Cole Riann's Reviews > All Wrapped Up

All Wrapped Up by Elizabeth Hyder
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's review
Aug 10, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: armchair-reviews, m-m, m-m-anthology-collections, m-m-short, m-m-fantasy, m-m-scifi-space

Review posted at The Armchair Reader.

This is definitely one of the more successful anthologies that I've read. I've said it before, but I really like the way that Storm Moon Press does their anthologies. They never seem overcrowded and they also seem to really be into cultivating new talent. Or, at least many of their authors are new to me and the success rate of those stories by authors I've never heard of versus the same at other publishers is so much higher. I enjoyed every story in the anthology, all four of them, and I didn't feel overwhelmed. I also didn't get bogged down in to a theme, something that SMP seems to have done by choosing anthology themes that are far reaching which allows authors a lot more creativity with their story. Certainly, each of the ones in this anthology were very different and all had their own merits. I would have enjoyed reading each of them as a separate work, and some of them were wonderful.

The tentacle theme is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. I know that before this anthology I'd read a couple stories that dealt with it and was intrigued. I had certainly liked it, and though it may be my limited reading experience on this topic, most of what I had read was pretty serious dub/non-con and definitely not everyone's cup of tea. While Gryvon's story, Dark Covenant deals with rape in a way that will make some people pretty uncomfortable, the other stories didn't, and explored the kink in ways I hadn't read before. Even in Gryvon's story, the rape had nothing to do with the tentacle sex. It's something that I think readers should explore, if you're interested, and this is a great way to do it.

Ground Mission by Laylah Hunter (3.5 stars)
Heat: 4 - Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 3 - Average Story to Sex Ratio
Keywords/Tags: Friends to Lovers, Other Planets, Infected

Adrian and Simon are pod mates, two genetically modified men who are cryogenically frozen between missions. They are the first contact on the worlds they visit, and the grunts of the whole operation. They wake with the latest mission to visit and old Earth colony and investigate the remains of civilization. When they get to the ground, however, they find that there is still life, and it is hostile.

The best part of this story is the relationship between Adrian and Simon. Pod mates have such little free time because they're always either in stasis (frozen between missions) or on a mission and devoted to their objective. Like most other pod mates, they have a relationship. The nature of that relationship isn't quite explored, at least directly. There is no precedent from other pod mates to compare (we don't meet any of the others), but you can see through their interactions that their relationship is in a transition. They are natural partners in getting their work done. Like all of the two-person teams, one is for intelligence and one is for muscle. Adrian, as the muscle (or as Simon refers to him, "meat-shield"), follows Simon's lead on the missions, who is either naturally dominant in ways or take charge because of his extra modifications. The changes they go through during their mission alter them as well, cement their bond, and allow them to say what they really feel when they finally have time alone to explore their feelings further.

This was quite a sweet romance, despite the situation Adrian and Simon are in. I liked that they were able to take their working relationship and banter and explore a new type of relationship.

Wildwood by Thea Hayworth (4.25 stars)
Heat: 3 - Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 - Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Fae

In this story, the peace is kept by a symbiotic relationship between humans and Guardians. The land is widely covered in forests, and of the largest and oldest forest of all there is a single Guardian, who is rumored to have gone missing years ago. Unique creatures that seem to be the personification of the forest themselves, Guardians protect the woods and keep the coexistence between man and all natures of creatures -- Dryads, Wights, Kelpies, etc. Koster is a ranger, one of a band of men who protect the humans in forest settlements, who is new to the old and vast forest of Oakensea. His fearsome visage reflects his tumultuous past as a ranger who has been stationed in forests that have turned wild, overrun with wights and necromancers. His arrival in Orm and patrols through the Oakensea bring changes that most of the residents have never thought to see, all while continually running into a strange man in the woods who is covered, head to toe, in an old ratty cloak.

This is quite a wonderful, original story. When I thought of "tentle-rotica" (which I've coined btw -- it's the new word everyone, spread it around!) and thought about the stories of this anthology, I suppose I expected all manner of sea creatures. It is part of the reason that I wanted to read this anthology -- half scared and half excited -- imagining some sort of Cthulhu romance… *shudder* This story is set far from the sea, however, and not only was I pleased with how this story dealt with the tentacle prompt, I liked where the story moved from there. What is charming about the romance between Koster and his mystery man, is that by nature of the man's secrecy (though you know almost right off who he is) Koster really must woo him, at first a little bit for duty, but thereafter because of his own interest more than the people of Orm. I can't quite decide how I feel about the POV changes (mostly Koster's, but occasional sections from almost random townspeople), in the end I can see what it brings to the story. As an isolated town, the people are presented with an almost united front, both in their goals and beliefs. Because of that, their different POVs come across as one of a whole character, and because their removed from Koster, the "stranger", they are a mostly objective voice.

I very much liked this one and I hope to see this author's work, who until now I had not read nor heard of, in the future.

Dark Covenant by Gryvon (4.5 stars)
Heat: 4 - Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 4 - Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Non-Con/Rape, Magic, Lovecraftian

Eli is from the lower city, perpetually covered in coal smog, dirty and poor with no way out. He works the mines to provide for his younger brothers and sisters and his frail mother's medicines. Then, when a mysterious man named Erasmus makes him a deal that he can't refuse, he's caught as a plaything in the Academy, learning magic by day and horrible things at night -- all with Erasmus' manipulative voice in his head.

This is a beautifully written story, sensually evocative. The story begins right away with the suspense that carries through the story, and I felt like Eli was being set up for a horrible trap even before it happened. In fact, Eli soon knows it too, no matter what he'd rather believe, which only adds hopelessness onto an already out of control situation. The emasculation he feels later in the story is a physical representation of everything that has been taken from him, his family, his life, and is written in such a way that it feels as if that ultimate hopelessness has been chartered from the beginning. The real mystery is which road to take. Which path with which person is the best bet for him and his family. The answer to that changed from beginning to end, just as we slowly learn who Erasmus is and how corrosive the deceit among the Academy is, and maybe if the only choice Eli has is to choose the lesser of two evils. If only Eli had knowledge to guide his way, something which his one friend and roommate Wesley helps with.

This writing in this story, combined with the almost Lovecraftian horror lurking among the shadows creates an atmosphere that continually made me feel as if I was watching a short film. This is definitely one of my favorite stories of the anthology, and this author's writing continues to excite me. I simply can't wait for Gryvon to write more, maybe a novel? I'd love that.

Situation Normal by Morgan Harcourt (3 stars)
Heat: 5 - Off the Charts!
Sex Frequency: 4 - Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Interspecies, Cops, Alpha Doms

Sebastian is caught taking an illegal warp through space by a 7 foot tall lizard. The minute His Most Just Tenacity, nicknamed Ten, commandeers his ship and starts coloring him Red because of his hair color, the situation takes a very sexy turn. Sebastian can't believe his fantasy of a hot top lizard is going to push him around and push even his no limit boundaries. The problem is that no matter how hot their sex is, Ten seems to think that Red is someone else, a real criminal he's been chasing. What seems like a fun and sexy game suddenly becomes something much worse.

This story is definitely the most sex focused story of the anthology, though it was definitely hot. I suppose you could call it Xeno BDSM, since interspecies sex is called xeno sex in the story. Also, they both have real chemistry, so it isn't just the tentacle kink that makes the story sexy, but also the power play and the back and forth banter. What is play, what is real? I wanted to label this story erotica for much of it, simply because the sex takes up quite a bit of the story, but there is a plot here, a miscommunication as part of the play that sends Sebastian into a dangerous situation. This allows for the two go possibly come back together and maybe even have a relationship of a sort in the future. It definitely ends in an HFN.

Even though this was my least favorite story of the anthology, that's not a bad thing because the stories in this anthology have been really wonderful. I can't even say that this story needed anything different or that I would have changed anything, simply that I preferred the others.
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