Author: R. Cooper
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: MM Anthology
Narrator: Robert Nieman
Magical creatures known as beings emerged from hiding amid the destruction of the First World War. Since then they’ve lived on the margins of the human world as misunderstood objects of fear and desire. Some are beautiful, others fearsome and powerful. Yet for all their magic and strength, they are as vulnerable as anyone when it comes to matters of the heart.
A firebird in 1930s Paris is drawn to a writer with a haunted past. Upon returning from fighting in the Pacific, a jaguar shifter finds a third-gender human on his doorstep. Early rock ‘n’ roll DJ Hyacinth the fairy shocks his listeners with his admiration for his quiet assistant. During the AIDS crisis, a gruff, leather-wearing troll dreams of a settled life with a mixed-species elf across the bar. An imp, who remembers only too well how cruel the world can be, tells himself he’s content to stay behind the scenes—if only his chaotic, impish magic would stop getting in the way. And a shy human tending his poisonous and carnivorous plants is convinced no one will ever want him, certainly not the handsome werewolf grieving for a lost mate. Human or being, all must overcome fear to reach for love.
Anthologies are always a mixed bag, and that’s no different when it’s all made up of stories from the same author. This had a good spread of stories, and even the few that I rated lower I think that most people will enjoy. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to have 2 very hard-hitting shorts that ended up being spectacular. This is a series that I’ve read and enjoyed from R. Cooper so I was happy to continue with it, Robert Nieman is the same narrator who read Little Wolf and A Beginner’s Guide to Wooing Your Mate. He’s not my favorite narrator, as he tends not to have any variance in his voice acting for different characters, but it’s certainly not offensive and worked fine for an anthology.
The Firebird (Firebird & Human) 2 stars – This didn’t do anything for me. It was very flowery to where I felt like I was reading Pride and Prejudice. Just the back and forth, the subtle 19th century (I couldn’t tell which war they were talking about) flirtations and coyness that was confusing and tiresome. I increased the narration to x2 speed. It wasn’t the narrators fault, but the audio didn’t add anything either. I feel bad, but this one wasn’t for me.
The Warrior’s Sacrifice (Jaguer & Human muxe) 3 stars – I liked this one better. It was an interesting take on a shifter story. A Hispanic city where the people have co-existed with the Jaguar seemingly since before Beings even came out. They leave him offerings and he provides protection. I was getting a tad annoyed with Teo’s denseness, I mean c’mon! And then of course at the end he does a 180 and all of a sudden totally gets it. But it was an interesting and sweet story, and a pleasure to listen to.
Hyacinth on the Air (Fairy and Human) 2.5 stars – So So. These stories still sometimes lose me in the back and forth convos and talking in circles. This was cute enough and I liked Hyacinth. These short stories all jump around in time and place. I liked how the time period was relevant to this story, the characters, and their experiences. The author makes interesting social commentary by allowing us to relive different times throughout history and see the prejudices experienced by people differing from ‘the norm’, whether it be the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, or the fact that they’re a ‘Being’. So I liked seeing through the lens of history but with Beings added to the mix. But the romance itself and their story didn’t interest me too much, not the most chemistry.
A Giant Among Men (Troll and possible Elf) 5 stars – Well where the hell did that come from?!? This was absolutely lovely! The first half was nice enough, a solid 3 stars. I’m partial to unique characters like Trolls and such unlikely heros (Brute is an all time favorite), and Tank was a prime example. A lovable giant who plays into the role others have given him, but cannot hide his underlying shine. So the characters were amazing.
There is also a vandalism/mystery plot that while minor, is integral to their story. The author does a great job of balancing this, giving us just enough that it plays its part without taking over the story. This is first and foremost, a romance.
But the setting is another character in and of itself. Taking place during the 1980’s while the AIDS epidemic was at its height and Civil Rights were still much more of an issue than people wanted to admit, it was poignant and relevant without feeling like it was even trying to make any kind of statement.
Their chemistry was sizzling once they finally got their heads out of their own asses. Tank’s gentle and confident Dominance and Simon’s genuine need to give up control are what I love about BDSM. Don’t be scared off, this had just the tiniest hint of it, but that’s why it felt to real. No scenes or speeches or contracts, just two people who understand the other’s needs. And SO EFFEN SWEET!!!
Once tiny criticism for the audio, I wish the narrator had changed his voice at all. I mean, c’mon. Tank needed a deep voice and we all know it.
The Imp and Mr Sunshine (Imp & Human) 3.5 stars – This was cute, and I feel like I should have rated it higher. As I’ve mentioned before, I love unusual characters. Renate (sp?) was awesome. Imp’s have been mentioned in this series before as outcasts and it was nice to dive into that a little more, also sad to see how Renate just assumed that no one would want him.
But I was very confused midway and actually had to rewind to see if I had missed something. This has happened a couple times in this series and I don’t know if it’s a product of the audio version. They like to banter and sometimes it’s hard to keep up. The stupid and (once I figured out what was going on) obvious miscommunication got a tad annoying, but all worked out in the end. This was a good pairing and I could see reading a full length story including the backstory/prequel that led up to their friendship.
The Wolf in the Garden (Were & Human) 4.5 stars! – Another whammy, like ‘A Giant Among Men’. First of all, this has the reappearance of Cass from ‘The Firebird’ so it has DEFINITE SPOILERS for that! Cass is beautiful and sad and wise and absolutely lovely. I liked him better this time around, to be completely honest.
But like ‘A Giant Among Men’ this hit me in the feels with multi-dimensional and unique characters. Heartbroken and lost, Diego wanters into Micky’s garden, stunned to find that he can feel again and that maybe his life isn’t over. Sweet and lonely with a port-wine birthmark, Micky is unable to see how brightly he shines.
Micky was being a little silly with some obliviousness, but Cass did a good job of moving things along. And since it’s a short story things didn’t drag on at all. The end did come a tad suddenly though, and I felt like I wanted one more scene. Perhaps one related to Cass, because that’s a part of Micky’s story too.
The Dragon’s Egg (Dragon & Human) 3 stars – I was disappointed at first to realize this is a pre-existing couple, since that’s not my personal favorite to read. Then I realized I did actually know this couple from A Boy and His Dragon. You don’t have to have read that to appreciate this, although like I said, that’s my personal preference. This was a nice enough little story although I couldn’t figure out why among all new stories there was a repeat couple. It was perhaps explained at the end, when Bertie and Arthur discuss the idea of becoming more vocal advocates for Beings in general and children specifically. This whole anthology has themes of Civil Rights and discrimination mirroring our own history throughout time, but supplemented with the addition of Beings. So this was perhaps planned as an uplifting and hopeful ending to the anthology. I did end up liking it more than expected, and as a whole the anthology as well as the world this series is based in.