Jenre's Reviews > A Spell of Passion or Fear

A Spell of Passion or Fear by T.C. Mill
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's review
Mar 15, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, romance, steampunk, m-m
Read in March, 2012

I read a great short story from this author a while ago now and was hoping that she would produce a longer piece. This novella is a short of steampunkish story set in a fantasy world with links to ancient Greece. The names of the cities have a Greek feel to them - the main setting here called Kalliopolis - and there are references made to Greek myths and Alexander. On the other hand there are machines and automatum which gives it the steampunk feel. One of those types of machines are the Guardians who are used as law enforcement in the city. Before these machines were built, the Guardians were human men, who were cast off as too flawed and replaced by machines. Our hero, Ariston, was one of those Guardians, now exiled from the citadel and forced to eek out an existence as a private bodyguard. Our other hero is Phaleas, or Fal, who is a squire, or mechanic, to the mechanised guardians, charged with tending to their upkeep. The two men meet when both try to escape the city. Fal is recaptured and Ariston makes his way back to the city where he contrives to get to know Fal. Despite the limitations Fal has on his time and little opportunity to meet in secret, the men form a friendship and more. Fal wants to escape together and try for a new life in a city where they can be open about their relationship, but he fears that Ariston has too many emotional ties to the city to want to leave.

In the UK Ariston is the name of a brand of white goods, especially washing machines, so I have to admit I found Ariston's name a little distracting at first! Once I got past that, I rather enjoyed this story. The first part concentrates on setting the scene and the developing relationship between the characters. At first I found the setting a little difficult to place, with some familiar and some unfamiliar aspects. It took me a while to understand the role of the guardians and how the society was structured, but as the story continued and we are fed more information, it became clearer to me. There's a lot of focus on the way the machine Guardians replaced the human ones who were seen to be impure with their very human flaws and desires. I liked the way this was developed later in the story with the Guardian Eudaimon and Fal's relationship to that Guardian. It provided some of the more poignant moments in the story, and was almost cinematic in its execution.

Whilst I liked the pairing of Ariston and Fal which on the page was at first hesitant and then sweet and romantic, I personally felt a little emotionally distant towards them. I didn't feel the zing of attraction, and whilst I could see that they felt something for each other, the chemistry wasn't there for me. Ariston especially seems rather cold and unfeeling, spending too much time wallowing in past hurts. This may just be my feelings though and other readers may warm more to their relationship.

The last half of the book is the part which most caught my attention. I liked the journey that Fal makes, which again added to the cinematic feel to the book, and the creatures he encounters. It gave Fal more of a strength of character than that seen earlier in the book and made him a little less wet around the ears. However, this part was marred slightly by a dream sex scene which was wholly superfluous to the plot. I'm never a great fan of dream sex scenes anyway but I'm not sure why it was included here because it added nothing to the story. The ending was a little abrupt, and I would have liked to have seen more of Far and Ariston together at the end, but having said that, the ending did work as long as you are willing to use your imagination as to their reconcilliation. Maybe there's going to be a sequel where we see how they get on in their new life.

So overall, there were good and bad things about this story but I think that the good over-rode the bad and I'm glad I read it. I'm giving this a grade of 'Very Good' and I recommend it to those who like fantasy and are looking for a different type of steampunk story than the usual Victoriana.
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