Is it worth picking up? Yes, there are enough good stories to be worth it, and there's enough variety, while staying on theme, that most people will find a favourite. Is it brilliant and outstanding? No. A couple of stories are, but the anthology as a whole comes out average. This is sadly typical of anthologies, though this one is more variable than most, and the sort of thing that makes me want to go yell at the editor(s) about quality versus quantity.
The first and last stories are the closest to erotica, or F/F - in fact, they're both f/f/m menanges with established lesbian couples bringing in a male, for fun or sperm, and one partner ending up pregnant. They are very similar in feeling, even the protagonist and her mate are similar in personality, although there are some major differences as well (which will be obvious from the summaries below). Interestingly, most of the story was about pack dynamics and power plays, and relationship boundaries, and personal conflict, rather than external events and worldbuilding.
The other four stories involve falling in love, both as 'destined mates' (the two worst stories, incidentally), and simply falling in love and deciding the other is worth it despite the many problems in their way (the better two stories). The former two are both urban paranormal fantasy, while the latter two draw heavily on the 'native peoples werewolf mythology' theme.
1. "The Fullness That Love Began" by Marie Carlson
F/F/M, explicit, urban fantasy, pregnancy
I was a bit startled by this one as it is fairly explicit, and I wouldn't have picked it to open the anthology with. It's a perfectly good story, but it's the least 'lesbian' and more likely to scare people away than most of the other stories.
Our narrator, the pack leader Andrea, appears to have a full time day job managing a rigid bureaucratic subculture involving threats, politics and hunting rights. Her partner Fiona apparently supports them both, having a weird normal human job. They're both active in the BDSM community and discuss topping each other, and apparently have a dungeon in the basement, although we never see it.
We get a fast track introduction to who they are and how they live, in fact there was more introduction than story, and then they invite a so handsome and virile neighbouring male pack leader into bed with them for the longest sex scene in the book. Which of course results in a rare and terrifying pregnancy, which just had me wondering why on earth they didn't use protection? Especially as they made a big deal about how fertile this guy was. Anyway, 'accidental pregnancy, yay I get to be a mother, but I'm probably going to die, oh look my silly partner is upset', and that's where the story ends.
As with the other erotica/menange story, the pack relationships and power play were more important than the actual shapeshifting. There was only one scene at the end, that felt like 'oh drat, they're supposed to change shape, quick cram in a wolf scene!'. The only physical werewolf elements mostly promoted the sex; fast healing (so SM is all the rage), being able to smell each other's arousal, and possibly being bisexual and semi-promiscuous (our protagonist cheerfully eyed up males and considered them for sex and they reciprocated, it was unclear how normal this was in werewolf society).
The story was slightly rushed, especially the ending, though some of that may have been the rather forceful first person view. It felt more like the first chapter, with a few events crammed in to get through everything, that should have started a larger story.
2. "The Fire of Her Eyes" by K. Piet
Historical, weretigers, nomadic tribes, refugees
One of the better stories, the setting was ambiguous but interesting. It could have been in the wilder regions of today's world (it felt North American, or northern European), or it could have been a miscellaneous fantasy world. Our wolf pack are nomadic refugees, on the run from the mysterious but clearly numerous Poachers, looking for new territory. They're a battered remnant, with our pack leader only leader because everyone more alpha than her is dead.
Sneaking through weretiger territory (yes, non-wolf shapeshifters!), they tangle with a lone female weretiger, Jun, who is lovely and powerful, and mostly blind. After snapping and snarling and scrapping a bit, Katya gets her to use her weretiger healing powers on the pack, and keeps her initially as a captive, and later under uneasy truce.
As they travel and camp out while the pack recovers, the two women get to know each other, and we learn more about the interesting culture and seasonal migrations of the weretigers, as well as the pack dynamics of the wolves. Unfortunately, Katya is going into heat and a male may try and mate with her to seize control of the pack... cue a proposal to her tiger that is promptly accepted, and lots of making out. Their loyalty and love for each other is tested with Katya pressuring Jun for information on the weretiger's movements, and later during an attack by weretigers.
An interesting story, with both sex, a consistent setting (though the army of poacher implication was best not looked at too closely), physical and emotional conflict and good character growth. And lots of shapechanging, though the wolves were as likely to fight with knives as with teeth.
3. "Luna's Mate" by Shashauna P. Thomas
Soulmates, urban fantasy, cliches
Those two words kept echoing in my head throughout the entire story, making it very hard to read! But seriously, apart from it being terribly written, our 'heroine' Luna ticks all the boxes. She's unexplainably clumsy and everything goes wrong for her (according to her). Her clumsiness completely vanishes once it has been established. She is super special and ends up the centre of a pack war between two packs, whose alphas both want to mate with her and make her their mate forever. And she bonds instantly to her telepathic destined soulmate. Also, she has no apparent personality or attractive qualities, other than 'I am in heat and have werewolf blood'. Yes, it may be a common feature of werewolf stories (and fair enough), but 'the smell of you drives me wild for you cause you are special smelling' is just another tick in the 'Bella Sue' column by this point.
Yeah, that's basically the story. She's chased by random wolves, that nobody believes her about, then goes home and is stalked/rescued by other random telepathic wolves, one of whom she commits to almost instantly (cue bad sex scene), and it turns out that these wolves are the Good Wolves who left, or were exiled, from the other pack and the alpha of the other pack wants to
rapeforce her to be his mate. Because of her smell. And he then turns up for a very lukewarm showdown.
