ImaJinn Books, $15.00, ISBN 0-9759653-5-2
Mixed Genre Romance, 2005
The Journey Home is a charity anthology. The authors involved in this anthology will donate half their royalty to Support Our Soldiers America, Inc. Therefore, it is somewhat appropriate that this anthology revolves around military heroes. Don’t worry, this is not a flag-waving anthology. I will be writing a review of a completely different tone if it were.
Patricia Rice kicks off the show with Home Is Where the Heart Is. Set in 1970, this story revolves around Thomas, a soldier who doesn’t know what to do once he’s come back from Vietnam. He talks to his dead friend Horace in his mind, he doesn’t know whether he should go his parents’ place, he’s just… lost. However, Horace will prod him to go back home and right into the young woman he once loved, Penny. Alas, Penny is getting married soon so Thomas has to make his move or he will lose her again. This story is a little too sentimental for me but I confess that I am moved to wipe at a tear once during this story. Okay, twice, but that’s all, really.
In Linda Madl’s Heart Crossings, a medium Amanda Sherman is bullied by her stepsisters into performing seance sessions for money. It’s 1918. Poor Amanda is in pain over having to charge people for her gift, although I have no idea what her alternative plans to make a living are. Maybe she’d prefer to sleep on the road and starve to death while giving free honest readings to passers-by? At any rate, she gets one fellow walking through the door, a soldier named Brian Mason, who wants to contact his twin sister Bethany. He doesn’t believe her, naturally. Amanda finally leaves her stepsisters, although she is saved from having to tax her delicate thinking skills to come up with a no doubt disastrous plan to make a living when Brian agrees to marry her at the end. Thus another heroine is saved from having to think.
Rebecca York’s A Hero’s Welcome is a futuristic short story set “four months after the Dorie-Farlian war” on a planet called Thindar. Former soldier Ben-Linkman has sunk most of his severance pay into a farmland that he’s been given for his efforts in that Dorie-Farlian war. He’s told that the farm is a hopeless case since it’s impossible to make the farm productive again but Link is banking on his luck to prove the naysayers wrong. However, when he bumps into his old friend Kasimanda whose people were the very ones his people fought against and won, things become more complicated than he’d expected. Kasimanda has nowhere else to go since she has no living family relative after the war and she has no option but to ask Link for a temporary place to stay. Link has issues over his wounded leg and his worthiness when it comes to Kasi. The usual, really. This is a very noticeable post-Civil War romance story (he’s the Yank, she’s the Southern belle) transported into a distant planet in the distant future. This one is a very readable story if rather predictable. The main characters talk, don’t indulge too many silly misunderstandings, and Kasi has a more reasonable perspective about the war than I’d expect given how much she’d lost.
Mallory Kane’s The Better Man is set in 1864. The author is too fond of ellipses for my liking but this is a pretty touching story of a soldier who dreams of being rescued from an Union prison by his brother. Jared confesses to his brother Rob that he has been in love with Christianne for a long time now. Chrissy, unfortunately, is Rob’s wife. An astute reader can probably guess where this story is heading towards but I admit I have a tear in my eye when I’m done with it. Yeah, yeah, I’m a sap but if you read this story, you will probably understand how it gets to me so well. The Better Man is unabashedly sentimental but it’s sentimental in a way that works too well where I’m concerned.
The Sacrifice by CB Scott is a fantasy short story where it is common for women to make some kind of personal sacrifice to the witches in some mountainous place called Minerva in order to ensure the safe return of their loved ones who are currently in the battlefield. Kiara McNair’s husband Aedon is one of these men. Kiara believes that she will feel it inside her heart when Aedon dies so she refuses to believe that he is dead when the King orders her to marry her supposedly dead husband’s second-in-command. This story is way too melodramatic and the characters are so intent of being as extremely self-depreciatory as possible (Kiara, especially) that I can only shudder with relief when this story finally ends.
Diane Chamberlain’s The Dreamer sees Brian Meyerson who, after losing a leg in the first Gulf War and getting plenty of guilt on his conscience, is given a chance to change things in the past to ensure that he gets to keep the love of his life Cindy Gold. Except, in this story, I have no idea why I’m supposed to care. In fact, Brian gets his second chance only because a secondary character wants to change time and gets his life changed for the better. Brian’s just a lucky fellow in this case.
Lucy Grijalva’s Shadow of the Rose is a romantic short story set in the Tudor days, when Sir Thomas Kelham wants to avenge the death of his mentor King Richard III. He gets sidetracked by Lady Cecily Bowen, the widow of a fellow supporter of King Richard III. However, a skirmish with an enemy soldier who tries to attack Cecily ends up with Thomas accidentally stabbing her with his sword right after she saves his life. As Thomas now desperately nurses a feverish Cecily, to his surprise he starts hearing a disembodied voice eerily similar to Cecily’s. As he nurses the feverish and unresponsive Cecily, he begins talking to this voice and in the process discovers much about himself and her. I think I love this story the best because the characters really talk in a way that shows me just how much they begin to care for each other. The emotions feel raw and real here. Who is this author and where can I get her longer books?
