ARC Review by Jude: Follow Me Into Darkness Anthology by Open Ink Press

rbtBlurb:

Authors: Santino Hassell, J.C. Lillis, J.R. Gray, Kris Ripper, and Roan Parrish

Carnivale is a time for decadence, for revelry, and for mischief. A time when we shed the figurative masks we wear in everyday life in favor of new ones… ones that allow us to be a little bolder, a little more adventurous, and perhaps a little truer to ourselves. Follow Me Into Darkness is a compilation of original tales of queer romance by five of the premier authors of contemporary romance.

Currently on sale for $.099 until 3/4

Purchase Links:
Open Ink Press / Amazon / books2read
Goodreads

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*A copy of this anthology was provided by Open Ink Press in return for an honest review*

Before I delve into the individual stories, I must say I was very impressed by this anthology. Anthologies are not generally my cup of tea, owing to the short nature of the stories. This one intrigued me both because of the theme, but because I am a fan of the authors included. The stories included are unique, hopeful and haunting, and I definitely recommend you grab this one, particularly since it’s currently on sale!

Hurricane by Santino Hassell

Interesting things never happened to Zay. He was the wallflower everyone forgot about as soon as the booze began to flow, and Mardi Gras had never been an exception. But after a chance encounter with a devil-may-care grifter, this year’s celebration brings adventure and whirlwind romance.

This was a great short by Hassell. I admire when authors can give us clear characterization in a short story without cluttering the movement of plot with info dump. I loved Zay, I loved seeing his defensiveness, his fear, the way his needs slowly unfolded for the reader. The end was lovely. As always, I wished there was more, but it ended on a perfect story beat. Fair warning that there is an incidence of gay-bashing in the story, if that triggers you.

If We Be Friends by J.C. Lillis

Seventeen-year-old Ven should be flying highhe’s playing the title role in a new TV drama about Hamlet’s teen years, and tonight they’re having a Mardi Gras cast party in a possibly-haunted castle. But Ven’s lost all his mirth since his boyfriend suggested they “take a break,” so he plans to skip the bash and brood in his trailer all night. Then the exasperating guy who plays Horatio challenges him to a Shakespearean soliloquy-off, and Ven knows his actorly honor is at stake. He says yes to the duel, trudges off to the party to meet his fate–and finds that more awaits him onstage than a battle of wits and words.

It took me a moment to get into this story — it has an unusual quality to it. I really applaud it though, because once you get into it, you realize that the theatricality reflected in the language works as a layer of character development. That theatricality tells us so much about Ven’s heartbreak, the jadedness he wears to protect and distance himself in that heartbreak, but also, his youth. The soliloquy-off: wow. That was really moving. What followed was sexy and hopeful. I really, really loved the use of “the ghost”; it was an excellent writing device that lesser skilled authors would not be able to pull off.

Masked by J.R. Gray

Blistering heat and half-naked masked men as far as the eye can see, but Heath runs into the one face it’s taken him fifteen years to forget. Javier is plagued with a life of regret, but when a second chance confronts him, can he let go of his hang-ups and seize the moment? 

I will admit I struggled with this story. I am not sure how much experience the author has re: Brasil, so I don’t want to assume that what I perceived to be inaccuracies or stereotypes weren’t purposeful. That said: this story also features gay-bashing. It is very graphic and violent. I was a little turned off by all the kissing and rough touching mixed in with conversations about potential punctured lungs, open face wounds that may require stitching, and broken ribs. That may just be squeamishness. This story had potential, but the actual plot needed much more room to be fleshed out in a way that did it justice.

Personal note: perhaps not all Latinx people object, but I am not a fan of being referred to as Latin (rather than Latina or Latinx), as the author does one female character.

The Queen’s Reflection by Kris Ripper

Isah plays the role everyone expects: malleable and cautious, a true queen. But what others see as a queen’s appropriate modesty is really just a disguise for what Isah has never told anyone, the thing no one can ever know.

This body, dressed in the queen’s gowns, is a lie.

Once a year, at carnival, Isah dons someone else’s clothes and becomes them for a night. A young cook in stained whites, or a stableboy in worn breeches. As long as no one gets too close the pretense holds.

Until two strangers look past all the characters and Isah finally exposes the person behind the mask.

This story was incredibly sexy and also very emotional and moving. It took me a moment to get into the world — with a short story it is hard to do a lot of world building — but once I was in, I was in. Ripper does a great job reflecting Isah’s struggles, longing and pain. This story shines all around, but there is one scene in particular, having to do with Isah’s identity and body in an intimate setting, that truly moved me to tears. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I highly encourage y’all to read this one.

Touched by Roan Parrish

Sometimes when he touches people Philippe Rondeau sees their future. It’s erratic and inconvenient, but mostly he’s learned to deal with it. Sure he hasn’t found true love yet, but he has friends and lovers, and is kept busy running his family’s jazz club in Prohibition-era New Orleans. But now it’s Mardi Gras and all bets are off. In the space of one night, Philippe falls under the spell of jazz musician Claude and learns a terrible secret about his powers. If Philippe is certain of anything it’s that the future can be tricky, but the chance at love makes it all seem worthwhile.
Holy Moses readers. They truly saved the best for last here. This story was stunningly written. Parrish captures every sense with her descriptive language: I felt the setting, I was grounded in Philippe’s body and struggles. The desire and attraction between Philippe and Claude is palpable. But all of that pales in the wake of the actual story. It is utterly haunting. I honestly feel as though I could write a small essay in the wake of this one; Parrish captures the visceral punch of Philippe’s visions deftly, building them over the course of the story, leading us to their meaning without telling us. The end was both expected and unexpected; this story has settled in my chest, a lingering ache.

Anthology Genre: Contemporary Genre: Fantasy Genre: Historical Genre: Paranormal Identity: Transgender Orientation: Bisexual Orientation: Gay Pairing: M/M Pairing: M/M/F Publisher: Open Ink Press Review Short Story Tag: coming of age Tag: Illness / Injury Tag: Own-Voices Tag: PoC

Jude Sierra View All →

Jude began her writing career at the age of eight when she immortalized her summer vacation with ten entries in a row that read “pool+tv”.

As a sucker for happy endings and well written emotional arcs and characters, Jude is an unapologetic bookaholic. She finds bookstores and libraries unbearably sexy and, to her husband’s dismay, is attempting to create her own in their living room.

She is a writer of many things that hope to find their way out of the sanctuary of her hard drive, and many that have found a home in a fanfiction community.

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