Title: Follow Me Into Darkness: Five Tales of Carnivale Romance
Authors: Santino Hassell, J.C. Lillis, J.R. Gray, Kris Ripper, and Roan Parrish
Publisher: Open Ink Press
Published: 4th February 2016
Follow Me Into Darkness:
Five Tales of Carnivale Romance
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.
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.
If We Be Friends by J.C. Lillis
Seventeen-year-old Ven should be flying high—he'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 the party to meet his fate--and finds that more awaits him onstage than a battle of wits and words.
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?
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.
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.
Firstly I have to say that the artwork between tales is beautiful - now onto the stories.
I wouldn’t call all the stories, tales of carnival romance - tales of self-discovery, emotional adventure and experiences - definitely. The anthology is well written and enjoyable, but four out of the five didn’t leave me with any lingering wow factors; though there were flashes of literary luster. Overall, the stories were good and entertaining. I had moments when my heart thumped, and a couple of times, I had a lump in my throat. That is until I read Touched. For me, this story embodied everything in the anthology title. Touched is the reason I like reading anthologies as you will see from my review below. It is a rare gem and for me, was the crowned queen of the five.
Hurricane by Santino Hassell 4.5*
To choose not to have fun hurt less than being excluded. So why did Zay’s friends take him to Mardi Gras? It certainly wasn’t to let him curl up on the balcony and watch the fun dance by. But when they take Zay out, things happen.
I liked Zay. He may not be social, but he knows who he is and is no walkover. Kee has an arrogant roguish charm which I couldn’t help smile at, and I loved the banter between the two of them.
Hurricane is just the type of story I hope to read in an anthology. It is entertaining, engaging, with just enough mystery to keep me reading to the end. And best of all, it left me wanting more. The heat between Kee and Zay is undeniable, and I’m in two minds as to whether I wanted to see more than lip service between them, or whether the sex would have spoiled the magic.
If We Be Friends by J.C.Lillis 4*
This is another story where the habitual loner gets forced out of his comfort zone. Ven is pining after his ‘on-a-break’ boyfriend but is taken to a party, where Farley (a person he can’t stand) has a challenge for him.
To appreciate this story, I don’t think you have to be a complete fan of Shakespeare, but I believe it would help. For me, I found it intellectually witty as opposed to pub witty and some things went over my head. Nevertheless, I felt for Van, and the emotions he experiences. J. C. Lillis conveys feelings extremely well. I loved the ending, and, on the whole, I got the gist of the story. However, parts of it, I found too intelligent for me. But, I suspect, thespians out there will eat this up and ask for more.
Masked by J.R.Gray 3.75*
The start of this story immediately grabbed me. It’s not pretty, but I found it a sit up in my seat moment. When a man is convinced he’s about to die – it’ll do that. I’d go into detail about the dynamic between all the characters, but as this is an anthology, it would give away much of the story.
Masked proves that love isn’t logical. There were times when I had a whiplash effect while reading, as the thoughts of Javier and Heath, didn’t always coincide with their actions. I found this story a bit of a rollercoaster. I enjoyed the ride, but it had my head and stomach all over the place with unanswered questions. I think this story would be better expanded into a novel which could include much more drama than the fleeting time I had in their world.
The Queen’s Reflection by Kris Ripper 3.5*
The Queen’s Reflection is the story of an unhappy Queen (as in actual female Queen), and her disguised foray’s among the people at Carnival. Isah wishes she was a boy, but this is only conveyed as a fleeting wish, which is dealt with later in the story. Then she meets with Poe and Cassandra, who teach her pleasures of the flesh she’d never dreamed of. I’d say that this is more a story of erotic self-discovery rather than queer, gay, lesbian (whatever label you want to put on it), loving. Yes, there is girl on girl and boy on girl fumbling, but as the queen has experiences with both Poe and Cassandra, in my book this is more like a bloody good time at a carnival. For me, the only clear lesson that emerged from this story was that – all love is good, no matter the gender. On that point, the author is spot on.
Touched by Roan Parrish 5*
Touched is a story about visions and seeing the future. And, although I am usually a person who writes short reviews; this one could be my shortest yet. I will start by saying WOW.
Yes, the story is based around a carnival, but it starts fabulously with an M/M/M scene, which is beautiful and tender. There is just enough scene setting to get the picture, but not go into so much detail that I skim-read it.
Everything about this story I loved. Perfectly, paced, written and utterly captivating – right up to the last word.