Description: When Tristan follows his boyfriend Mathias to Guardian Hill, he doesn’t expect to be made a sacrifice to the demon that dwells there. He certainly doesn’t expect to survive the experience with the demon’s help, but the fact that he does keeps drawing him back to that hill…
Impression: I loved this rich m/nb short story about a human falling in love with a demon (and the demon falling into something like love back). It felt like a vignette, a small character piece in a snapshot of time, despite covering such a broad range of emotions and a relatively long period of development. But the framing was tight—we don’t know what, if anything, eventually happens to Mathias; we don’t know what the winter brings, or if either of them do eventually experience the other’s home. What we get is a narrow focus on Tristan and the demon, on their changing relationship, and on the concept of healing in a safe place.
In some ways it’s actually conceptually about the creation of a safe place; the hill had never been safe to Tristan before this, and it was the place where Mathias betrayed and tried to kill him, but it was also the space that he knows the demon who does not want him dead is. I loved that so much of the story wasn’t just about Tristan’s fear but about his rage, about how badly he wanted not to feel that desire to kill the person who did this to him, and how he needed a place where he wouldn’t be tempted by it, and how that relief is where he can find love again.
The demon was a fascinating figure—perfectly written, really. They were an ideal knife-edge of understandable and strange, with a tendency to refer to Tristan as their devotee or offering, yet also clearly showing and feeling affection, interest, curiosity. They are cold and alarming and frightening, but undeniably safe. I felt like what they wanted was to experience things—strong flavors, rich plums and sharp onions. Strong feelings, too.
There was a bit of a fairy tale edge in this, playing with the trope of the unseen lover who comes courting and who should not be looked on, and in a way that highlights the initial power disparity between them; but I loved how, instead of stolen glances causing discord, that trust became a way of evening things out—a choice that was permitted to Tristan, and which allowed them to continue on more even ground.
Lovely stuff. I longed for more—there’s so much we don’t know!—but I don’t think there was actually room for more in the frame we got. And that’s good too. Sometimes the moment in time is the ideal, to know there is more we’re not privy to, but get to see this little bit of it.
Related Reviews: To Summon Nightmares by J.K. Pendragon