As for the writing - I actually read a really good, basic blog post about it recently, which I, of course, can't find. But it was all tell, not show, and distancing the reader from the events and emotions: 'She tripped and felt scared' not 'I trip, and terror rushed through me' or 'she trips suddenly, feeling scared'.
Oh and 'we're not psychic because we're only telepathic with certain other wolves/people' is one of the dumbest thing's I've read in a while. It comes close to the chewing sharks. I don't think there's a 'limit' on psychic, there's no 'you have to talk in X many people's heads!' to qualify.
4. "To Pierce the Sky" by Erik Moore
Native Americans, mythology, first love, tribal politics
The best story in the whole collection, in my opinion. A charming, interesting story about responsibility, belonging and first love, it does feature some gently erotic encounters, but it also has a great deal of story and character growth, and is highly believable.
"To Pierce the Sky", named after a myth they retell at one point, is an absorbing story about a reclusive Native American tribe who are secretly werewolves, and always have been. They live traditionally in their village, with our protagonist, fierce loner Susan Runningwind, balanced in a precarious position as an important member of the tribe who is strong and capable, but not particularly respected, and the object of superstition.
When the lovely documentarianist Jesse (she makes a point of defining herself as one) arrives to track down the so-called local werewolf mystery, X becomes increasingly attracted, and falls in love for the first time in her life. Unfortunately, the longer the visitors stay, the more they are likely to notice, and other members of the tribe start agitating to make them leave, to the point of violence.
Ultimately, it works out, as they make their respective decisions and stand up for themselves. And make lots of sweet, sweet love along the way (also well written). And yes, the author is a guy, and he's a perfect of example of 'men can so write good lesbian fiction'.
5. "Protect the Moon" by Della R. Buckland
Lone wolf bounty hunter, urban fantasy and cliches
Our super tough, too cool to care, werewolf bounty hunter is called up by her local magical authority, the Council, to go protect this random, tiresome hippy chick. Who turns out to be hot, clueless about her danger, and - you know, hot. So our protagonist runs around rescuing her and dragging her off to find out who is attacking her, after which the plot falls apart into random Evil Guy and Weird Plot Events. Also, they turn out to be soul mates, long before they do more than flirt for a minute. The sex scene was a fade to black, probably the best decision in the entire book (I actually felt relieved - the writing style would not have suited a sex scene).
It is full of choppy, awkward writing and many pointless, inconsistent and unexplained events for sake of drama. It felt like an attempt to fit in an entire novel (complete with fights, intrigue and range of characters) into a word limit, and it did this by cutting out all the bits that made events make sense, leaving the barest skeleton of random happenings.
However, it is fairly fun, as long as you turn your brain off, all the way off, and try and avoid asking questions like 'if he needs the magical superspecial superbeing's power to rule the Council, how come he managed to overpower the entire Council without a fuss in order to have them out of the way so he can fight our protagonist for the magical superspecial superbeing?'. And 'why does she have to be a superbeing at all?', and 'what's with all the random side events like the random werewolf pack that ...well, gets possessed or something, but nothing happens and it's never really referred to again?' (note: making your character think about asking about an event but then never bothering does not count as resolution of a plot point). Oh and finally "isn't the whole clueless and helpless act a bit sinister when you look back on it?".
Not worth paying for as it currently stands, though it could be developed into a standard, cliched, but fairly enjoyable urban fantasy novel.
6. "Sacrifices" by S.L. Armstrong
F/F/M, explicit, elves/high fantasy, pregnancy
Our aggressive alpha lady Sash has been picked by the king to 'form' a new pack, in an attempt to help balance out the inequality of the sexes (long history of overlooked and downtrodden females). Unfortunately, all the males in her pack keep challenging her, and the king isn't happy about all the injuries she keeps handing out. So his wise, outsider male partner shares some advice from back when the king tried to marry him - make sure there are some kids to make everyone feel happy and secure and connected.
Only her nice, quiet, loving partner Aneira isn't very happy at the idea of having kids as political power pawns. The whole issue of raising kids fathered by someone else is addressed fairly well (if lightly due to the storyline), and they control the entire situation and ensure it is all about each other, rather than this random male they let into their bed. Quite a contrast from the first story, where it's all about him, and he's been picked up for fun, as here, it is all about the two women and they never actually find themselves attracted to him.
The werewolf element is an interesting undercurrent throughout their interactions, but nobody ever actually turns into a wolf. It seems more as if they all bore the 'spirit' of a wolf, and it affected their perceptions and identity and character, but it never ruled out the possiblity that they actually turned into wolves.
Set in a random elf court, it was a bit confusing at first as it took a while to work out that the elves were werewolves. Or some of them were. I'm not quite sure. We get thrown into a semi-complicated and fairly interesting looking court without much explanation, except where it absolutely, directly, unavoidably affected our main character. I'm not sure if this was simply a failure of exposition of a well developed world, or if the author hadn't really thought everything through. The story itself was a good erotica story though.
My three favourite stories (To Pierce the Sky, The Fire in her Eyes and Sacrifices) are being released as separate ebooks in Feburary 2012, or you can buy the entire anthology on Amazon.
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