A Cat Builds a Raft by Bee Allen (review)

Tagline: Shifter living the life of ease as a housecat finds his otherwise workaday caretaker has otterly dangerous pretensions

Cat on a Raft Book Cover Image

Cover Art: Bree Archer
Title: A Cat Builds a Raft 
Author: Bee Allen
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Novella (18k words, 52 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Sites:  Publisher | Goodreads
Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-511-3

Retail: $3.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star  star  star  (I liked it. – Cat lovers might like it even more.)

Dreamspinner’s 2016 Daily Dose anthology includes 30 romantic male/male shifter stories released one a day during the month of June.

Synopsis:  Unwilling to deal with family expectations and complexities,  Zeke takes refuge with a relatively luxurious life as a housecat. Toby, his human companion, pampers him as a cat demands, and it’s too good to expose himself as a shifter.  When an intruder up-ends the comfortable life of human and cat, family issues haunt both of the companions, requiring a review of their priorities, wants, and needs.

Review: While not the most romantic story in the world (to me), this quick read explores several themes with some intriguing interaction and interplay.  The owner/pet dynamic is on display with just a nice display of cat-like attitude from the shifted man.  For a short story, the author weaves a setting and conflicts within shifter families that is simple enough to absorb but also complex enough to enjoy.  The focus of the story is the relationship between the two men (or a cat and a man), but I found the details surrounding the shifter setting, behavior, and conflict to be possibly more interesting.

Recommended for fans of: Housecat shifters; feline attitudes; alternate shifter paradigms.

Explicit Heat:  fire  fire  – While mostly about characters, there is a small but heated bit of sizzle.
Passion:  heart  heart  – The relationship is a bit more as friendship and respect, but some chemistry builds.
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments:
There was another character who was incidentally bisexual, and I am appreciating seeing this type of queer man receive some attention in this genre, as we do make up a significant portion of men who love men.

Holy Cow! by E.M. Lynley (review)

Tagline: American medical student visits India and stumbles into the home of the Nandi, shifter descendants of Shiva’s personal mount

Holy Cow! Book Cover Image

Title: Holy Cow! 
Author:  E.M. Lynley
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Shifter Romance
Format:  Novella (17k words, 52 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-503-8

Retail:  $3.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star star star star  (4 stars I really liked it!)

 Dreamspinner’s 2016 Daily Dose anthology includes 30 romantic male/male shifter stories released one a day during the month of June.

Synopsis: American Duncan Stirling takes a break from his medical studies to travel India with his honeymooning friends.  He appreciates the wonders of the culture, especially in the magical city of Jaisalmer, where he meets a revered bull as well as Akash, an extremely attractive man from a well-connected family.

Review: This story succeeded on multiple levels, including multicultural explorations, family conflicts, a touch of personal sacrifice among friends, and an interesting shifter dynamic.  The short but interesting introduction to an aspect or two from an “exotic” (from a isolated American perspective) but vastly influential world culture was appreciated and made for a nice change of locale and mythology within this genre. I particularly appreciated the brief but enticing descriptions of India in general and Jaisalmer in particular. While there was only a tiny bit of cultural and religious aspects explored, the political intrigue related to shifters was also effectively and quickly woven into the short plot of this novella.  I also liked that neither “side” in various conflicts were monolithic and most of the characters (including an antagonist or two) had defensible if conflicting motives.

Finally, for a relatively short work, I think the author did a decent job of entwining the two protagonists in a relatively quick manner.  The story includes very brief descriptions of the physical intimacy, yet the connection and passion between the characters seemed rather real.  All in all, the novella took a quick trip to an “exotic” locale, with an interesting and alternative shifter setting, presented an array of interesting characters outside of the couple, wove a decent tale of shifter intrigue, and provided passion without relying on detailed, explicit explorations of their physical intimacy.

It was an enjoyable and entertaining jaunt into an enticing shifter setting.

Recommended for fans of: Indian/Hindu mythology; Brahman bulls; developing a passionately intimate couple without dwelling on extensive explicit scenes.

Explicit Heat: fire fire – While there were multiple intimate scenes, they were mostly one sentence fade to black descriptions, with only slightly longer explorations of a couple of key intimate moments.
Passion: heart heart heart – the emotional and physical chemistry between the characters actually seemed palpable, even though the work was short and the physical intimacy mostly off-page
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments (spoilers):
I also appreciated that despite the very brief descriptions of physical heat, the author included that the partner who happens to also be a huge, hulking, supernatural bull (and therefore fit very nicely on top) was also physically receptive of his human lover.
When Akash tracked Duncan across the desert, riding on a stallion to find his erstwhile lover, the scene evoked a nicely romantic and even a bit passionate response in this reader.

Faerie Riddles by Cassia Rose (review)

Tagline: Human scholar of the fairies beyond the wall runs into an enthusiastic changeling puppy, riddles, and plenty of fae trickery and danger…

Daniel's Lynx Book Cover Image

Title: Faerie Riddles
Author: Cassia Rose
Genre:  M/M Fantasy (Fae)
Format:  Novella (17k words, 51 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Sites:  Publisher | Goodreads
Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-496-3

Retail:  $3.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   starstarstarstar  (I really liked it!)

Dreamspinner’s 2016 Daily Dose anthology includes 30 romantic male/male shifter stories released one a day during the month of June.

Synopsis: Alastar the scholar studies the fae creatures who live beyond the Great Iron Wall, and he is assisted by the puppy-like but also mischievous Gadhar.  When his changeling friend presents a riddle that stumps him, the researcher must continue to seek answers in the changeling village.  The problem of riddles at first fade as an injury, a misunderstanding, and encounters with extremely dangerous creatures all glower over Alastar. Eventually riddles become front and center again, in a way only a fae can make things happen.  When a difficult and dangerous turn takes Alastar’s need to care for the bouncy fae-ling to a new level, danger erupts from a wide variety of unexpected places including, perhaps most chillingly, Alastar’s own short-sighted words.

Review: I am a sucker for fairie-inspired stories with the right balance of trickery and enjoyable whimsy, and this story had a wonderfully faelike exploration of these lighthearted, devious, flighty, and dangerous creatures.  The author has a somewhat straightforward story wrap around plenty of fairie-inspired twists and turns for such a short piece.  Alastar’s earnest and serious scholarship is a nice contrast to Gadhar’s puppy-like enthusiasm.  Through quick moving plot developments, interesting characteristics of the changeling village, dangers to changelings from human inventions and prejudices, and threats to Alastar’s well-being due to his own misjudgment and fae trickery, all these elements are woven nicely into a flowing story.

Recommended for fans of: Fae; riddles; dragons; serious scholars who need to lighten up a bit.

Explicit Heat: fire – Not explicit: A coupling central to the story that is mostly fade to black, a nice moment but not a page burner
Passion: heart  heart –  Some passion:  decent chemistry is definitely struck, although the step to the next level is a bit awkward.
Genre:  Fantasy / Romance

A Walk on the Wild Side Anthology (review)

Tagline: 30 brief m/m romance shifter stories released one per day in June 2016

Walk on the Wild Side Anthology Book Cover

Daiy Dose 2016
Title: A Walk on the Wild Side Anthology
A Dreamspinner Anthology – Daily Dose 2016
Genre: Paranormal Shifter M/M Romance

Format:  Anthology of 30 short stories
Size: 370k words

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)
ISBN: 9781634775168

Rating:   star star star star 4 stars  (I really liked it!)

Summary: A wide variety of m/m paranormal romance shifter stories released (to me) one per day in June 2016.    Individual stories are rated and listed below with links to  fulls reviews.

Each year Dreamspinner Press compiles a “Daily Dose” anthology of 30 short stories and novellas. This year’s theme is A Walk on the Wild Side consisting of paranormal shifter male-male romance.  Since I have a particular interest in shifters and short stories, I purchased a pre-publication package which means I received one new story each day during the month of June.  As I had time to read and review them, I added a new post for each new release, and they are listed and linked below.

