I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of epic fantasy. Being subjected to ye fakey olde tymey language is like being dragged to the Ren Faire on a bad first date by a guy who insists on wearing full Klingon battle armor. (Not that such a thing ever happened to me…) So I started reading this anthology with some reticence. Thankfully, while I’m sure they will please true fans of epic fantasy quests, overall the stories were a delight to read even for this non-fan.
There aren’t as many stories in this anthology as there are in the typical erotica anthology because introducing a reader to a world with different rules and customs than exist in a contemporary setting takes longer, but that also gives you more time to settle into the story and let it take you away, which is a nice change. Each story takes place in a unique world. And while each involves a quest, the focus is on what happens when two (or more) people find themselves transformed through sex.
Encounter at the Lonely Dragon by Elinor Gray is set before the quest begins for these characters. Former lovers Gavin, a mage, and Ren, a rouge, are reunited after a past quest ended badly. The tavern keeper slyly (but meaning well) tricks the men to share lodgings for the night. Ex-sex may feel right at the time, but in the harsh light of the morning, it’s not so easy for Gavin to shake years of doubt.
I really enjoyed Orin’s Strand by Vivien Jackson. A young seer witch knows what’s at stake if she seizes momentary happiness in this bittersweet but compelling tale of tempting, or perhaps rewriting, fate. Really nicely told.
Paget is a female knight in Paget and the Princess by Kierstin Cherry. Paget has been sworn to protect the princesses’ virtue. That’s no easy task when the princess wants Paget. The leader of the guard tries to ignore the increasingly disheveled states he keeps discovering them in, but can’t when it becomes apparent to everyone what’s going on.
The Place Where Heroes Are Made by Sarah Ellis had some of the same melancholy tone as Orin’s Stand. Heroes stop at Kailie’s tavern for a last warm meal and good bed before heading out on perilous quests. Her family has been seeing off heroes for generations. Now that their land has been ravaged by war, it needs to preserve the bloodlines of those heroes even more. A nervous young hero setting out on his first quest, from which he might not return, is offered comfort and the experienced ministrations of the lady of the house.
In Crystalline Sorcery by Julie Cox, Heid accompanies the elven priestess Samed on a special quest as guard, protector, and something more. Heid’s non-normative body has made it difficult for her to have lovers, so she’s very surprised when Samed suggests they literally make magic together. Imagine, if you will, a sort of magical elven feeldoe…
I was a bit confused by the ending of Andrea Trask’s Flings and Arrows. Perhaps I missed the point of the quest as I was reading, but scanning through the story a second time didn’t make it any clearer, so I wasn’t sure what the ending meant to the ritual. That may not bother other readers but it drove me nuts. The story wasn’t bad, but I was also a bit confused if the ending was supposed to be good or bad because I wasn’t sure what Alleria wanted. She seemed to want whichever man she was with, and that’s fine. It’s even fine to want both. But I couldn’t even figure out if she were sad or happy or terrified at the end. Maybe everyone else will only read it for the sex and be satisfied.