Thursday, 28 June 2012
Review: Like it or Not Anthology Edited by SL Armstrong & April L'Orange
Out of Options by Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks
Talk about jumping in at the deep end! If you can get past this story then the rest of the anthology will be a breeze as it's by far the harshest story in the anthology with a definite non-con, violent sex scene and an ending that is in no way happy. In fact, this isn't a romance but rather a psychological horror with the spine chilling ending to fit with that genre. It tells of Connor who turns tricks when he can't meet the rent and on one such occasion he has a very pleasant evening with Jarrett who pays well. When Connor loses his job he turns to Jarrett to help, signing a contact which he doesn't read closely enough. I have to admit that this story was my least favourite of the anthology, mainly because despite my deviant tendencies, I do crave the romance that was sorely missing from this. In fact, it read a little like the first half of a romance - hero gets in a sticky situation - without the last part - they fall in love. It also didn't help that I didn't connect with either character. Connor is too stupid and gullible, and Jarrett too much a duel personality in that the nice and sadistic parts of Jarrett didn't gel for me. So overall, despite the good writing, I didn't like this one and I can see some readers never getting past this story to the rest of the anthology, which would be a shame because there were some great stories.
Obedience Classes by Sean Michael
This was a typical Sean Michael book with a dub-con twist. Trevor is a wolf who is sick and fed up of being part of the pack. When he begins to make waves amongst the other younger werewolves by stirring up dissent, the pack alpha sends in Dirk to teach him how to toe the line. I quite enjoyed this story which had a good build up in the way Dirk at first unsettles Trevor and then uses sex to bind him to Dirk. Trevor's character was interesting at first but he was so bamboozled by Dirk that he lost his appeal for me by the end becoming a slave to sexual desire rather than a person in his own right. Dirk is your typical SM Dom, used to getting his way and thinking he knows best. The story settled into a series of sex scenes towards the end which were OK, but I began to lose interest. It was a decent story though and fans of SM will love it.
What it's Worth by Gryvon
This was my second favourite story of the anthology. It tells of grumpy, anti-social writer/reporter Ian who whilst researching a piece on past immigration, gets unwittingly involved in the grandson of a mob boss. This story had lots of elements which pressed by 'like' button. I really liked Ian. He's a totally grumpy, introverted, rude so and so, and I enjoyed seeing the world from his point of view: Nothing is good enough, everyone is annoying and life is something to endure. His time with Vincenzo gives him the opportunity to let go of all those repressed feelings and fly. The story also tapped into a few kinks which make me squirm such as public sex and being completely at another person's mercy so that was just a plus point for me. The only minus points is that Vincenzo remains a distant figure and we are kept a little in the dark as to his motivations behind his actions. However, I could appreciate it's difficult to get those ideas across with such a closed third person narrative.
Blindside by Stella Harris
This was my favourite story in the anthology, perhaps because as well as the dub-con, it was a true romance with a lovely ending which made me go awwwww. The story follows Matt who is in his first year of College and plays rugby. When Matt attends an appointment for a check-up at the College health centre, he finds it's all part of a hazing involving a fellow team-mate, Upperclassman Dylan. Matt endures his treatment the best he can especially as he's struggling with a huge crush on Dylan. I really liked the character of Matt and felt that his struggles to conceal his homosexuality were shown realistically. The dubious consent is actually pretty tame, with most of the story showing Matt's confusion over Dylan's actions and trying to find some meaning in them. Again the closed third person narrative meant that we are kept guessing along with Matt, and so Dylan is a bit of an unknown quantity but we are given enough in his actions and occasional glimpses behind the hard facade to be prepared for the happy ending. A final niggle was that I was unsure about the setting. I didn't think they played rugby in the USA, but it definitely wasn't a UK setting - Australia or NZ, perhaps? I wish it had been clearer because it bothered me a little. Still this was a nice little story which left me smiling.
Unnatural Means by TC Mill
I've liked a lot of stories by this author so I was looking forward to this one. Unfortunately it fell a bit flat for me. It's set during the time of the witch hunts and has a Confessor for a main character. Isak is charged with getting a repentance for witchcraft from Sain, a man accused of murdering his employer/lover through unnatural means. However, Isak is tortured by images of Sain and him together, forcing him to acknowledge his long repressed homosexuality. My feelings for this story were clouded a little by my dislike of the setting. The author does well to show us the conflicts of Isak, and his struggles with being gay and very religious and so the scenes where he snaps and takes this out on Sain were realistic. However, I found him a little repugnant, especially because we know he has murdered and tortured in the name of God. Sain also remains a shadowy figure (hmmm, bit of a theme with this anthology) and because of that I couldn't warm to him. I found the ending a little abrupt and couldn't understand what Sain saw in Isak, a man responsible for inflicting great pain on him. Even the romance at the end left me cold because I didn't like Isak and didn't know Sain. Having said that, this may appeal to people who enjoy a study of what brings a man to inflict cruel acts on another in the name of God.
Salting the Earth by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
The final story in the anthology is a tale of the fae, set in Ireland. Ronan has recently returned from a failed trip to the USA to find his sister behaving in an odd manner. Ronan becomes convinced that she is being taken by the fae each night and so in a fit of drunken righteousness he sets out to a fairy mound, shovel and salt in hand, to reclaim his sister, only to find himself captured by the king of the fae. This story had rather a dream-like quality to it, which only intensified during the scenes with the fae, and reminded me of the authors' other SMP book, The Saturnalia Effect. I liked Ronan, who is troubled, having been through a tough time recently. His time with the fae allows for a sort of release, and although the dub-con is there in this scene, there's a sense that Ronan needs to feel wanted, and the fae provides that for him. I also liked the way that the authors played with gender, although all the sex scenes are strictly m/m. Finally, I enjoyed the themes of loyalty, friendship and power which are explored along with the ideas of what is cruelty. The tone has an edge of unreality and I liked the contrast with the so called cold-hearted fae and that of Ronan's friends in the 'real world'. Although this was not my favourite story in the anthology, it made me think and is perhaps the most complex story in the collection, which can only be a good thing!
Overall, I had a mixed response to the anthology. Looking back, I can see that my favourite stories were those containing the most in terms of romance, and my least favourite those which I deemed too cruel and callous. What I did like overall, was the way that the anthology as a whole made me reflect on my own responses to the story, and maybe I've learned something about myself as a reader as a result.
Can I recommend this anthology? Cautiously, yes. It's not going to be to everyone's taste and I certainly didn't enjoy reading it all. As a result, I'm giving it a grade of 'Good', and offering it up as a the sort of book which may appeal to those who like their romance with a dash of cruelty. Buy this book HERE.