Please note this book was reviewed prior to the revelation of author known as Santino Hassell’s identity and actions. Please read this statement from Riptide Publishing for more information.
When Lead Me Into Darkness came out last year, I was over the moon. Five absolutely incredible authors came together for a themed Halloween anthology, and it was fantastic!
So imagine my happy dance when Follow Me Into Darkness was announced. With a Mardi Gras/Carnivale theme (’tis the season, right?), and from new publisher Open Ink Press, I knew from the start that this was going to be another favorite!
Follow Me Into Darkness
Authors: J.R. Gray, Santino Hassell, J.C. Lillis,
Roan Parrish, and Kris Ripper
Publisher: Open Ink Press (Feb. 4, 2016)
Genres: Various (See each story for details)
Carnivale is a time for decadence, for revelry, and for mischief. A time when we shed the figurative masks we wear in everyday life in favor of new ones… ones that allow us to be a little bolder, a little more adventurous, and perhaps a little truer to ourselves.
Follow Me Into Darkness is a compilation of original tales of queer romance by five of the premier authors of contemporary romance.
Hurricane by Santino Hassell
Genre: Gay, M/M, Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Interesting things never happened to Zay. He was the wallflower everyone forgot about as soon as the booze began to flow, and Mardi Gras had never been an exception. But after a chance encounter with a devil-may-care grifter, this year’s celebration brings adventure and whirlwind romance.
I think I would know that this was a Santino Hassell story even without the author’s name on it. Santino’s voice is so distinct, and his characters have a certain grittiness to them that no one else can pull of quite right. And this story really embodies what I think is at the heart of Mardi Gras… the ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler’ attitude, as Zay lets go with Kee for one night.
“I–” Despite the chill, I was too warm. My chest too tight. “You’re mighty sure of yourself.”
“I know.” Kee wrinkled his nose. “Aren’t I just the most arrogant fuck you’ve ever met?”
If We Be Friends by J.C. Lillis
Genre: Gay, M/M, Humor, Contemporary
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Seventeen-year-old Ven should be flying high—he’s playing the title role in a new TV drama about Hamlet’s teen years, and tonight they’re having a Mardi Gras cast party in a possibly-haunted castle. But Ven’s lost all his mirth since his boyfriend suggested they “take a break,” so he plans to skip the bash and brood in his trailer all night. Then the exasperating guy who plays Horatio challenges him to a Shakespearean soliloquy-off, and Ven knows his actorly honor is at stake. He says yes to the duel, trudges off to the the party to meet his fate–and finds that more awaits him onstage than a battle of wits and words.
I was expecting a light-hearted, humorous, and seriously geeky fun read with this story. I was not expecting all of the above, plus a serious case of The Feels. Warning, J.C. is going to make you curl up from emotional overload with this one!
Ven is absolutely brilliant here. Farley brings the comedy, but Ven brings the feelings, and I absolutely love his character!
“Okay. Don’t get mad, but I feel like we weren’t… connecting last episode.”
“Yeah, like in scene 3, your mouth said my dear Horatio but your eyes said DIE.”
Masked by J.R. Gray
Genre: Gay, M/M, Contemporary
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Blistering heat and half-naked masked men as far as the eye can see, but Heath runs into the one face it’s taken him fifteen years to forget. Javier is plagued with a life of regret, but when a second chance confronts him, can he let go of his hang-ups and seize the moment?
I really love J.R.’s stories, because they’re always character-driven, and the sex is always incredibly well-done. And this story, of a second-chance and the reunion of two former lovers, was definitely a super enjoyable read!
That said, I feel like it didn’t fit the Carnivale theme of the anthology. At one point it’s established that it’s Carnivale season in Brazil, but this seemed like an after-thought and not connected to the plot.
He was hard and smug. Two of Javier’s favorite things.
The Queen’s Reflection by Kris Ripper
Genre: Transgender, Menage, Fantasy/Historical, Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Isah plays the role everyone expects: malleable and cautious, a true queen. But what others see as a queen’s appropriate modesty is really just a disguise for what Isah has never told anyone, the thing no one can ever know.
This body, dressed in the queen’s gowns, is a lie.
Once a year, at carnival, Isah dons someone else’s clothes and becomes them for a night. A young cook in stained whites, or a stableboy in worn breeches. As long as no one gets too close the pretense holds.
Until two strangers look past all the characters and Isah finally exposes the person behind the mask.
This story absolutely blew me away! It’s layer on top of layer of beautiful words, heart-wrenching emotions, gorgeous intimacy, and at the heart of it all is Isah, who has to wear a mask every day, except for the one night a year.
When everyone else puts on a mask, Isah takes one off. The way that Kris writes, from Isah’s point of view, really hooks you and drags you into the story, and I found myself feeling Isah’s fear, hope, and desperation on every page.
“Sometimes the stories told by our skin restrict us inhumanely,” Cassandra said.
Touched by Roan Parrish
Genre: Gay, M/M, Paranormal, Romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Sometimes when he touches people Philippe Rondeau sees their future. It’s erratic and inconvenient, but mostly he’s learned to deal with it. Sure he hasn’t found true love yet, but he has friends and lovers, and is kept busy running his family’s jazz club in Prohibition-era New Orleans. But now it’s Mardi Gras and all bets are off. In the space of one night, Philippe falls under the spell of jazz musician Claude and learns a terrible secret about his powers. If Philippe is certain of anything it’s that the future can be tricky, but the chance at love makes it all seem worthwhile.
If Roan doesn’t take this idea and turn it into a billion-book series, I will be utterly devastated because I desperately need more of this in my life!
Roan writes absolutely beautiful prose, and transports you back to the late-1920s to the streets of New Orleans. Phillipe and Claude may not look the same on the outside– white and black, well-off and poor– but they’re both men on the outside looking in. Philippe’s powers just add another dimension to an already beautiful love story, and cause some delicious foreshadowing.
I wanted to be on Claude as the Spanish moss draped the branches of the live oaks lining the avenues, burrow inside of him like their roots bit down into the earth and wrenched the streets apart. And then he began to play again and it flayed me.
I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
All of the art used in this post is by JPG, from the Follow Me Into Darkness anthology and is copyright Open Ink Press LLC.