Author: L.J. LaBarthe
Publisher: Bottom Drawer Publications
Pages/Word Count: 235 Pages
Rating: 3 Stars
Blurb: Caiden Jones is part-selkie and lives an idyllic life by the sea in South Australia. He’s had his fair share of disappointments, like being kept out of the Navy due to his mythica status, but overall he’s got a pretty good life. Until he’s in the wrong place at the right time.
Cai steps in to subdue an out-of-control minotaur and in the process suffers a serious injury to his ribs. As Cai struggles to breathe, a gorgeous suit-clad sy’lph with mesmerising blue eyes races to his rescue. When it’s learned that the minotaur was poisoned, the sy’lph, Gray, makes it his personal mission to keep Cai and his family safe.
Cai has always harboured some resentment towards the sy’lph because of their easy acceptance into the community, so the attraction he feels for Gray takes him by surprise. But how can they find out what this might mean when the lives of Cai and his family are endangered by someone closer than they realise?
Review: The first thing that you’ll notice in L.J. LaBarthe’s Mythica is the skillful and flawless way the author blends fantasy, sci-fi, and realistic elements in her world-building. I loved how smoothly characters, the setting, and the events worked with each other to tell Caiden and Gray’s story. The use of mythology in explaining the mythica (half-human, half-mythological creatures) provides us with a simple enough background, but it’s all we really need to understand the shaky ground on which their race stands insofar as human acceptance is concerned. Just like any minority group, the mythica are both welcomed and shunned, and along with the existence of terrorist groups intent on purifying the planet of undesirables, comes deep psychological and emotional wounds that may never heal.
The best part of the world-building to me involves the sy’lph, a race of creatures from another world who lost their planet and their loved ones, and found a refuge in Earth. There are only a handful of them, they’re largely a peace-loving race with a great deal of sadness in them and a yearning for their lost world, and that’s what drives them to do good for Earth. It’s also what makes them a lot more palatable, so to speak, to humans, hence their easier time assimilating compared to mythica.
What drew me largely to this book was the potential for a great romance between two creatures from two different worlds, their differences and especially Caiden’s animosity toward the sy’lph being the most formidable challenge they face. How would they overcome Caiden’s resentment? Would Gray fight for a chance at love, etc.? I was looking forward to an engaging read, which also includes a bit of suspense and action.
Unfortunately I didn’t get much of that – or at least the challenge faced by the lovers. Difficulties, I found, were resolved rather easily. In fact, Caiden’s negativity toward the sy’lph was limited to the first few chapters, and once Gray steps into the picture, Caiden’s attraction takes over, and before I knew it, they were hanging out and then kissing and then having sex. There’s quite a bit of time spent talking among the characters, or of Caiden hanging out at the seashore or swimming, and much of that dialogue tends to repeat already known facts. Like how much Caiden likes Gray or what the terrorist group is up to. If the book were heavy on action and suspense, those quiet moments would help break up the momentum and allow readers to breathe a bit before the next big set piece takes place. But the story’s quite light on conflict, even with Caiden and Marianne’s lives on the line.
The story, at least to me, suffers somewhat from a lack of nuance. Character actions (and reactions) tend to be of the all-guns-blazing sort. For instance, when mythica lives are threatened by a terrorist group, Hien and Bluey (Caiden’s friends and co-workers), quickly, and without a second’s thought, camp out in Caiden’s cottage to protect him, his aunt, and his sister. And there they stay for the duration of the book. While their concern is natural and also touching, being Caiden’s good friends, there’s something almost infantilizing in the way they hover around Caiden. Secondly, when Spiro, the minotaur, inexplicably cops an attitude at a barbecue and storms off, everyone – save for Spiro’s parents and Cooper, the nurse looking after Caiden – promptly decides that Spiro’s an asshole. When I read that scene, the first thing that came to my mind was PTSD or some form of psychological scarring. I figured it was understandable, considering what he’d just been through, ingesting poison that caused him to freak out in public and injure Caiden in the process of being subdued. But none of the characters, besides those I’ve noted, even considered the possibility. Spiro ruined a barbecue and embarrassed his parents? He’s a jerk, then, and there was general agreement to that.
The third and perhaps the most glaring instance of that lack of nuance involves Caiden’s reaction to Gray suddenly disappearing, and making it all about him. Lover leaves a note about an emergency at work and packs up his things? Caiden immediately thinks Gray left him – for good. Never mind the fact that Gray’s house, his staff, and his pet cat are still there. Or the fact that Gray’s line of work is something covert and even political. Or the fact that there’s a terrorist network that needs to be brought down because an entire race/species is about to get wiped out. Caiden practically swoons and stays in a deep, deep funk when he’s told that Gray’s packed up his things and has left, leaving only instructions for the staff to look after his home and feed the cat. His friends even weld bars to his windows to keep him from escaping and turning into a seal forever in order to forget the pain.
Marianne, while lecturing Caiden about his over-the-top and rather self-absorbed reactions to Gray’s disappearance in a later scene, inexplicably justifies and defends his sulking to their friends and aunt in a conversation Caiden overhears in an earlier one. And the reasons she puts out don’t seem solid enough to warrant his emotionally overwrought reaction to the obvious fact that Gray’s simply doing his job. I found them to be a bit of a stretch, anyway, considering how quickly Caiden resolves his antagonism toward Gray.
At the very least, Cooper and Gray remained consistent, subtle, and level-headed, and I found myself liking them a great deal more than Caiden. Even after the dust cleared, I cared a lot more for those two and not the main character. And that was a bummer for me since I loved the world LaBarthe created, and wished the conflict and the characterization were a little more complex in their treatment.
You can buy Mythica here: