which was well rounded. The sights, smells and tastes of Hong Kong are all lovingly described in all its dirt and foulness, and the manners and morals of Victorian society are exposed as mere niceties which hide the rot underneath. The problem with the story was all mine, as I'm not hugely fond of stories set in the Victorian period (unless they are written by the Brontes). I also found it a little odd that at the beginning of the story Vaughan is deeply committed to overcoming his homosexuality and yet that seems all but forgotten by the end. There's not even a gradual change, he just abruptly changes his mind and his position as a clergyman is never mentioned towards the end of the story. Having said that, this is perhaps the most traditionally romantic of the four stories and does give an interesting insight into the British opium trade in Hong Kong, something I knew nothing about.
The shortest story in the anthology is Sand by Charlie Cochrane. Set in Syria during (I think) the early 20th Century this story follows Charlie, who has been charged with the thankless task of minding his friend Bernhard who has been sent overseas for a number of indiscretions with women. Charlie's job is to ensure that Bernhard stays as far away from the opposite sex as possible. Their destination is a archaeological dig in the Syrian desert run by Dr Andrew Parks and whilst there, Charlie learns that given the right companion the "bloody sand" isn't that bad after all.
This was the most lighthearted story out of the collection and I enjoyed it a great deal. Much of the humour is derived from the acerbic comments of the long-suffering Charlie towards his rather dim-witted friend and the desert conditions. It's not all humour though as both Charlie and Andrew have loved and lost someone in the past and also have to cope with life in the desert with all its dangers. The way the romance between the pair develops was quite delightful as was the understated way the men expressed their feelings for each other. The setting itself wasn't described in as much detail as the previous books, but overall this was a great little read with an unusual setting and pleasant characters.
The final story was my favourite, despite the lack of a British character! The Ninth Language by Jordan Taylor is set in the Canadian Yukon at the height of the gold rush, 1898. Native American Mitsrii kills a man who he witnesses killing wolves. When Mitsrii is captured and brought to nearby town Dawson, a young translator Troy Karlson is brought to find out why Mitsrii killed the man. Troy is desperate to act as an ambassador between the whites and the Native Americans and hopes that Mitsrii will help him find some of the NA tribes and villages, but the young NA man is both unwilling and impatient with Troy and his blundering ways.
What I liked most about this story was the mixture between the beautiful Yukon setting, where nature rules in all its glory, and the difficult relationship between Mitsrii and Troy. Much of the story is set in the wilderness as Troy learns to appreciate the balance in nature as well as realise the harm that the white men bring to that. Mitsrii leans a little towards the noble savage cliché, but it was refreshing to see a character who could calmly kill a man but also respected the cyclical way of the natural world. I felt dreadfully sorry for poor Troy for most of the book. He's so earnest in his search for ways to bring white and NA people together and yet his naivety and clumsiness when compared with Mitsrii was endearing. The relationship between the the men develops from antagonism on the part of Mitsrii, the grudging acceptance and finally attraction. The emotions are understated and moving, and I found tears in my eyes before the end of the story.
For those readers who enjoy historical stories this anthology is a must. On the whole I found it an enjoyable read, if a little slow moving at times, and I would recommend it.(less)