Individual Story Ratings and Summaries

Alpaca Lies by Elizabeth Coldwell
2.5 stars (short / full review)
Short story (7k words, 23 pages)
Alfie the Alpaca lusts after estate heir Sam (even though he has a dodgy boyfriend)

Always Follow Your Goat by Nora Roth
2.5 stars ( short / full review)
Short story (9k words, 29 pages)
Milly the meddling goat butts the camp counselor towards her Jack

Bye-Bye Birdie by Lex Chase
2.75 stars (short / full review)
Short story (10k words, 29 pages)
Flighty parakeet shifter flees from the heroic but clueless iguana shifter

Buddy the Cat by Sara Stark
2.75 stars (short / full review)
Short story (6k words, 22 pages)
A librarian, a wandering cat, and the hunky businessman

Book Cover
A Cat Builds a Raft by Bee Allen
3 stars (short / full review)
Novella (18k words, 52 pages)
Zeke lives as a housecat for Toby, and when Toby’s family causes issues, the cat shifter might have to confront fears and more

Chords by Taylor Roxton
3 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (11k words, 33 pages)
Werewolf howls should soar at Julliard but for a mysterious, unscented upperclassman – and a cage

A Cobra’s Charm by Meghan Maslow
4.5 stars (short / full review)
Novella (17k words, 52 pages)
Sshy sssnake enslaved ssshifter belly dances for his master before meeting his animal’s arch-nemesis

Daniel’s Lynx by Ava Hayden
4.5 stars  (short /full review)
Novella (16k words, 55 pages)
Jilted middle-aged man finds the missing Lynx

A Dove’s Wing by Katya Harris
3.5 stars (short / full review)
Novella (17K words, 55 pages)
When his nephew shoots a dove with a BB gun, uncle Abe is in for a surprise

Faerie Riddles by Cassia Rose
4 stars (short / full review)
Fantasy Novella (17k words, 55 pages)
The scholar and the bounding fae puppy are riddled with danger beyond the Great Iron Wall

Fieldwork by Charles Payseur
4 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (12k words, 38 pages)
Shy shifter with a secret is thrust into a dangerous, field-agent assignment with a buff partner

Holy Cow! by E.M. Lynley
4 stars (short / full review)
Novella (17k words, 55 pages)
Shiva’s bull rushes an American doc in exotic, intriguing India

Love, Marriage, and a Baby Carriage  by C.S. Poe
4 stars (shortfull review)
Short Story (9k words, 32 pages)
Queer penguins looking for a mate at heterosexual WaddleCon find an egg

Love Unmasked by Dale Cameron Lowry
4.5 stars (short full review)
Short Story (8k words, 28 pages)
The shame of being a varmint ‘Coon could challenge the most open-minded of critters

Man’s Best Friend by C.B. Lewis
4 stars (short full review)
Novella (17k words, 48 pages)
Colorado lumbersexual looks for the dog he rescued only to find a naked Englishman wearing a leather collar

More Beautiful Than a Unicorn by Bell Ellis
3.5 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (12k words, 28 pages)
Twenty-five year old virgin, a unicorn, an exotic Indian… nice gay fairy tale

More Fish in the Sea  by Fil Preis
3.5 stars (short / full review)
Novella (17k words, 49 pages)
Betrayed Wiccan bisexual beseeches the Hawaiian Moon only to get fed to the sharks

Of Nuts and Men by L.E. Franks
2.5 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (14k words, 41 pages)
On a hunt for summer nuts, the squirrel shifter encounters alpha pheromones gone wild, tiger piss, and a treed man

Pastures New by Parker Foye
2.75 stars (shortfull review)
Novella (15k words, 45 pages)
A champion stallion retires to be a lonely stud and preens for an inquisitive journalist

Putting Down Roots by Tam MacNeil
4 stars (short / full review)
Short Stories (9k words, 29 pages)
Bookstore clerk gets a teaching job in an isolated manor rooted in a haunted village

Quiet as a Mouse by Asta Idonea
4 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (8k words, 25 pages)
Shy church mouse shifter trapped by his feelings for the choirmaster

Shifter  by Mark Wildyr
4 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (5k words, 19 pages)
The young native man canoes past the enchanted isle with a story to tell his childhood friend and crush, but witch spirit will transform the pair?

