Toybox: Sounds, a Torquere Collection – review

Rating: 6.5/10 ★★★★★★½☆☆☆ Title: Toy Box: Sounds, a Torquere Collection
Author: Kiernan Kelly, Angelia Sparrow & Naomi Brooks, Mychael Black
Genre: M/M erotica/kink
URL: Torquere Press
Price: US$2.49
Warnings: Explicit m/m sex, urethral play/sounding, rough language, mild violence.
Summary (from Publisher’s Website): What the heck is a sound, anyway? It’s not a toy for everyone, but the boys in this Toy Box make it pretty hot and intriguing! In A Play of Shadow by Mychael Black, vampire Triarius is back for this story, along with his lover Lance. Triarius is growly and moody and Lance knows just how to fix that, and he takes control for a change, starting a back and forth ride that neither will ever forget.Sideshow Roses by Naomi Brooks and Angelia Sparrow give us Nick and Torturo, the King of Pain, on Valentine’s Day. Torturo turns out to be a closet romantic, and has a surprising sound just for Nick. Finally, in Sounding like Trust by Kiernan Kelly, Arthur is a shy guy who needs a little therapy to gain confidence. Can he become the best student his love therapist has ever had? Find out all this and more in the Sounds Toy Box!

My Review: First off, a couple of disclaimers. The story listing above is actually the reverse order in which the stories appear, and for the purposes of this review I will tackle the stories in the order in which they actually appear. Secondly, keep in mind that these stories are “slice of life” pieces without any kind of specific plot, per se, and should be judged on that basis. Lastly, I must admit, I was a bit leery picking up this 26 page collection (with cover, bio, copyright pages, it comes coming to31 pages) as “sounding,” the sexual play wherein various items are inserted into the penis through the urethra, is a sexual practice that has never appealed to me, not an any way shape or form. But, I thought, it’s time to broaden my horizons a little and, at US$2.49, this collection includes a number of authors I either hadn’t read or hadn’t read enough of yet. So I decided to take a chance and I have to say I was largely glad I did.

Sounding Like Trust by Kiernan Kelly starts off this Torquere collection on a wonderful note, introducing us to Arthur Drexall, a sad-sack of a man who is more than ready to turn his life around. Arthur, it seems, was the kid who had his gym shorts yanked down in front of the whole class, the employee no one ever quite seems to remember, the guy who always had his nose stuck in a book because he just didn’t feel he was enough for others to be interested in. In short, he’s Milton Waddams but with a smaller frame, better hair and no speech impediment. Arthur tries the Be a Man seminar which had promised to turn his life around, but found it to be an utter waste of money until, one day, Kenny – who had been similarly self-image-challenged – show up at the meeting a completely changed, utterly confident man. Kenny’s amazing transformation is all due to the remarkable talents of Mr. Grant Trust, the man who changed his life. Intrigued and nearly at the end of his rope, Arthur makes an appointment to see just exactly what it is that this miracle worker has to offer.

The longest piece in the collection at 12 pages, Kelly’s story is a keeper from beginning to end. Kelly wisely takes the time to introduce us to Arthur, to build his personality and, in sketches of words, to paint the vivid world in which he lives, a world that in some ways is one of his own making. Meek and mild, Arthur never once comes off as pathetic, which is always a risk when creating a down-trodden character. Wisely, Kelly chooses events from Arthur’s past with which, I would guess, most everyone can sympathize with, event that some of us might even have lived through. The result is a character that you really do care about almost from the very beginning and a man who you want to see overcome his supposed short-comings.

Grant Trust, the self help guru, however, is painted more thinly. He’s enigmatic, almost aristocratic, and though Kelly doesn’t given us as many details about Trust as she does with Arthur, the mystery is the fun of the character. What does it matter that we don’t know his life story. He’s aiding our hero, he’s interesting, and he is uniquely, if vaguely, sexy.

Interestingly, despite my preference to not even think of “sounding,” Kelly manages to make the sex in the story oddly erotic for one as vanilla as me. I was fascinated and a little less scared of the prospect. Not that I’m going out any time soon to pick up a Dittel sound or anything.

