Connections, issued by Iris Print – review

Connections : a boys’ love anthology

Warnings/notes: Some explicit m/m, some violence, some disturbing themes. Various authors.

Purchase this book for $12.95 here

Summary: Sixteen sensual stories of boy meets boy.

My overall impression: Decent, original slashy/boys love fiction is not easy to get hold of, and this anthology has a high proportion of quality stories. The editing is at a high standard (though I spotted a couple of mistakes and some areas which could have been tightened up). A lot of the stories don’t appeal to me, but they are not objectively unappealing or badly written, and at least three are outstandingly good. I would say it’s a mistake to sit down and read this one cover to cover in one sitting. Better to pick it up, sample one story and savour it, and then let it lie – then the similarities and clichés will not be so obvious, and certain stories will also speak to a reader better in one mood than in another. In that respect, it’s rather like a box of chocolates – delightful as an occasional treat, cloying if consumed all at once.

Now onto the individual stories and my comments:

Siren by Laura Knight

A young man down on his luck in Greece, is swept up in the net of a fisherman with definite designs on his virtue.

A really lovely, sensuously written piece, unabashedly erotic with a paper-thin plot, but a slightly otherworldly feel that makes it seem more like a fairy tale. Beautiful.

Rite of Passage by L.J. Eves

A would-be assassin, and his intended royal victim. Things don’t go as planned.

A gritty little fantasy piece that screams out to be longer – it reads like the start of a really hefty novel, and ends just when you finally get a hook on the characters. Still, well worth the effort of reading.

Realness by Colin

Cybersex crosses over into the real world.

A wanna-be gritty urban fantasy that doesn’t quite work – it’s not gritty enough for a start, and it suffers from wandering POV which never endears me to a story. Like the previous story, it also needs to be longer – it feels rushed, and is unsatisfying either as erotica or as simply story telling for that reason. Not a bad story, but you can sense the greatness that it could have reached and doesn’t.

At Peace by Kara Larson

After the First World War, a soldier readjusts to peace.

Oh, this is frustrating. So many lovely period details, and yet it lacks any authentic period narrative voice or feel. The author has done her homework, and yet never convinces the reader that we are really reading about a soldier in the early part of the twentieth century – this sentence, early on, is an example of what’s wrong: “Most had moved away by the end of the war, because they couldn’t take the constant hassle and looks anymore.” That’s a twenty-first century narrator, talking about the early twentieth – yet the narrator is supposed to be in that period.

The idea is sound, but the story is far too much ‘tell not show’ – we are literally being told the story as it happened, not being made to feel along with the characters. As such, it’s just unsatisfying, and doesn’t work for me at all.

Chance and Daring by Laylah Hunter

Two boys on the edge of manhood work off a dare, in a very public venue

A ‘period fantasy’ (the place/time is not exactly described), this needs to be a much richer piece – there’s a wealth of superficial description which fails to convey a real sense of place, and since it’s all about the place, that’s a tad unfortunate. The plot is also very slight, and there’s an awful lot of set up for what is simply an excuse for a bit of public sex. The sex scene itself is brief and not particularly hot – the story seems to be torn between being an examination of the boys’ characters and situation, and an erotic story. Unfortunately, it fails as both. Yet another that might benefit from being a much longer story, and reads as a prelude, not a complete story.

Kissing Practice by Calliope Archer

Two teenage boys, a water bed, and endless curiousity.

As slight as the summary makes it sound, with a bit of angst thrown in to give it weight, this is not a bad story, but it could have been so much better. It’s impossible to believe the narrator is an American teenage boy – the voice is the main weakness that lets this down. However, the erotic bit is too short to be satisfying if read for that reason, and the interaction is not developed enough for us to really care about the boys either. Another one in this collection that is neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring. It’s this kind of story which gives slash/boy love fiction a reputation for not being ‘real’ writing. Paying readers will want more than this.

A Different Magic by J.G. Williams

A monk looks for a mischeivous spirit and find more than he was bargaining for.

