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Scarlet Blackwell

REVIEW:  Against Reason by Scarlet Blackwell

REVIEW: Against Reason by Scarlet Blackwell


He lost his heart once. Is it too damaged for love to find it again?

In the five years since the love of his life abandoned him at the altar, Jake Morgan hasn’t left his house. The locals in this small, English town have dubbed him “Mr. Havisham”, but he’s too preoccupied wrestling his demons to care about Dickensian comparisons.

Forced to admit he’s losing the battle to keep up his large estate alone, he reluctantly places an advert for help. The striking young man who answers his call shakes him to the core.

When Darius answers the ad for the position at the mysterious mansion, the bitter, lonely master of the house tugs at his heartstrings. Setting aside his own run of bad luck, Darius batters at Jake’s emotional walls with kindness and determination that defy all attempts to drive him away.

Just as tendrils of new love begin to intertwine, though, a terrible voice from the past intrudes. And threatens to drive Jake back into the shadows where Darius can never reach him.
Warning: “Great expectations” of steamy man-on-man action, mouldering wedding cake, and heartwarming romance.

Dear Scarlet Blackwell,

When I read this novella for the first time I had many issues with the characterization and plot, but I thought that the writing tugged at my emotions enough for me to enjoy it to some degree. But then I reread the story and paid more attention to writing and character details, and I unfortunately realized that I had to lower the rating to D.

The language is over the top: there is a “cock spurting fire” and a “bottom like peach”. Plus there is an instantaneous attraction when the characters meet and TSTL main character.

As the blurb tells us, Jake had basically not left his house since his partner abandoned him on his wedding day – so it is easy to figure out that Jake is not in a good mental state. Jake also thought that it would be a good idea to keep his wedding cake in his dining room during the five years after his partner left him at the altar. I think that is a pretty strong indication that Jake will need lots and lots of therapy. Jake has a health condition (OCD), but while I am aware that it can affect people differently to a degree, I felt very uncomfortable that it was mentioned initially, but then pretty much forgotten. I think his condition was another indication that he needed therapy. But rather than taking his condition seriously I thought that the story was an example of the “love heals everything” trope and I really did not like that. I did not think that Jake was ready for the relationship at all when the story ended. Here is the example of why I felt that the story treated Jake’s OCD as a plot device rather than a part of who Jake was:

“I should go.” Darius turned the key and pulled open the door. He bounded down the steps to his car and got in. As he started the engine, Jake moved slowly. He closed the door and turned the key once, forgetting his counting. Dazed, he walked to the kitchen like an automaton and checked the soup in the pan, stirring it a couple of times. Then he walked across to the living room and sat down heavily, senses scattered.”

That happens after they kissed for the first time. I mean, it is great if it made Jake forget about his counting, but I just did not buy that. There was nothing in the scene to make such a sudden change believable to me.
Jake’s attraction to Darius starts the second they meet. And I mean “the second they meet” literally.

“The wind nearly buffeted him back. The stranger lifted his face eagerly in relief. Their eyes locked, and that troublesome heart of Jake’s, battered and broken and way beyond salvation, gave a curious little leap as he gazed upon man’s face. His stomach lurched too. Warmth spread down toward his groin. He stepped back, blushing, confused as to what had just happened”.

Jake goes through angsting about whether he should hire Darius or not, then when he hires Darius, he goes through angsting about whether to have sex with him or not – all of those emotional things just felt so fake to me, especially because everything was happening within just a few days.

Considering that I usually do not care for “love heals everything” stories at all, it is telling that my main problem with this novella was not even this trope. No, my main issue with this book was Darius. I could not shake off the impression that the author wanted me to believe that Darius was a good guy, and I instead had a mental picture of him as an ass of the highest order. When Jake is accusing Darius of using him because he needs a place to stay, Darius denies it, gets upset, etc. And I kept thinking – wait a second, did you or did you not say just a several pages ago that you would not mind using your employer because you needed a place to stay and basically if flirting would do it, that would be fine with you? Apparently trading sexual favors would be too much for Darius, but making sure Jake was interested and wanted to keep him close was totally okay.

Was I expected to forget Darius’ thoughts about that?

And then we have Darius’ doing his thing closer to the end of the story. The word “cruel” does not even begin to describe what he did in my opinion – it really goes into a very spoilerish territory so here it is under the cut:

Spoiler (Spoiler): Show

Jake’s ex shows up and wants Jake to take him back and Jake seems undecided, so Darius shows Mark Jake’s dining room with the wedding cake and wedding presents from five years ago. Mark starts laughing but still wants to get back together. Jake throws both of them out.
And Jake forgives Darius after month of agonizing when Darius catches him (before Jake decides to go to Nova Scotia and be a recluse there), which would have been fine, if I had seen the slightest sign that the man changed and but I really never saw that.

I wanted to reiterate that I did not feel that Jake himself was ready for any sort of relationship especially because he hesitated so much over whom he should choose to have a lasting relationship with, not deciding till the book was almost over. I thought that Jake taking Darius back was a sign of massive stupidity, instead of the everlasting love the story was trying to sell to me.
I cannot recommend this one.

Grade: D.

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REVIEW: Various Novellas That Caught My Fancy

REVIEW: Various Novellas That Caught My Fancy

I read a lot of novellas or stories that are even shorter than that. Torquere, for instance, regularly puts out stories that are 10 pages, or 20, or 30, but I don’t bother requesting them because how could I justify a review? But I figure if I review 3-4 shorts in one post, then I wouldn’t have to try to say too much about a short story and I could review more of them. Because I very much enjoy short little stories I can read in one sitting. When they’re done right.

So here goes:

Vampire's Prisoner“Vampire’s Prisoner” by Scarlet Blackwell. Torquere Press. $2.99. 61 pages.
Alex Somerville is a thoroughly unpleasant individual in late Victorian England who wants fame and fortune from writing a paper about vampires, so buys one from a newspaper ad. The vampire, Rafael LeFevre arrives caged but damaged, having been exposed to the sun on his captive journey. Alex feeds the vampire blood from a supply from the local medical college and watches while he gets better. He falls heavily in lust, despite fucking his servant Jonathan rather comprehensively. Rafael seduces him, tops him, comprehensively fucks him…and the rest is for the story to tell. Alex is an asshole, Rafael is inscrutable, Jonathan has depth that is never explored. The sex is hot and consciously tinged with class-based D/s that could be much hotter if its implications were fully explored. But the ending is unsatisfying precisely because it feels truncated. Short stories or novellas are difficult to get right, and this is an example of a story that should have been longer. Although it’s probably worth $3 for the hot, D/s-inflected sex.
Grade: C

The Cellmate“Cellmate” by Rachel West. Dreamspinner Press. $3.99. 75 pages.
I was intrigued by the premise of “The Cellmate”: Andy’s first night in jail for drunk driving is unexpectedly interrupted by his cellmate entering his bed and having sex with him. It’s not rape because Jesse explicitly asks and Andy explicitly agrees. But Jesse claims he’s not gay until he tells Andy the reason he’s in jail in the first place: he pled guilty to raping the man who had actually date-raped him (it’s complicated and well-explained in the story). Andy and Jesse fall in love, have a grand old time in jail with a magically-replenishing stash of condoms, until Jesse’s released. Andy then magically makes up with everyone in the whole world, finally gets out himself and he and Jesse live HEA. For some completely messed up reason, I like prison stories, especially m/m prison. And while I know that they’re complete fantasies, I like them to be a LITTLE more true to life than this. The fact that they’re in jail with the privations and loss of privacy is never really dealt with in any realistic way. When he tells his story, Andy reveals himself to be an utter asshole and I couldn’t really find it in me to wish him an HEA, let alone the ending he does receive. Yes, he realized the error of his ways, etc., but the unbelievability of the ending (prisoners can’t earn money from anything they produce while in prison, for example, and sentences like his are rarely commuted, no matter what the victim says) stretched my willingness to believe in anything else the story was trying to sell me.
Grade: D

Nap Size“The Bank Job” by Lisa Worrall. Dreamspinner Press. $2.99. 45 pages.
Rob is discontented with his life. He’s stuck in a dead end job as a bank teller in Wilmington. The only bright spot is his new boyfriend. On just another day at work, his bank is held up by a robber who not only successfully robs all the people and the bank, but also finds time to fuck Rob senseless. This is a cute little story but could be much cuter in execution in the hands of a more skilled writer. There’s a lot of telling, not showing, and a lot of pointless dialogue that could be a little more sparkling. I enjoyed the idea and some of the writing, but could see it being more well-written.
Grade: C

Like I said, short stories/novellas are difficult to pull off right. They’re an opportunity to play around with some cool plot bunnies that might not work in a longer story. But still, difficult to do right.

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

Editorial note: I swear that the image associated with The Bank Job is what appears on the Dreamspinner website.