Welcome to February's Queer Fiction blog, where we have some fun and interesting things lined up for you! Below you will find reviews for a fun, new, gay fantasy series, a scary queer girl horror story, and an historical romance by a well-known author in M/M Romance. There's a little something for everyone. Happy reading!
Title/Author: Witchmark by C.L. Polk
Summary: Miles Singer joined the military and went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, becoming strangers to their friends and family. Even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans' hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is. When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.
Series/Standalone: Kingston Cycle 1
Genre/Sub-Genre: Fantasy/Mystery/MM Romance
Book Format: Ebook
Length: 318 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Mostly plot
Well Written/Editor Needed: Well written
Would I Re-Read?: Yes
Personal Thoughts: I really enjoyed pretty much everything about this book. The world-building was rich with details, reminiscent of Edwardian England, which was fun. What I liked best about the world itself was that bicycles were the main mode of transportation for most people, with carriages coming in a far second for those with more money. The magic system was interesting in how certain people were not allowed to practice magic on their own, and were used as a “second” to someone else. The plot was engaging, hooking me right from the first page, and kept me reading most of the book in one sitting. With a murder mystery wrapped up in a fantasy setting, and a little bit of romance thrown in, what’s not to love?! Though I do think the romance moved too fast in the end. I also really liked Miles, the main character. He was devoted to his poor patients and to solving the murder, even when his family tried to drag him away. The other two main characters, I was less enamored with. The man Miles eventually falls for was great over all, but a little too perfect and his sister was too self-centered and somewhat clueless about what was going on around her, for someone in her political position. Those characters aside, there’s enough here to enjoy and I would recommend it if you like gay fantasy. With so much already in book one, I'm wondering where book two will take us...
Title/Author: Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn
Summary: In the summer of 1990, disgraced college dropout Starla Martin returns to live with her mother in her small hometown of Crystal Beach, Canada, where she must face the ghosts of her childhood trauma. Spotting a signboard her mother rescued from her town's abandoned amusement park, she accidentally unleashes a more literal ghost, a seductive spirit named Etta with unfinished business. As Star begins working the graveyard shift as the night manager at a campground, strange things begin happening to her and the other denizens of the campground, and she finds herself the unlikely ringleader bringing together an eclectic bunch of misfits in need of help.
Book Format: Ebook
Length: 429 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Queer girl
Violence: Starla has suicidal ideation and self-destructive tendencies
Abuse/Rape: Childhood sexual abuse, date rape
Well written/Editor Needed: Editor needed for some typos, but well written for the most part — both Starla's and Etta's voices are so vivid and the language is so evocative.
Would I Recommend?: In a heartbeat, as long as people are cautious of potential triggers
Personal thoughts: I struggled with defining this book's genre because Sodom Road Exit really flirts with so many different genres: a sexy supernatural thriller, a family drama, a queer love story that happens to be a ghost story. It goes above and beyond the trappings of conventional genres. And at times, it was almost like reading a fever dream. Perhaps it would be more accurate to compare it to magical realism, that uncanny, almost-but-not-quite surrealist sensation.
My favorite thing about this novel was Starla's relationships with Etta and Tamara. I really enjoyed Star and Tamara's "meetcute" — they knew each other as childhood friends but met again when Star visits the strip club where Tamara works, and that scene was just delightful. I also really liked how Tamara being a stripper is not stigmatized at all. And Etta slithering inside Starla's head and speaking to her, and the sway she held over her, both mentally and physically, was super compelling as well. It really worked for me.
I didn't care for a few of Starla's self-destructive tendencies, but there were others that I greatly appreciated seeing. Mental illness is an ugly beast, and Starla Martin is a wonderful example of a trauma survivor who overcomes a troubled past.
Title/Author: Band Sinister by K.J. Charles
Summary: Devoted siblings Guy and Amanda Frisby live in well-bred but impecunious isolation on a remote country estate, avoiding contact with the world and especially with their scandalous neighbor, Sir Philip Rookwood. When Amanda is injured while riding on Sir Philip’s land, Guy rushes to bring her home, only to discover that moving her would be dangerous to her health. Since he can’t leave her unchaperoned, both Frisbys will have to remain on the Rookwood estate for the foreseeable future. Spending time in forced proximity with Sir Philip and his coterie of unusual friends proves eye-opening in more ways than one for Guy… but as Amanda’s health improves and Sir Philip’s planned visit nears its end, he must find a way to balance his love for Sir Philip with his duty to protect his beloved sister.
Genre/Sub-Genre: Historical Romance
Book Format: e-book
Length: 224 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: gay
Abuse/Rape: No, and there’s a very refreshing focus on giving explicit verbal consent in all sex scenes.
Violence: Amanda’s injury and the subsequent medical intervention is described fairly graphically, but there is no interpersonal violence.
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Honestly, it’s a short book and while there aren’t that many sex scenes, there’s also not a whole lot of plot.
Well Written/Editor Needed: Well written
Would I Re-Read?: Maybe. Right now I feel like I got what I wanted out of this book; it was very fluffy and it made me feel happy to see Guy and Philip get their happy ending, but I don’t really feel compelled to revisit them. I know they’re doing okay!
Personal Thoughts: In order to explain my feelings about Band Sinister, I have to first disclose that I am a Georgette Heyer fanatic. I have read all of her romances, most of them more than once. I love the banter, the period slang, the snarky narration, the wacky hijinks, the descriptions of the outfits and houses and carriages. The influence of Georgette Heyer on the romance publishing industry cannot be overstated; she’s the reason Regency romance became such a successful subgenre, and I think you would be hard-pressed to find a single author of historical romance nowadays who hasn’t read her work. That said, Georgette Heyer’s romances are extremely heteronormative, casually sexist, and also occasionally racist and anti-Semitic. It’s delightful to come across a book that draws so openly from the tropes and settings of Heyer’s novels (Sylvester, in particular, has a similar subplot involving gothic romance, and Venetia also stars a country naïf and the well-meaning rake next door) while featuring gay, black, and Jewish characters who get their own happily ever afters.
Setting aside the Heyer connection, I very much enjoyed Band Sinister. It’s a fluffy tropefest from beginning to end, and unlike the other K.J. Charles books I’ve read, it was remarkably low-stress. No murders (An Unseen Attraction), no complicated revenge plots (The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh), no high-stakes roadtrips to stop a vile seducer from ruining the life of an innocent woman (Wanted, A Gentleman). All the major characters in the story are fundamentally kind and decent and doing their best, and when they hurt each other, they apologize and try not to do it again. The sex scenes are a masterclass in executing the concept “consent is sexy” and the fact that one of the heroes is polyamorous is handled with grace and respect. Sometimes I want more conflict and drama in my books, but for a comfort read, Band Sinister was perfect. Fans of Cat Sebastian (particularly The Ruin of a Rake) and readers longing for a queer equivalent to the historical romances of Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas, Tessa Dare et al. should give it a try.