Loose Id, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-59632-705-4
Oh my goodness, and here I am thinking that Eric Del Carlo is a respectable science-fiction author. I never know he has such a naughty streak in him. Rampant is another one of those increasingly prevalent steampunk-style gay fantasy romances, but what I really like here is that his characters are not the typical “insert emo anguish here” cookie-cutter boys.
Wyst, the local bum who is only good at sex, is driven from his village (simply called Village here because it’s so Ursula K Le Guin like that) after he contracted some discoloration on his chest called the Stain from an intimate encounter with the local witch/goddess. The Hex imparts some vague prophecy about a plague of which Wyst will play a role in obtaining a cure along with some happy handjobs and more. Were not for the fact that the locals will let those bearing the Stain to choose between death or exile, the Hex will be the nice woman living down the street that horny boys have dreamed of meeting since the dawn of civilization. At any rate, after a spectacular tour de force at the Reproduction Gala (think of an unfettered bisexual version of Mardi Gras), Wyst gets his cover blown and he is exiled from Village. Look at the bright side: when he is forced to go, he made sure that he really did go before he go, heh.
Apparently it’s either Village or City since clearly Disneyland is out of the question, so Wyst heads off to City. He takes the Road to City. Is it just me or there are too many annoying capitalizations in this story? I suppose that I should be grateful that at least the author has restrained from capitalizing the words used to describe private parts. At any rate, how will Wyst survive life in City? Will he find a boyfriend there? Of course, if he is smart, he’ll use his sex mojo to find himself someone who will take good care of him, but Wyst is not exactly a particularly intelligent young fellow. He hooks up instead with the exterminator Gâmomal.
The story really becomes a powerful read when Wyst reaches the city and tries to blend it. He becomes a corpse collector and with Gâmomal, they end up living at the very bottom of the social ladder. The City is of course a bleak place full of unhappy people, et cetera, while the Village have free and happy people, but the clichéd setting aside, there are some poignant and hard-hitting emotions within the pages. Wyst, whose entire life revolves around sex or blindly following orders, is forced to grow up and shoulder responsibility for once. Gâmomal on the other hand slowly breaks apart as his feelings for Wyst cause some of his defenses to crumble. The two of them make an unlikely but incredibly well-matched pair.
I have to warn you guys though. The ending is very ambiguous when it comes to the two of them having a happily ever after. Remember the ending of Ellen Kushner’s marvelous Swordspoint? If that ending made you sit up and scream that you want something more certain or absolute, this one is actually ten times more painful than that one. While I personally would consider it a positive one because of the emotional growth experienced by Wyst, you may not feel the same if you are expecting this story to follow a standard romance format. In fact, I would argue that this is fantasy with romance instead of romantic fantasy, because this one is actually Wyst’s story rather than the love story of Wyst and Gâmomal.
Apart from the weak first few chapters where it is pretty clear that the author has inserted all kinds of gratuitous sex scenes just to meet the heat quotient, Rampant is a very well-written story that has me feeling choked up now and then. The characters aren’t too much tormented and they do overdo their melodramatic flailing – the emotions feel probable, real, as a result. The setting may not be the most original, but the whole backdrop with plague and death being a constant in the lives of the two men makes the setting a most memorable and sometimes chilling one. All in all, I’d give this one my two thumbs up.