Shifting Silver  by Brandon Witt
4 stars   (short / full review)
Novella (15k words, 45 pages)
Sparing the horned whale might mean death for the vegetarian native, making him as rare as a unicorn in his family of hunters

Spiked and Feathered by Jessica Walsh
2.75 stars (short / full review)
Short Story (7k words, 21 pages)
Anthony wakes up with a hang over and wonders why his one-night stand has feathers

They Called Him Nightmare by Deja Black
5 stars  (short / full review)
Short Story (7k words, 26 pages)
A bright boy turns into a businessman of the night who burns for the dark one called Nightmare

To Arizona by Meg Harding
1 star  – due to personal dislikes (short / full review)
Novella (15k words, 46 pages)
Hockey player/otter shifter shipped to the desert deals with a tough captain

A Werewolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Rob Rosen
3 stars (shortfull review)
Short Story (5k words, 19 pages)
Vegetarian predatory shifters must stick together lest they fall off the wagon

Werewolf PTA by Felicitas Ivey
3 stars (short / full review)
Novella (18k words, 51 pages)
Small-town PTA meetings, an exotic Doctor, a hunky sheriff, and multiple murders spell… werewolf?

Wild Fate by Savannah Brooks
3.5 stars  (short / full review)
Novella (17k words, 55 pages)
Heading deep into the Alaskan wilderness, the photographer is fated to meet a bear of a man

A Wolf’s Résistance by T.J. Nichols
4.5 stars (short / full review)
A shifter member of the French resistance seeks shelter with the gruff blacksmith

7&7 – Anthology (review)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

7 Vices & 7 Virtues
A DSP Anthology of Virtue and Vice
Genres: Fantasy / Historical / Paranormal / Science Fiction (+Horror)

Format:  Anthology of 14 short stories
Size: 360 pages (122k words)

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)
ISBN: 9781634773607

Bonus:  Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

Tagline: Mixed bag of decent to excellent writing, innovative but a bit uneven stories, and a couple that push the envelope (but not necessarily in a good way for me)    Individual reviews below

The establishment of a new boutique (LGBT-friendly) imprint to explore a wider-ranger of immersive, unique and unforgettable fiction is a welcome development.  This anthology of 14 short stories on each of 7 vices and 7 virtues provides a good introduction to a range of writers and styles that expand significantly upon the offerings of typical Dreamspinner releases.  “Speculative fiction” covers a wide array of approaches and genres, and a nice variety is reflected in the collected works.

Overall, I found 11 or 12 of the 14 stories to be rewarding, short reads, although one I found to be particularly offensive and another rather baffling.  I’ve included brief ratings and summaries of each story below along with links to more detailed reviews.

Horrific Content Warning:

Unfortunately, one or two of the pieces significantly push the envelope without, in my opinion, nearly enough warning.  I would classify two of the pieces as full-on horror (and the ending of a third can be interpreted that way).  Horror was not listed as a genre in the publisher’s description.  Although the blurb mentions “rise to the highest heights – or sink to the darkest and most perverse depths,” they also mention that the stories cover the consequences of the the call to good and evil, as well as there are pleasures to be found in the darkness.  These descriptions, combined with a lack of a horror tag and a general light treatment of vices in most of the stories, did not prepare some readers (including myself) for a couple of stories that went much, much darker than the others.

I am all for writers writing what they want, and readers enjoying what they like, but I would have much preferred a clearer indication (e.g. a horror tag in a more prominent place than buried in the editor’s introduction) to prepare me for the story I found to be particularly offensive.  It might have been the most well-written piece in the collection, but without a horror tag and based on the tenor of other stories (light treatment of vices, many with surprising twists at the end), despite some clear telegraphing of the direction, I couldn’t believe the story was heading to such a torturous, shaming ending without some kind of twist.

Individual Story Ratings and Summaries

The Darkness of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson
Virtue: Faith. Genre: Fantasy
4 stars
Bereaved, unbelieving priest confronted with questions of faith. Set with an enticing array of characters in an interesting, slightly supernatural, pre-modern fantasy setting.

The Bank Job by Andrea Speed
Vice: Greed. Genre: Superhero
3.5 stars
Drats! Foiled Again! Attitudinal supervillain and minions encounter a couple of gay caped crusaders

Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael
Virtue: Prudence. Genre: Fantasy
3.75 stars
Magical seer with disturbing vision exiled to his husband’s remote homeland

The Gate by J. S. Cook
Vice: Anger Genre: Noir Fiction
2.75 stars (higher if you like Noir Fiction)
A gay man sees a seedier, dark side of the wartime effort

Heirs to Grace and Infinity by C. Cummings
Virtue: Justice. Genre: Urban Fantasy
5 stars
Fugitive sorcerer matches wits with the Bureau’s top agent

The Rendering by J. Inman
Vice: Gluttony. Genre: Hateful Horror
Zero stars
– (excellent writing, rating based on lack of a “horror” tag)
It was pretty clear from the start what was set-up to happen, but I thought surely they wouldn’t go to the obvious outcome, as most of the other stories in the anthology had a surprise twist in the end. Also, despite the clear signs from the story, I couldn’t imagine going to such a hateful and shaming place, taking an extremely sympathetic character (except for one over-the-top vice) to such a torturous end (and, of course, based on the genre headings, I was not expecting horror). In some ways, I think this piece had possibly the best writing, which may have ended up making the offensive, fat-shaming ending so incredibly much worse for me because of the empathy I had for the character. While reading, I thought a twist in the ending was especially likely given how lightly most of the other vices were dealt with in this anthology, which makes this lack of a horror tag extra-galling to me.
detailed review

Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serna Yates
Virtue: Temperance. Genre: Science Fiction
3.5 stars
How much temperance will you need for fifty years in space and beyond?

Covetous by Pearl Love
Vice: Envy. Genre: Horror (or torture porn)
3 stars
Pissed off ex-lover asked what he would give to get his desires

Hope by Rick Reed
Virtue: Hope. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
5 stars  (no-doubt based on a personal connection)
Looking for hope in crises around a mother’s death and one’s personal life

Horseboy by J. Tullos Henry
Vice: Pride.  Genre: Historic LGBT
4.5 stars
A Horseboy of the Lebanon, a Templar Knight, and intimate desert secrets

Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fressenden
Virtue: Charity. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
4.5 stars
Would James Bond off a Bond vixen? (LGBT agent version)

Red Light Special by Rhys Ford
Vice: Lust.  Genre: Urban Fae Fantasy
4.5 stars
Fae and elves and a succubus, oh my! (In Detroit)

Traitor by Clare London
Virtue: Fortitude. Genre: Spy/Cloak and Dagger LGBT
4.5 stars
Twice betrayed – interrogating one’s ex-comrade and ex-lover agent

Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Whitt
Vice: Sloth. Genre: I have no idea (horrific interpretation possible)
No rating
Too lazy to work, to relate, to love, to really live…



Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael (review)

Tagline: Seer with disturbing vision exiled to his husband’s remote homeland

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #2: Prudence
Title: Prudence for Fools
Author: Sean Michael

Genre:  Fantasy (with gay heroes)
Format:  Short Story (41 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 3.75 stars (out of 5)

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Sean Michael’s short story is the virtue of prudence.

The brief fantasy story pulls the reader in with attractive characters, including an exiled seer, his endearing and strong husband, and a loyal apprentice. Brawn was an aptly named and a wonderfully – well – brawny and stoutly loyal husband to the troubled Seer Del of the Red.  The setting was evocative and enticing, and the couple’s homecoming nicely bittersweet.  In such a short story, the author painted intriguing locations with a quick brush, including an tunnel-visioned royal city and court and a vibrant mountain tribe. The relationship of the devoted couple was perhaps the strongest, most alluring part of this brief tale.  A supporting character or two showed enough promise to warrant their own story.  In the end, the story was too short and a quick if a bit pat diversion, just whetting one’s appetite for more interesting, provocative, and tempting writing in a grander scale by this author.

Dark of the Sun by Durreson (review)

7&7 Anthology Book Cover

Virtue #1: Faith
Title: The Dark of the Sun
Author: Amy Rae Durreson

Genre:  Fantasy
Format:  Short Story (41 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology

Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)

Bonus:   Free on publisher’s site

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Tagline: Bereaved, unbelieving priest confronted with questions of faith

Virtue: Faith

DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of A. R. Durreson’s short story is the virtue of faith.  The focus is a bereaved, isolated, and disenchanted priest who lost his belief while grieving for the death of his husband of thirty years. He interacts with a wide range of interesting characters who each face their own crises, in a pre-modern setting touched with just enough supernatural flavor to classify this as Fantasy.

