Gadarene
Tina Anderson & c.b. Potts
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In the notorious Five Points slum of 1870’s Manhattan, Galen ‘the Mongoose’ Driscol steps out of jail and back into the arms of his transgendered lover, Wira Boruta. When Galen tells Wira that he’s tracked down the man who tried to kill them as children, Wira is unwilling to listen, and pleads with Galen to forget the past, and live only for the future…their future.

Only Galen doesn’t forget, nor does he forgive. He doesn’t give a second thought about exacting justice, but justice has a price, and it’s come to collect from the one person Galen loves most…

Top:
Gadarene isn’t like anything we’ve reviewed before, and definitely isn’t like anything I’ve read before. To begin with, it’s not an M/M romance: first, because Wira more correctly falls under the “T” in “GLBT,” and second, because despite the fact that the two main characters are in love and have lots of sex, this is an in-your-face horror novel. It’s the book version of the scary movie you always want to watch when you’re alone in the dark, and then regret it the moment you’ve turned out the lights.

I’ve read horror novels before… well, I’ve tried to read horror novels. I find the “masters” like Stephen King or Dean Kootz to be boring because, simply, they talk too much. They strip all the horror from their own works because they’ve left my nerves so deadened by frustration with their endless yapping that it’s impossible for me to be afraid. The Anderson/Potts team didn’t do that. In fact, if I ever needed an example of when telling can be more effective than showing, Gadarene would be perfect.

Anderson/Potts tell us what happened, what Wira saw, how she felt about it, what she did about it. They don’t explain why any of it is happening, though. The unknown is left in the realm of the unknown, and that’s where the scare factor comes to play. Is any of this really happening? Is Wira imagining things? Is she psychic or psychotic? What happened back then? What did they do? What was done to them? Little by little, I learned enough to begin to piece together the events that led up to what’s happening now, but never – quite – enough to answer the first question, is this really happening? When the book was over, when the story was done, I was left wondering what, if anything, had been real. I even had to read it a second time, almost immediately after the first reading, to find out if I could pick up any more clues to let me comprehend the sheer strangeness of what was going on.

Holy crap, is that a recipe for night terrors, or what?!

The scariness of the story is the first thing that impressed me. The second thing is the characterization, and I don’t mean just the people. The story was set in Manhattan in the late 19th century; the time and place has a character all its own, not as obvious as Galen’s or Wira’s, but just as real. I have no idea how historically accurate it is, but it was written so beautifully that it didn’t matter to me. For the length of the novel, that’s where I lived, where I worked and played and struggled. It was dirty, smelly, cold, hungry, overcrowded, underwashed, and by modern standards, it was appallingly bleak and hopeless. Luckily for us, Anderson and Potts didn’t bother with modern sensibilities.

There was a fairly large cast of incidental characters, each of whom retained their true purpose in the story – they were archetypes, reflections of the main characters. In the thugs and bullies and drunkards, we see what Galen really is when you strip away all the romance from his character. In the whores and barmaids and cross-dressing working “girls,” we see what Wira is, what she has to live with. The two of them accepted this world without question as reality and therefore I, the reader, had to accept that this is what the two of them really were: a thug and a whore. The wonder of their relationship with each other was much more than hot sex and tender words and smiles. It was the fact that it was able to exist at all.

As a side-note, the cover art is superb. You might think that Wira and Galen look a bit cleaner than they should, but cleanliness is actually an intrinsic part of Wira’s character, and therefore it’s not surprising. I love the image of Wira – the juxtaposition of a man’s wiry muscles with the ruffles and curls of the feminine garb. I also like the way that the children are placed inside the mirror. Supposedly a mirror, by its nature, can reflect only what’s there, but it actually shows the opposite of what’s really there. That makes it the perfect symbol of the gap between life and death, a symbol of truth instead of fact, and, in this case, it summarizes the uncertainty that I was left with after finishing the story.

The only quibble I have with the art is that there are two little girls shown. Why? I have no idea. There are no little girls in the story, so why should there be any on the cover?

As a second side-note… The title Gadarene confused me. It’s no one’s proper name, it doesn’t appear anywhere in the text, and I ended up having to investigate the reference. Even after I did, it still stumped me. Why did the authors choose this reference as the title? How exactly did it fit the story? It was like a bonus puzzle. It doesn’t actually matter in regards to enjoying the story, but it’s a question I can pick up and put down again at will, and happily wonder about for as long as I’m interested in doing so.

If LdD hadn’t bought this book for me, I would never have read it. For one thing, I loathe PayPal, and for another, it’s simply not the sort of thing I would think to buy for myself. I don’t even know how she found it – one of the mysteries of being LdD, I guess. So would I recommend it? I don’t know. Since the publisher offers a discount to people who purchase the ebook and then decide to buy the printed novel, I suppose I feel good about recommending it. I felt that it was ultimately worth reading, after all. Each reader can then decide for themselves if they want to invest the money in the print version. As for myself, I’m content with the PDF.

Bottom:
Gadarene is a phenomenal book. It’s rare to find a book in this genre that pulls you into the story. Even more rare in the fact that this is a historical work. Absolutely stunning.

