Note: For some authors in this series, I'll be looking at a series or set of books rather than just one.
While I read (finally) the Lost and Founds recently, I'm starting with them because I had meant to read them before the last GRL. Yeah. We see how that goes.
It's hard to know where to start with these. While we often caution readers not to confuse the author with the story, it's hard to disentangle them in this case. I will try my best to explain why...
First, let me back up (because some days are not for linear thinking) and say that these are not romance, even though they get stuck in romance categories. Or perhaps they are, but not in the modern, boy-meets-boy sense. Except that they are. Wait. this isn't working.
The Lost and Founds are roman in the old sense of the word - quests of self discovery, fraught with pitfalls for the soul and sometimes perceived physical peril. They are, indeed, love stories with what we hope will be happily ever afters, but not the kind where the two principle characters stay together. They are about a love that has more to do with giving of the self than sex.
They are profoundly moving, profoundly silly, incredible in the leaps of faith and suspension of disbelief we, as readers, must navigate, and yet the quixotic nature of the story arcs don't distance us from the journey. It draws us in, captures us in helpless wonder, tugs us forward another step and another step until we read slack-jawed and shattered, broken and laughing.
King Perry is about a man who has repressed grief, tamped down on it so hard that he doesn't even recognize it any longer, hiding it behind a veneer of businessman and civil, appropriate behavior. King Mai is about a man who uses his anger to keep the world at a distance while insisting on self-fulfilling prophecies of doom. But both books, and the entire series, are equally about the enigmatic Vin Vanbly (not his real name.) The series of stories are told out of order, backwards and inside-out, so that both the mythology of the Found Kings and Vin himself are revealed slowly, since they are inextricably intertwined. Vin is the anomaly in every situation, the perpetual outsider. He sees himself as one of the Lost Ones, and yet his compassion and his love, we begin to understand, have been the catalyst for so many other men to regain their Found kingship over the years.
When we meet Vin in King Perry, he's well-versed in how these King Weekends should go. Manipulative, scheming, not always ethical, Vin should strike us as dangerous and maybe a little creepy. But he doesn't. We're inside his brain and we're rooting for him. Edmond gives us just enough of his history, his intentions that we see his goofy charm, his moments of doubt, his tenacious drive to stay on task, to succeed in showing Perry what he needs to see to be whole again. But this is Vin at his most confident. He's been doing this for a while and he's pretty sure he has everything figured out. The human heart is an odd thing, and he recognizes that his plans may fall flat, but he has all the tricks up his sleeve carefully in line. The ultimate event planner.
In King Mai, we meet a younger and less experienced Vin. Sure, he's done this before, but he's still making mistakes, still figuring this out. The tenacity, the compassion, the manic drive are all there, but not quite the smooth delivery we see in King Perry. Now that we know the series will be six stories - since we're getting bits of King Daniel online and we see that Daniel will be the spider silk that holds these stories together - I suspect that the order of the stories has as much to do with a deconstruction of Vin as it does with the individual journeys.
Vin is...well, there's a lot of Edmond in Vin. He might be disturbed to hear that, but I think he knows. The quirky sense of humor, the head tilted way of looking at the world, the ability to see differently - these are all Edmond things. That's not surprising, of course. All of our characters carry bits of ourselves since they spring from our brains. But I can't help seeing Edmond when Vin speaks, even though I know they're not the same. Edmond is fun to hang out with, to talk to. With Vin, I'd probably always wonder what he was planning.
Long story short - I don't read contemporary romance. I just don't enjoy it. But these are stories of miracles and wonder. I'm completely hooked. Waiting for The Butterfly King and for October and for all of us to find our way home.
All My Crimes
by Tal Valante
(A repost of my review on Goodreads)
I know what the objections will be to this story. No need to read other reviews. There will be complaints about the lack of romance, the lack of sex and the length.
If I read those reviews, I will react badly. So. It's quite simple.
This is how a short story is meant to be written. THIS. Every movement, every detail furthers the action, the characterization, the central themes. Every word is there for a reason. Every scene is necessary.
We're given glimpses and hints of world building, through the action, through the surroundings, but the details are so integral that you know there's a complete world behind this story, not simply a few Scrabble-word, fantasy realm names and such sprinkled around. There's a system of magic. There are rules. You FEEL them.