Now this is more like it! Good fantasy, vivid, fascinating imagery, characters which intrigue and engage from the start. I only wanted it to be longer because the world and the people are so very well realised, and could be mined for much longer than this, but this works at all levels. A story that could be enjoyed by any reader of fantasy. Recommended.

Alexander’s River by Patricia Fuller

Alexander and Hephaistion. King and general. Lover and beloved.

Oh, goodness. This is like finding a cut diamond in a pile of grass clippings. Nothing in this anthology prepares you for this fabulous, impressive story. It’s poetically beautifully, even in the horrifying details, and rich and sensual and intimate in thought and feeling. The author gets under the skin of her characters, and makes the reader live their lives, lets us breathe with them and feel. Powerful, and bittersweet, and unflinching from the realities. A very strong story that would be an adornment in any collection of fiction.

Butterfly by Tsaiko

A prostitute tries to deny his feelings for a client.

This is one of the stronger stories in this collection, another fantasy, and really, I don’t have many quibbles with it, though it wouldn’t be one I would return to often. It could have done with slightly better editing, a little less tell and more show, but it’s another story which could be read by any lover of fantasy – it’s nice when the homosexuality of the characters is almost incidental, rather than the focus, but it also works as romance. Nice.

Ten Kisses by Erastes

Two boys. Ten kisses.

This is a sweet and clever story that doesn’t wear out its welcome, showing the progression of a young relationship in the description of ten kisses. Beautifully written, just the right length and well-paced. Recommended.

When I Was Three by Samantha Pilon

A friendship begun in childhood, that lasts a lifetime.

This is a cute, if unsurprising, story, and not much to dislike here, though I wish there had been more detail in some of the narrative passages, more ‘show’, and being longer over all wouldn’t have hurt. It’s a fairly clichéd story – two best friends growing up and becoming closer – but handled well and it feels fresh. Nice.

Learning the Hard Way by K.C. Warwick

The life and loves of a Venusian space-ship pilot.

I have to be honest here and say if I hadn’t been reading this to review, I’d have stopped reading after the first three pages. The writing was breathless, unengaging, and I had a nagging sense that I was reading fanfiction with the numbers filed off, only without a knowledge of the source material, it made little sense. The second half is more coherent and enjoyable than the first, but the first bit is science fiction without any substantial characterisation, the second is character interaction with no science fiction. There is little or no attempt to marry the two genres of slash and sci-fi properly, so it’s generally unsatisfying, and uncomfortably cliché-ridden, with a plot that creaks, it’s so hackneyed. The sex is so-so, the romance better but hardly extraordinary. A time-waster, but nothing more.

Do You Remember? by Quinn Gillespie

A man asks his lover what he recalls of their relationship.

This is a fairly standard slash story, only distinguished by the narrative technique of first person, addressing a second – and that gets a tad tiresome after the first three or four pages. I’d have red-pencilled some of the stuff in the sex scene, but it’s not unlikeable – just not something I’d reread. A time filler.

The Winter Garden by Renée Manley

Two boys become friends in a walled garden.

Another story of childhood friends, but this time with a real twist of fantasy – and I have to confess, I was taken by surprise several times, just when I thought I knew what cliche the story was following. I was annoyed throughout by inauthentic period detail, but the core story, the friendship, and the progression, surmounted these annoyances. One to re-read, certainly.

The Kahbid-Dai by Sabrina Hunt

Demon master and human slave, thwarting a cruel tradition.

This story doesn’t know what it wants to be – a full-blown fantasy, or an erotic short piece, a common failing with too many stories in this anthology. Yet another potentially fascinating world is a mere backdrop to a cliched master-slave romance, and the hints we have of the darker, grittier side of this existence, are not realised enough to make it rich and satisfying. This could have been so much more. Pleasant, but not for re-reading.

The Power of Surrender by Jenna Grey

An opium and magic-fuelled sexual idyll.

More a mood piece than anything, a poetically written piece of plotless erotica, this will either appeal or not. It’s not got any great flaw, and it’s well-written, but it lacks the substance that I like in my reading. Beautiful, but rather empty.