Catherine Asaro’s The Shadowed Heart is next and it’s, of course, a fantasy short story. Our hero Harrick is an empath Jagernaut – he flies those super spacecrafts that can shoot laser and all – who is the sole survivor of a mission that claimed the lives of his fellow empath squadron members. By right, these empaths are so closely linked that they would prefer to die together. However, Harrick survives and he’s now living alone and searching through the wreckage of the spacecrafts, looking for… something. Our heroine Rhose scavenges wreckages of spacecrafts that have crashed around the now desolate planet colony for fuel. She has strayed too far out of her planned route so it’s dark when she tries to get back home. Realizing that she’s safer among the wreckages rather than making her way back and braving the outlaws and what-not that will come out to play once the sun sets, she settles down among the scrap metal to make herself comfortable. Guess who she comes across. This story is part of and set in the same setting as the author’s Skolian Empire series, by the way. I have only one thing to say about this story: when Ms Asaro is not trying too hard to make her stories more “romantic” in a self-conscious manner for the masses, the end result is fabulous. Even if I try to tell myself that Harrick is going to be okay since this is after all a romantic short story in an anthology that seems to be marketed towards romance readers, I am genuinely terrified that Harrick and Rhose won’t make it as a couple. Harrick is fantastic as a very realistic and tragic soldier wounded both in body and mind while Rhose is a pretty fine heroine in her own right. What makes this story really work is that while it is a love story, Ms Asaro doesn’t follow the typical conventions of the romance genre so this story is exciting. The storyline isn’t new – Robocop, anyone? – but the story is nonetheless gripping and ultimately most satisfying to read.
Candice Kohl’s Another Man’s Shoes is a historical short story set in 1779. In Georgia, there’s a war going on between the English and the Georgians and our English hero Nicholas Sutcliffe survives where many don’t in Spring Hill. He comes across a dying man who kicks the bucket after telling Nicholas about going home to his wife Annie. It turns out that the dead soldier’s name is Nicholas Gnann. Nicholas plans to assume this man’s identity but the ultimate decision whether or not he finally wants to do this is taken out of his hands when he is shipped among the wounded to the town of Ebenezer where Annie Gnann is looking for her husband in the very hospice where Nicholas is currently detained. No, before you say that you have seen the movie if you haven’t read the book as well, I should point out that Annie doesn’t mistake this Nicholas for her husband nor does he pretend to be her husband. This story is more about fate and destiny bringing him and Annie together.
Annie’s character is a little vague since this story is told entirely from Nicholas’ point of view but egad, I’d marry this Nicholas myself if Annie doesn’t want him. He is so nice, for the want of a better word, in the tradition of lonely drifters who are hardworking and good men that are looking for the love of a good woman who would have them. I could have melted on the floor when he tells Annie that he’d go wherever she goes and that he chooses her over his king and country. The only downside to this story is Ms Kohl’s simplistic demonisation of the British which isn’t really necessary.
And finally, Mary Jo Putney closes the anthology. Before I proceed, I should point out that Mary Jo Putney’s contribution, The Stargazer’s Familiar, isn’t new. It originally showed up in the fantasy anthology A Constellation of Cats back in 2001. The author notes that she wrote this story initially as a foil for the more serious short stories in the DAW anthology. It must be her way of warning the readers of her historical romances because this particular short story is about cats. Yes, cats. And the story is told in first person by Leo, the familiar of the unnamed magician called the Stargazer. The Stargazer has recently shacked up with a woman referred by Leo simply as the Lady (it turns out that her name is Serena), and the Lady has a tabby cat Melisande who catches Leo’s tomcat eye. Both Serena and Melisande are expecting, a fact that the villainous Lord Klothe uses as leverage to force the Stargazer to work out the astrological logistics needed to allow Klothe to come up with the most fool-proof plan to assassinate the King. Can Leo save the day? Of course he does, in a grand Disney movie way as well, only with some gratuitous pain and violence that Walt Disney may not approve. This is a very short story with no romantic agenda and, come to think of it, no clear military theme that will allow The Stargazer’s Familiar to blend in with the other stories. Still, it’s a charming tale and it allows the anthology to end on a high note.
I find The Journey Home is an overall pretty enjoyable anthology with many of the stories making me tear up a little inside. When a story is good, it’s really good while most of the ones that don’t cut it are still readable enough.