Blind Eye Books, $15.95, ISBN 978-0-9789861-0-0
Tangle is a fantasy anthology, only with the main characters that happen to be gay. This is not an erotic romance anthology so don’t look for explicit love scenes here. However, many of the stories here featuring guys who are embarking on or in a gay romantic relationship so I suppose one can also view Tangle as a romantic fantasy anthology. As with most anthologies, the quality of the stories here are a mixed bag.
I am not sure how to go about with this review because there are ten stories here (Astrid Amara contributed two) and eight of the stories are short enough that even giving capsule reviews of these stories would give away every thing in those stories. Maybe I will just give my general impressions on the stories?
On the whole, this is a pretty good and easy to read anthology. Even the weakest story – personally, that would be Astrid Amara’s Lord Ronan’s Shoes because of its pointless misogynistic overtones and a romance that relies on an unbelievable personality transformation of one of the heroes – is readable. However, my favorite stories of the bunch would be those that do not try so hard to conform to the romantic steampunk formula.
Steven Adamson’s Monument, for example, is an interesting story of an attempt by our hero to have a romantic moonlight date (and hopefully nookie) with his boyfriend, with an underlying theme about dealing with one’s sexuality and staying in the closet. Jesse Sandoval’s Los Conversos is a thing of beauty in itself and I love how the understated the whole story feels despite its frequent use of over-the-top hyperbolic concepts. The shortest story in the anthology, Tenea D Johnson’s Release in A Minor, is quite impressive in how the author practices stringent economy with her words and yet comes up with a story that is interesting and feels complete.
Moons of Blood and Amber by Gene Mederos and The Lost Gentleman by Mark Allan Gunnells are formulaic, even clichéd, love stories filled with wildly emo gay characters for whom nothing is too over the top. I am not sure what to make of Astrid Amara’s two contributions here. They are readable, but what is it with the author’s fondness of making a male character choosing dramatically to be gay, often at the expense of a straight woman? I come across this theme very often in fanfiction and I hate to see this theme recurring often in supposedly more professional works of fiction. Lord Ronan’s Shoes is especially guilty in this respect, especially given that the poor woman is driven to being bitter over being stuck with a husband that preferred to stick it to members of his own sex. And yet the man gets a happy ending that is completely undeserved as he did nothing to attain that happy ending! Astrid Amara’s other story, Remember, is a longer and more imaginative story than the trite and banal Lord Ronan’s Shoes, but I’m also not too fond of the whole ditch-the-woman love-the-gay-man theme in the story.
The two longer stories are Crossing the Distance by Erin McKay and Feral Machines by Ginn Hale. I’m disappointed by Erin McKay’s story as it comes off like a pastiche of mind bonds, destiny, rival kingdoms, and other fantasy romance clichés only with a dose of gay boys added to the mix. Ginn Hale’s story of a man trying to survive in an untamed planet only to end up falling for a Robocop-type half-human android he bought to assist him is much better, although I wish the author hasn’t gone that much with the whole sweet I-love-you you-love-me muah-muah-muah thing towards the end. But Ms Hale isn’t the only one guilty of making her characters display emotions to the point that I cringe from the mawkishness of it all. Jeremiah Job Levine’s The Coming of the Fourth Dawn has characters that never fail to call each other terms of endearment and acting all sweet and kissy-kissy when they have some quiet time on their own. And the two men are supposed to be hardened mercenaries, not teenage sweethearts!
Still, despite the varying quality of the stories and my equally varied reactions to them, Tangle is a pretty entertaining fantasy anthology on the whole. There is probably one too many stories here written in the “steampunk/sci-fi only with gay men” formula for my liking, but there are also enough stories that try to be different to balance those more formulaic stories out. This is worth taking a look if you’re interesting in stepping your toes into the world of gay speculative fiction.