The first two thirds of this brief piece enchanted me, quickly establishing an interesting setting, identifying with a saddened and sympathetic protagonist, and introducing an interesting group of supporting characters. In such a brief story, there was a nice range of personalities, each with a personal story quickly but convincingly and lovingly shared in a brief but tantalizing manner.

The setting, prose, plot, and personalities whetted my appetite, and I personally would be interested in reading more about the priest coming to terms with the passing of his husband, the abandoned poet, the couple seeking their missing third mate, the magically touched sellsword, the skeptical scientists, and the elder cleric and his devoted, liberated followers.  I imagine most readers would find the ending perhaps a bit surprising and certainly uplifting and rewarding.

Since this a personal, amateur review written as a hobby as much for  personal reflection as anything else, I’m going to add some personal comments:

Unfortunately this was not the perfect story for me. I certainly identified with the scientists and the formerly fervent but now disenchanted, unbelieving priest.  The exploration of the beautiful bounty of faith was placed into delicate and caring spiritual terms.  The genuine love and faith of the religious is a comfort to most, but the gentle care and fervent belief hit too close to home for me.  My extraordinarily religious family practices a similar, deep-seated faith touched by grace and love.  For intellectual and emotional reasons, I have moved firmly away from religious faith, keeping a hardened distance while still respecting those who believe in such a divine, truly evangelical (i.e. loving, not judging) manner.  For that  reason, the beautiful, uplifting, and not particularly religious but definitely faith-centered ending did not resonate quite so much for me personally.

On a contrary note, I want to express my appreciation for the author’s generally very positive portrayal of faith.  As far as I have personally distanced myself from theistic belief, the vast majority of religious people I have known are much more full of love than judgment or condemnation, even those who belong to groups that condemn LGBTQ sexual intimacy.  It’s nice to see at least an occasional  LGBT-friendly story that doesn’t use religion as a stereotypical and basically evil foil (although I know there are plenty of those harshly judgmental and damaging religious folk out there).

Overall, I enjoyed the author’s setting and characters, and I was also moved by the expressions of faith, caring and love, so I am interested in reading more of her works.

Hellmaw: Of the Essence by G. Harbowy (review)

Hellmaw: Of the Essence Book Cover

Title: Hellmaw: Of the Essence
Author: Gabrielle Harbowy
Genre:  Urban Fantasy
Format:  Novel (179 pages)
Sites: PublisherGoodreads | Amazon
Series: Hellmaw #7
Publisher: Ed Greenwood Group (April 2016)
ISBN: 9781772700305

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Tagline:  A threatened daemon treads a treacherous path of blackmail and murder 

Another departure from my usual male-male romance reviews, this novel is an interesting,  intriguing and LGBT-friendly urban fantasy story, so it may be of interest to paranormal LGBT romance fans.

In the dangerous and sometimes bloodthirsty world of intrigue for those daemons exiled on Earth, the artist Quills attempts to stand apart. The story of her attempt to remain safe in a swirling sea of danger is inventive and compelling. The novel was a wonderful weave of political intrigue, cloak-and-dagger scheming, and the strength of individual conviction, yielding a highly personal tale of struggle within a broader, brutal setting.

The protagonist had a nice mix of daemonic hunger, the detachment of an exiled expatriate, and a clarity of personal will that made Quills a compelling character. Her story is a rewarding journey to the Hellmaw, and I’m looking forward to see other stories in this potentially horrific yet strangely enticing setting.

The story does lead to a couple of  intimate encounters (very appropriate to the plot), including some LGBT-friendly passion.  The writing draws the reader nicely into the intimacy with some nice bits of sizzle before a satisfying “fade to black.”  (The daemons at the center of this setting seem to be able to shift all parts of their forms, which leads to gender-fluidity and hints at varied and interesting intimate if not always romantic couplings.)