Even more fascinating is that Wira, our transgendered character, is in no way a chick-with-a-dick character. Wira is Wira. There is no other way to put it. Wira’s character is written so well, so perfectly, that even as she is referred to as a girl, as I refer to her as “she”, never did I feel I was reading a hetero story. Not once. Wira is strong, loving, helpful, but has her faults, too. Wira is Wira. When you read this, you’ll understand.

The setting and time played an integral part in this story. So many times, historical fictions gloss over the not-so-great stuff. Not Gadarene. This book lays it out as smelly, dirty, hard, cramped, cold, and not so great. And the people are the same. Calling people by racial nicknames: a given. Cleanliness: maybe. Food: you hope. Struggle: you bet. Because of this, there is no whitewashing in order to keep modern sensibilities. Wira had to survive while Galen was gone, and she did it the best way she could. Galen never bats an eye at his lover’s ‘profession’. Galen is a hired thug, an assassin. Wira worries, but can’t stop it. The people in this story can’t afford high-class morality.

Another thing I found spectacular is the gender roles played out in the story. Wira sees herself as a woman. Wira acts like a woman. Galen knows what Wira looks like under the dresses. Galen treats Wira like a woman. When he comes back home, he takes the role of the man. This doesn’t mean Wira becomes an empty-headed doll. It does mean that Wira falls into the role of a woman in the rough side of town. I loved it and thought it absolutely brilliant. Again, never did I feel I was reading a hetero story. I salute the authors for this feat of genius.

When it came to the horror aspect, the authors didn’t hesitate. It hits full-force without it being gory. Okay, maybe a tad bit. But mainly, it’s just creepy and gave me a great scare. The way the story unfolds, with memories and dreams, it kept me on my toes and off-kilter.

The best part (I know! There’s more?) is that this is a story I couldn’t just put down after the end. It stayed with me. The mystery continued to get solved in my brain; the little details of the setting and characterization slowly slid into the light and made me gasp in delight while I was doing the dishes. It’s a story that I had to tell others about, to talk it out, and make further discoveries. The story is still with me. It makes me greedy and demanding and hoping for a sequel of some sort, any sort. But, really, I couldn’t be happier with the ending. I couldn’t be happier with this book.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves excellent characterization, historicals, mysteries, or horrors. I would be shocked if those who read it didn’t love it. If you don’t “get it” after the last page, give your brain a couple of days. Let is set a while before making a firm decision. You’ll be glad you did.

I read the print edition of this book. Buy the print edition. You will want to hug and stroke this book. Save your monitor and just get the print edition. Besides, you’ll also want to be able to easily flip the cover over to stare at the art created by Laura “Zel” Carboni. It’s gorgeous and so ambiguous. It couldn’t have summed up this story any better.

Thanks to Elisa Rolle for pointing out this book. And thanks go to Muroku on Live Journal for linking me to the excerpt.

Blood Brothers
Barbara Sheridan & Anne Cain
ebook
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In a world where the nights are darker and the passions run deeper, two young men go from friends to something more when a dangerous stranger appears on their doorstep.
In feudal Japan, war and famine tear through the countryside, and demons lurk in the darkness. Two young men struggle together on the outskirts of a ravaged village: the strong yet kind Liu Sakurai and his beloved gentle hearted Kiyoshi. And as their friendship endures the endless hardships, their bond grows into something more.
When the summer night brings a mysterious stranger to their door, the most dangerous desires of their dreams and nightmares are awakened. Blood now binds Kiyoshi and Sakurai together where once love did, but can this tie last an eternity?

Top:
I didn’t enjoy this story. In fact, I was irritated with it by the end of the first page and extremely relieved when I finally finished it.

The italicized terms made me expect (and wish for) a glossary at the end of the story. I actually don’t know the difference between a kosode and a yukata, but somehow, although the difference was obviously important enough to the authors to require the usage of both terms (in italics, no less), it was never actually explained in the story. The glossary would have been useful. As far as I’m concerned, if the author feels that something is important enough to add, then it’s the author’s job to explain it. I shouldn’t be required to reach for Google on every page.
Also, if I’d never seen a Japanese period film or even watched Inu Yasha, I would have been hopelessly lost in the setting. As it was, I was only slightly lost. Once again, Google rescued this story from being completely incomprehensible. It would have been nice of the authors to make a better attempt at explaining some of the culture, for those of us who don’t actually live in Japan, but, like the terminology, the authors didn’t seem to feel that this was necessary.
I didn’t like the uke any more than I liked the seme. Either of the semes. I didn’t like any of the characters. Kiyoshi had some sympathy value, but he was still no more interesting to me than Sakurai/Liu. I absolutely detested Kuro. By the end of the story, I was vindictively hoping that at least one of them would die. Preferably Kuro.
Worst, though, in my point of view? This was, in effect, a vampire story. It was really neat of the authors to go to the trouble of actually making it an authentic Japanese version of a vampire instead of cheating by transplanting a Western vampire to 16th century Japan, but that didn’t make it any less excruciating to read for someone who doesn’t actually like vampires. I’m not entirely positive that I would even have recognized the difference between Western vampires and Japanese vampires if I hadn’t had my browser open to a page that discusses it. And the tragic thing is that even I know that Japan has a huge pantheon of mythological creatures that could have been the centerpiece of this story. Could have been, but wasn’t. Is the market really clamoring that loudly for yet another vampire fic?

I can’t say that the story is badly-written, other than the lack of explanation. I’m aware that the artistic merit is sailing right over my head. I recognize that the authors did a good job of blending their separate styles so well that I can’t tell where one author ends and the other begins. I didn’t notice any technical errors such as poor grammar or discontinuity. The sex didn’t particularly interest me, but I can say that at least it gracefully served to further the plot instead of being a meaningless sidestep into mere porn. I have no idea whether or not the authors intended to emulate a Japanese style of story-telling, and I can’t tell if they succeeded. It was frustrating, at the very least.
If you are a Japanophile, then I suspect you’d enjoy this story. Academically, if nothing else. If you’re a vampire fan, then you’ll likely find Blood Brothers to be an intriguing foray into a whole new world. If you’re simply curious and want to know why I was so opposed to it, then by all means, buy the book and make up your own mind. But if you’re like me and you’re indifferent and/or opposed to reading either Japanese history or vampire fiction, then just take a pass.

On a side note, I’d like to once again compliment the artist for her ability to create cover art. It’s well-balanced and evocative, while the poses and Liu’s expression perfectly convey what you can expect from the story itself.

Bottom:

Blood Brothers is a short and bloody tale, which I enjoyed.

Let me first say that, unlike my partner, I am a Japanophile and vampire enthusiast, so my take on this story is very different from CW’s. And from my point of view, Blood Brothers was worth the read.

There were, however, a few things that didn’t gel with me.

One of the lead character’s name switched back and forth. When we first meet him, he’s called Sakurai. I got to know Sakurai. I became comfortable with Sakurai. Then suddenly he is Liu. The name in the narrative changes as well as the dialogue. And then toward the end, he is back to Sakurai and Liu. I understood what the authors were trying to convey, I think it was just handled sloppily. It’s confusing, especially for Western readers not as comfortable with Japanese and Chinese names. Personally, I think they should have picked one to use in the narrative and changed his name in the dialogue to show the changes in his personality and the way he was being seen by others.

I, like CW, also thought the constant proper names for items was a bit much. I don’t mind a few, such as mentioning the fundoshi, a loin cloth, in order to properly show the setting and time period, but after that it became a bit annoying. It was having the Japanese in italics that bothered me because the reading voice in my head automatically emphasized those words. Also, I think those like CW, who are not into the culture of Japan, would just be confused (and needing that glossary), and for those like me, I already knew the proper names and didn’t need them repeated over and over. In italics. A little goes a long way, you know? This hindered the enjoyment of the sex scenes for me since I had to wade through kimono, yukata, kosode, fundoshi, some more. Otherwise, though, I thought the sex was good, hot, and not too much.

I was a bit disappointed in this book’s brevity, but it actually works well for the setting. It definitely calls to mind the ambiguous storytelling many Japanese stories and films have. It’s not my favorite way to read a story, and if it were any other book I’d have knocked it for this. But for this story, it worked, helping to set the tone. I’m not sure if it was intentional on the authors’ parts, but once I got into the groove, it helped pull me into the mood of the writing.

I really liked the way Sheridan and Cain showed the emotion of the characters. They set it up well, using action and words to show the way the two main characters feel for each other. They also really showed the change, the twisting, of it. Very nice and made me really sink into the story. Kiyoshi, the real heart of the story, is portrayed very well. I fell in love with him and rooted for him. I could feel his pain and confusion and desire.

What I really appreciated in this was that I thought the vampire was not there to just strut around looking Brooding and Evil. It wasn’t the vampire that was the evil, really. It was just the wedge, the shiny that pulled at Sakurai/Liu, causing a rift in his and Kiyoshi’s relationship. It could have been vampirism, drugs, booze, adultery, gambling, anything at all. And for that reason, I felt as if the vampire thing was more of a tool rather than a focus. Which was neat and, for me, made it not the central focus of this story. The central focus was definitely the relationship of Kiyoshi and Sakurai/Liu.

One of the best parts of this book is that it does not read like a role-playing script, which is always a possible (and, unfortunately, expected by me) pitfall when you have more than one author. I am very happy to say that Blood Brothers reads smoothly with no dizzying and annoying switching of point-of-view as each author has her say. Kudos to Sheridan and Cain for that.

Kudos also goes to Cain for the cover. Lovely. I enjoy their website for Cain’s art if nothing else. Really lovely.

Blood Brothers is the first, I believe, of the Sheridan-Cain collaboration for the Dragon’s Disciple series they have going. In the other book blurbs, I saw both Sakurai’s and Kiyoshi’s names, so that is definitely a perk in picking this book up.

I recommend Blood Brothers to anyone who is into the Japanese craze, the yaoi craze, or the vampire craze. If you enjoy all three, like me, you’ll definitely enjoy this book. It’s short, and not so sweet, and perfect for a nice dark evening’s reading. This book isn’t for the fluff at heart.