Title: Follow Me Into Darkness
Authors: Santino Hassell, J.C. Lillis, J.R. Gray, Kris Ripper, Roan Parrish
Publisher: Open Ink Press
Pages/Word Count: 189 Pages
At a Glance: Every single one of these novelettes is gorgeous—in their simplicity, their beauty, in the strength of their writing and the raw emotion.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: 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
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.
If We Be Friends by J.C. Lillis
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 party to meet his fate–and finds that more awaits him onstage than a battle of wits and words.
Masked by J.R. Gray
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?
The Queen’s Reflection by Kris Ripper
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.
Touched by Roan Parrish
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.
Review: As much as I love short stories, I don’t often read anthologies because as amazing as some of the stories turn out to be, there always seems to be that one weak link that brings the whole of the collection down a notch in quality. But then, sometimes a group of authors come together that’s impossible to resist, which was the case with Follow Me Into Darkness, an omnibus of queer stories that all share a common theme—the darker side of love, lust, and romance. From contemporary New Orleans, to a Young Adult heart-melter, to an erotic journey to Brazil, to a phenomenal Alt U tale, to a beautiful historical romance that includes a touch of the supernatural, every single one of these novelettes is gorgeous—in their simplicity, their beauty, in the strength of their writing and the raw emotion.
Santino Hassell kicks things off with Hurricane, and I loved the way the title of his story encompassed the way Kee, a charming hustler, blows into Zay’s life and upends the order he lives by. Mardi Gras was the perfect setting for the story, not to mention New Orleans and the mysterious that she herself is, and then adding to it a loner who suddenly finds the place he feels at home is in the arms of a homeless man… the contrasts were fantastic, and Kee was impossible to resist.
In If We Be Friends, J.C. Lillis does what she does so well—brings to life young adult characters who are never stereotypical, one-dimension, cardboard cutouts of teenage angsters. Well, they’re a little angsty (because teenagers and Hamlet), but it’s the scenario into which she writes our heroes, Bonaventure “Ven” Bell and Farley Gilbert, that’s so much fun. A “Shakespeare-Off”? For a boy who’s just been dumped, this could be the performance of a lifetime. And while “the course of true love never did run smooth,” this road to romance was filled with such sweet promise of a new adventure for these two boys.
Next up, author J.R. Gray brings the heat and passion in his novella, Masked. The darkness of this story is in the painful emotions and memories shared by Heath and Javier, and the bittersweet attraction that still runs deep between them—even though Heath’s life as a doctor in Minnesota took him far from Javier and their life together on the streets of Brazil fifteen years before. I loved the sexual tension that ran through this story, the dilemma of where Javier is in his life, and the allegory of the mask as one hiding one’s true self. And, of course, the idea that sometimes you have to create your own happy ending out of the options available to you worked as a perfect end to Heath and Javier’s story. Gray wrote a sexy story, and I loved it.
Now, pardon me if I gush a little over Kris Ripper’s The Queen’s Reflection, but this story is…every adjective I can think of to mean it’s outstanding and I loved it. I’ll never know what it means to look in a mirror and not see exactly who I am, but that’s precisely what makes Queen Isabel’s story so incredibly moving—the juxtaposition of the girl’s body not matching who he is on the inside, and the conflict this causes. The author’s prose is perfection, Isah’s pain tangible, and the two strangers who come into the queen’s sphere to lead him on a sensual journey to acceptance and, finally, to help him to embrace who he is in the process, was portrayed in such a moving way. If I were asked to pick a favorite story in the anthology, this one would be it.
Not to be outdone, though, Roan Parrish’s Touched throws a compelling bit of the supernatural into 1929 New Orleans. Philippe Rondeau’s family legacy allows him to touch people and see the future—something that to me seems more a curse than a gift, especially when he begins to catch glimpses of events he’s not able to put a name to but we are able to name all too easily. There’s an overall sensuality to Touched that coexists beautifully with the city whose history and legend is, in itself, seductive. The music and the sultry atmosphere are a great backdrop for the forbidden between Philippe and Claude, and Parrish’s writing is words-into-pictures, making it easy to imagine everything, down to the story’s final beautiful paragraph.
Follow Me Into Darkness is an immensely enjoyable read, with a little bit of something for everyone who loves short stories.
You can buy Follow Me Into Darkness here: