Title: Lead Me Into Darkness
Authors: J.R. Gray, Santino Hassell, J.C. Lillis, Roan Parrish, Kris Ripper
Genre: Queer Halloween Anthology
Release Date: 29th October
(ARC provided by Binge On Books in exchange for an honest review)
Lead Me Into Darkness is a free Halloween collection of five short stories, generously and spontaneously put together by a group of authors of queer romances. It contains four M/M tales and one of F/F variety. I wouldn’t necessarily brand it as a “paranormal anthology”, as not all the stories carry a paranormal undercurrent per se. However, there is unquestionably a certain tinge of spookiness or mysteriousness to every tale.
I’m on the fence on anthologies. They frequently feel uneven to me. On occasion, the content might vary so significantly – both style and quality wise – that reading it resembles a rollercoaster ride, making my head spin and giving me bipolar-like mood swings. It is not the case here, although some stories resonated with me more than others.
Take You Farther by Santino Hassell
This story is a follow-up to Santino Hassell’s novel Stygian, which I luckily finished a few days before reaching for this short. It is presented from Watts’ perspective.
If I were asked to capture the essence of this story in one word, I’d say transition. Everything alters, since Q became “vamporized”, including the dynamics of Watts and Quince’s relationship. The blood deprivation transforms Quince’s personality. This sweet, non-confrontational, considerate, placatory, good-natured guy becomes sullen, slightly depressed, emotionally stunned, broody, angry and possessive. Watts also changes, quitting his arrogant, selfish, obnoxious asshole routine and discovers the ability to feel concern and express his feelings.
In brief – I loved it. Both characters, given a chance to unveil their intriguing complexity a little more, merely blossomed. The writing is touching, emotionally charged and sweet, despite the lurking darkness. There’s also a bit of heat.
Memory Hill by J.C. Lillis
J.C. Lillis is a new author to me. I shall do my utmost to immediately rectify this monstrous abomination, reminiscent of ignorance.
This story is exquisite. Perfectly thought through, well composed and beautifully executed. I loved the entire original concept. A ghost of a musician, trapped in the cemetery, is unable to move on until certain things are fulfilled. Also featuring are wasted opportunities, which – quite literally – haunt him. In addition, there is an adorable geeky character.
This was the story I connected with the most. It is a clever tale about the transience of life and happiness, reminding us to seize the day. It evokes a keen sense of sadness and regret mixed with hope. It is simultaneously funny, poignant and bittersweet. It left me teary-eyed and clutching my chest. In my view, this is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the whole collection. In the words of one of the characters: “Emo, but pretty. And sad.” Indeed.
Grave Circumstances by J.R. Gray
To a fan of Gray’s Bound series, such as myself, this short will be a real treat. I thought it was amusing and I liked it a lot. Reading about one’s least favourite character getting his ass kicked by his temporarily zombified ex-girlfriend (who he did wrong), can feel strangely satisfying. It is always good to see George being a good old sadist, especially sporting the seventeenth century riding boots. The writing is funny and concise. As ever, I enjoyed the BDSM element to it. The final scene, tremendously hot, was the icing on the cake.
However, I fear this story doesn’t stand alone well. If you haven’t read any of the Bound books, you’ll likely end up just as confused, as Jesse’s erection. Regrettably, all the delicious subtleties, clues and references to the characters’ little idiosyncrasies will be completely lost on you. Remedy? Read the series first.
Boyfriends in the Boneyard by Kris Ripper
Having not read Ripper’s Scientific Method series (which I’m planning on reading eventually), I feel I find myself at a slight disadvantage. Had I read it, I’d have probably had more insight and appreciated this short story more. However, it still can be read as a standalone.
What I enjoyed most was the depiction of an interesting unconventional threeway relationship with a kinky twist and genuine emotions between all the involved parties. The sexy action at the cemetery underneath the dress was both naughty and hot. All written in a light style with a humorous undertone.
Mayfair by Roan Parrish
I don’t typically read F/F romances, so frankly I felt a little out of my depth. Nevertheless, it is an angsty coming of age story with a hint of darkness and creepiness up its sleeve, featuring the theme of unrequited love. The main character is psychologically intriguing and well sketched. However, what struck me most about this story was the quality of the descriptive language deployed here. Suspenseful, imaginative and pretty. I also enjoyed the surprising ending.
This anthology constitutes a diverse and perfectly entertaining romantic Halloween read – a bit of fun with a touch of darkness, a handful of emotions and a pinch of heat. I highly recommend it and reward it – as a whole collection – the rating of 4 out of 5.
I loved the atmospheric cover. Regarding its title, paradoxically I thought Lead Me OUT of Darkness would have been more apt. The implied: Through Your Love sign flashing in neon red in my head.
Good Lord, I’m such a sap.