In the end, I have only one criticism of the piece and that is that I would have liked it to be a little longer. I would have enjoyed a little time basking in the glow of Arthur’s burgeoning success, a little cuddling after the fact. But given the full characters, the easy, fluid prose and the some very erotic sex, easily compensate for what may not even be a flaw.

Sideshow Roses is the second installment in this Torquere Toybox, and it is a wonderfully romantic story (especially given the subject matter) penned by the team of Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks. Sideshow Roses introduces us to Nick Harper who works for the Phantasmagoria Traveling Carnival, along with his lover, Torturo, the Pain King. It’s Valentine’s Day and what better way to celebrate than to give your lover that a good, firm, unique sounding, with the accoutrements of the season.

Brooks and Sparrow made a wise move choosing the vivid setting of a Carney. It gives the authors them the luxury of either creating their own detailed environment or relying on the reader’s preconceived notions of such traveling shows. Wisely, Brooks and Sparrow walk a mean tightrope with their words, allowing us to use our own imaginations while occasionally dropping in the little details that flesh out the world that they have created. It’s very nicely done.

But where the story excels is the relationship between Nick and Torturo, clearly two people devoted to one another. Again, the authors don’t inundate us with too many details, but draw their characters carefully so that, though we may not know all the secrets of their lives, we find them to be warm, likeable, with unique personalities…in short, people with whom we wouldn’t mind spending more time. Additionally, the invasiveness that sounding represents to me is beautifully dulled here by a sweet, sweet tone. That’s not to say that the sex isn’t hot or a bit animalistic, but because the authors manage to create such likeable characters, it’s all placed in context and we always know that these two men are never going to cross a line. It’s a very nice example of hot sex that actually has meaning because the authors invested in the characters first and the sex just is a natural extension of their relationship.

If I have to say one minor thing that did bother me, it would be Torturo’s frequent use of the word “darling” when referring to Nick. In my 43 year-long career of homosexuality, I have absolutely never, ever heard any gay man call another “darling” with a serious face or non-cat-queen intonation. But if that’s the only criticism I can see, it is clearly a minor one, because the sweet, romantic, erotic flavor of this sideshow piece leaves you warm and fuzzy and, pardon the expression, full.

A Play of Shadow by Mychael Black closes the collection with a barrage of sex involving Triarius and his lover, Lance. I have to say upfront that I didn’t realize that this story was based on the author’s recurring characters until after more than three quarters of the way through. So this review is largely colored by this being my very first introduction to these characters and I have made certain assumptions which may not be wholly accurate to the series.

It seems that Triarius, who rules the vampire world with an iron fist, and his lover are also sounding fans. But even more so, the tough and mighty Triarius, lord of all he surveys, is a secret sub in the bedroom. When Triarius is in a particularly foul mood, Lance decides to make the best of the worst and get Triarius to submit to his will and reveal the secret of controlling the shadows.

I’m really not sure what to think of this piece. I wanted to love it, vampires being one of my favorite subjects, and yet there was so little explained about theses two “men” that I had a great amount of difficulty telling the two apart, let alone becoming engaged by their non-stop sexual playtime. I will say this, it is certainly packed with sex with four sex scenes crammed into 7 pages, but for the first three pages I kept wondering why these characters were created as vampires as there really didn’t seem to be much of a focus on that aspect. When we finally got to the “shadows” aspect of the sounding (a very intriguing premise, I must say), I began to wonder if these characters were more witches than vampires, and then I came across what seemed to be a revelation that gave me the inkling that this story followed an earlier story or stories. With that in mind, I had to adjust my thinking a bit, reminding myself that this is a slice of life of pre-existing characters.

That said, as a first time reader of these characters, I had very little to go on. There isn’t any back-story presented to give me an idea of what the general dynamic has been between the characters, and the characters are so consumed by their sexual exploits that I never got any real sense of their individual character traits. Unfortunately, neither amounted to more to me than a largely interchangeable sub and dom, bodies without faces to me. I felt like I had been given a random chapter of a novel and left to fend for myself. The writing is certainly serviceable and the sex is more than plentiful, but I just felt that this story was so dependent upon knowing the characters and events from previous stories that I couldn’t in any way connect with the piece. While it wasn’t my cup of tea, fans of these characters would probably enjoy it and if sex is what you want, it is certainly there in droves.