Liquid Silver Books, $5.75, ISBN 1-59578-283-4
Fantasy Erotica, 2006
I understand that erotic paranormal romance authors, especially those who publish digitally, have a loyal following of fans. But I have to wonder whether these authors are so in touch with these fans of theirs that they sometimes write stories that only these fans who have followed their previous works will understand what is going on in their latest stories. In this anthology, A Witch in Time, I have no idea what is happening in the stories by Robin Danner and Xandra Gregory.
By the way, I love the really pretty cover of this book. It’s like someone has killed off the annoying Phoebe and replaced her with some long-lost Chinese Halliwell sister that was the result of a one-night stand between… uh, never mind, I’ll leave the details to the fanfiction authors since Charmed is mercifully cancelled before the show inflicted lasting psychological damage on poor Kaley Cuoco. Why am I talking about that show anyway?
Robin Danner kicks off this collection of stories with Petting the Cat, a short story about Jillian Welch, a witch who despite being part of a Coven that carries out erotic exultations as part of its ritual, manages to remain a virgin ripe for the plucking of our shapeshifting hero Colin Donegal. The problem is, she’s engaged to be married to Colin’s very evil brother. No, wait, the problem is, I have no idea what is going on here. What kind of witch is Jillian? All I know is that they are the typical kinky witches who play the submissive in sex games in what many authors believe is the only way to be sexy. Maybe Jillian’s Coven worships the formula that has taken hold of the erotic paranormal romance genre. Why is Colin’s brother evil? What is Colin’s brother up to? All these things are either glossed over or not touched upon at all. Maybe I should care only about the sex scene?
The thing is, I don’t know why this story has to be so short that it lacks any details about the setting, the characters, or the plot that will help me understand the story there. It just drags me into the sex scene and then offers a perfunctory closure to the plot. In short, this story comes off like a quickie tale hastily created around a sex scene rather than the other way around. Maybe readers familiar with Robin Danner’s previous works will figure out with this story better, I don’t know. I visited the author’s website to check but the website is not updated so there are some books that may or may not be related to this story. Then again, is it so hard to add a few more pages to explain the story and flesh out the characters a little bit more? Without the mention of the hero’s title, for example, I won’t even know for sure that this is a historical short story!
Darragha Foster’s Spell-Crafted for Pleasure is next and while it is about the same length as the other two stories in this collection, I actually understand what is going on here as the author takes the trouble to lay down enough details to allow the reader to be familiar with the set-up and the characters. Ms Foster once more writes about those horny Vikings she clearly has a thing for (when it comes to her writing, of course, ahem) only this time these Vikings are trapped inside a whalebone dildo. Our heroine, the witch Salem Grier who owns the New Age mystical magical/erotic paraphernalia store Salem’s Fine Collection of Sins, purchases the relic she calls the Viking Member at a surprisingly low rate for something of this value. After all, the Viking Member is a genuine historical relic from the Viking days so you don’t find many of them around nowadays. When she uses it on herself, she unknowingly releases two Viking brothers that are trapped in that dildo. The brothers have three days to find a way to permanently free themselves from their confinement and the seduction of Salem seems to be the way to do this. Salem finds herself in-between stepbrothers Kane and Ketiljon Heraldsson without fully knowing at first what she is getting into. Now, who is the one she should choose again?
This story actually feels like a complete story compared to the previous short story because there is build-up and plot development. While it is not much of a suspense when it comes to figuring out which brother is the good guy, the plot nonetheless feels like the author has spent more than five minutes on this story. I like how Salem is a sexual heroine without having to resort to contrived virginity status or other tricks some authors use to keep their erotic romance heroines “pure” and “likeable” and she can take care of herself as well, which is always great. This story has both male-female and male-male sex scenes although in this particular story, the male-male sex scenes can push some readers’ hot buttons because of the context in which these scenes occur.
Like most of this author’s previous works, Spell-Crafted for Pleasure has interesting ideas. The whole hunks-in-dildos thing, for example, can be cringe-inducingly over the top or cartoonish but Ms Foster nonetheless manages to introduce campy erotic elements in this story without crossing the line to farce. A part of me wonders whether the whole dildo thing is actually necessary since it feels like a very obvious plot device calculated for cheap giggles and shock value and I feel that I have read enough of this author’s works to know that she can do better than jabbing synthetic penises at the reader’s face.
I want to like Xandra Gregory’s Hounded if only because it stars an Asian heroine. But this one is jampacked with names and details without much attempt at dropping enough hints to allow the reader to piece these names and details together into a coherent picture. All I know is that our heroine Lin Itoh has made a deal with Diana the Moon Goddess to retrieve Diana’s Hound for that Goddess. Alas, this Hound happens to be a hot hunk, Rex, who Lin unknowingly had a hot encounter with before she finally realizes who he was. So what now?
There are an implosion of details here but I don’t get enough background or fundamental details to tie things up together. This is a futuristic story, that is clear. Lin is a Truebreed. What is that again? Max is a Hound. Huh? There’s a Goddess on the moon in Mars? And this Goddess now reeks according to Dex? Uh… can someone draw me a chart or something because I have no idea what is going on here, not when I have no idea what all these Truebleed, Goddess, and Hound thingies are supposed to be in the first place. Why are these Gods in space again? Are these Olympus Gods the same ones that the Greeks worshipped? The author drops concepts like Moon Witches and Lunar colonies but it seems like I’m supposed to imagine by myself what these things are, given how no explanation is forthcoming in this story.
As for the sex scenes, the dominant scene is actually a threesome between Dex, Lin, and her pilot Max. I know, Dex and Max – that’s just too cute for words. Is the setting of this world in Hounded that of the author’s previous book for Liquid Silver Books? As it is, this story is just too short and the world-building is pretty much everything the author can cram within 35 pages but there is no build-up when it comes to the pacing of both the plot and especially information dissemination. Right from the start I am bombarded with phrases like “Hound” and “gen-hanced Canids” and “Diana’s Pack” and more. For the rest of the story, I get distracted because I am too busy wondering what all these phrases mean. So, when no explanation is forthcoming, I can’t fully enjoy the story. If I don’t know what “Low Earth Orbit” means, for example, I get distracted when the phrase keeps popping up all over the place. A low orbit? Does that mean the orbit is smaller than Earth’s? I think Helium-3 is a reference to the isotope but I’m sure readers unfamiliar with chemistry will be scratching their heads at that one.
Hounded has a very rich background, it seems, and Ms Gregory has done a lot of work in world-building. But all those details are crammed into a mere 35 pages with little or no explanation as to what all those fancy jargons in those pages mean. I end up feeling like I’ve somehow rushed into a Mardi Gras festival packed with people who just happen to be speaking in the Klingon language – too many things are going on and I have no clue what these things are. I think I will enjoy Ms Gregory’s bubbly sense of humor if this story doesn’t suffer from poorly-inserted detail overload. For a short story, sometimes keeping things simple is probably the best way to go.
A Witch in Time is not a very satisfying read because only Darragha Foster’s contribution feels like a complete story. As a result, there is a half-baked and rushed quality here that prevents it from being anything more than a forgettable read.