I often despise first person and loathe present tense even more. They distract me. Pull me out of the story. Here. Oh, here...it makes the story raw and immediate and painful. We discover the back story and the answers as the character does and it's awful and painful and flipping terrible things have happened. There's violence, but not long-drawn out gore fests. There's sex, but off screen because it's not important to go into detail.
It was short. Yes. It was intense. I took maybe an hour and a half to read this and won't be able to forget it. Perhaps ever.
The author's name intrigued me. It's one of my own favorite character's names, after all. But I'll be looking for longer work from this author. Write more, Tal. Write epics. Because I want to see what you do when you give yourself room to roam.
A little disclaimer about OTBT: I review books that I've read. I may have purchased them or been given them, but I will only review works I've finished and I will only review works I enjoyed. What kind of a review policy is that? you ask. Look, I'm an author. I have no right to post negative reviews of other authors work since we are in direct market competition, if you think about it. Also, the purpose of my reviews is to point people to books I'd like to recommend, not to draw attention to the ones I can't recommend.
Royce Ree Omnibus (The Emperor's New Clothes), Volume 1
Gay Science Fiction
Humor in Science Fiction is not a new thing. Readers seem surprised when they encounter it. Sometimes it's episodic humor in otherwise serious stories, (see most conversations between Miles Vorkosigan and his cousin Ivan) sometimes the story itself is farce/ satire (see Douglas Addams entire body of work) and sometimes we're looking at a Comedy of Ideas (see Keith Laumer's Retief novels.)
While there are farcical moments in Royce Ree's first full adventure, this really does fall into the third category and Royce, very much together and up to his eyeballs in plans within plans and contingency plans if those should fall through, is almost an homage to Retief, though Royce has some surprisingly vulnerable spots that he shows to the readers if not the rest of the universe.
While you can take The Emperor's New Clothes in small bites, (the story is available in separate "episodes") I recommend devouring the whole thing in one wild, multi-course feast. (Hence the Omnibus.) If you do decide on episodes, the first is available free on All Romance. But I suppose I should back up again...
This is (shocked face) not a traditional romance. Nor is the story told in traditional linear fashion as most folks are accustomed to with romance. There is a romance contained within the story - and it is a central driving force behind the story - but there's so much more going on here than boy meets boy.
We're well and fairly tossed in medias res and then jump backward and work our way forward (for the most part) until the final reveals. This is not a structure familiar to most romance readers, but should be familiar to readers of crime fiction, this ending first, here's what happened before, and finally here are the machinations behind the scenes are a structure we've seen there frequently. (See Reservoir Dogs, e.g.)And this is, among other things, a classic tale of the Big Job that had to be Planned Carefully and had Lots of Things Go Wrong Despite All the Planning.
Which works well for a comedy and I found myself snickering and bursting into surprised laughs more than once. Royce sets out, supposedly to steal a planet's impeccable sense of style. He ends up stealing oh so much more than that. What appears to be a simple break and enter soon evolves into a mess of, pardon the pun, royal proportions. I do wonder how Royce kept all the lies and machinations straight without his head exploding - but that's what he does. And he's good at it. Some plot points seemed a bit too convenient, even for a comedy, but it doesn't mar the overall sense of oh-no-I-can't-believe-that-just-happened fun.
Aldous Mercer's twisty mind (and I mean this in a good way) takes a traditional fairy tale, turns it inside out and plunks it on its head, lightly tosses with story traditions from far flung sources (don't think you slid the Buddha under the bodhi tree reference past me, ha!) and stirs with just enough chaos to keep you guessing.
This is his first self-publishing venture and if I have any criticism, it's that when you self-publish, you need to take your time. There were points where I had to re-read several times before I realized the wrong word had been used in error and some odd formatting issues appeared in one chapter where the font suddenly became gargantuan. But this is a learning process and nothing that a good editor and a second upload can't fix.
To say much more would be to give things away - and you really need to approach this story with a sense of wonder and have all the surprises jump out at you fresh and new or it won't be any fun. I still have questions. Of course I do. Royce's parentage. The structure of the Empire. Did Les ever forgive him?
I'm looking forward to more. Royce is arrogant, high-handed, outwardly cold and a lying bastard. And I think I'm in love.
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around gay heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.