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…
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Categories: Non-binary (genderfluid), Trans, Royalty & Nobility, Arranged Marriage
Content Warnings: N/A
Buy it at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Less Than Three Press
Description: When Prince Ernest unexpectedly becomes King Ernest, he quickly finds that it’s lonely at the top — until the appointment of his new court jester, Drel, gives him some company. But he quickly finds himself deeply attracted to them. Would an affair with the Court Jester weaken his reign? Or can they find a way to make it strengthen it instead?
I think I probably picked up Long Macchiatos and Monsters by Alison Evans during one of the sales; when I was flipping through my kindle on Thursday to look for something to read, I saw the title and couldn’t remember anything about it, but hey, I’m always in the mood for monsters, so why not? Spoilers: There aren’t any monsters in this novelette, but it didn’t matter that it ran counter to what I thought I was in the mood for, because the charming feel of the writing drew me in almost immediately.
Jalen loves B-grade sci-fi movies, and does not share this trait with any of their friends. They’re sitting in their favorite coffee shop trying to side if they should go alone to the theatre to catch a double feature of really bad films when in walks the handsome (and he knows it) P. They catch each other’s eye, and the story follows a series of experiences they share over the next three months.
It’s a shortish piece, falling somewhere in length between a short story and a novella, and written in first person present tense. It was an unusual choice, but it worked for me because the story itself is very immediate and in the moment; it’s essentially a series of vignettes that trace the start of a relationship through the point of view of one of the participants.
Both characters are different in the ways they’re similar. They both like monster movies, but Jalen likes the sincerity of them, and P enjoys being horrified by them. They both aren’t their assigned gender; Jalen is nonbinary and P is binary trans. They both like coffee, but Jalen likes lattes and P likes macchiatos (and both think the other’s drink is gross). They’re both amputees—Jalen lost several fingers as a child, and P has a prosthetic leg… and they share many other similar differences as well. This may sound like a list of traits, but the story uses it as a motif to spin development between the two characters, the places where they relate and where they don’t, the things they want to learn about each other, the places where similarities immediately spike both understanding and anxiety. All these traits are ways for the two to play off each other, find the rough spots and the smooth ones, without the storytelling of it ever being made overt or hamfisted. There’s very much a theme about understanding identity by building a picture out of small things— without giving the details away, I feel like scene with the strawberry ice cream ties it all together perfectly.
Likewise, the story is about public and private spaces. Location is very important in it, and a lot of the individual scenes play off the mood and setting built in different places. Jalen’s messy apartment they share with their sister, P’s tidy and empty “display home”, and how these places change when it’s just the two of them versus when family comes over. The movie theatre if you’re intending to watch a movie, and the movie theatre if you’re intending not to be watching. A coffee shop you go to alone and one you go to with someone. Again, since this is both about the characters’ understanding of their own identity (“Do you ever wonder if you’re wrong?” “I’m never wrong.” “I wonder all the time.”) and about how identity is understood outside oneself, the constant redefining of spaces in the story is a beautifully played motif.
I found Jalen a really engaging pov character. Their sense of anxiety and frequent second-guessing is balanced by a deliberate willingness to take chances, and their mental voice is philosophical without being pretentious and has a good sense of wit to it. (Speaking of which, the line where Jalen acknowledges that P is acting super pretentious, and is both amused and horrified by how attracted they were to that really set the tone of the story to me). Conversely, P is a bit of an enigma due to Jalen being the pov. There are a lot of scenes where Jalen doesn’t know the specifics of what’s happening with him even if they get the general idea, and while as a reader this was occasionally frustrating—I wanted to know more about P too!—it fit the story’s theme of trying to learn. Some of the points still feel like a loose thread, but I’m torn on if that bothers me or not, given the shape of what Evans is doing here.
The biggest critical note I have is that the flow of the scenes was occasionally difficult to follow, and some of the shorter segments had a different tone to them than the ones around it, so I found myself rereading certain pages to make sure I understood what the switch was doing there and where/when the characters were now. In general, though, I found it a really nicely written short piece, a three month slice of two characters’ lives and how they intersected, and I felt that although I’d have liked to see more, what fit in the story worked well with the time period Evans defined.
The Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon is the story of teenage Jack Bishop, whose epilepsy ends up with him put into an experimental program to try to cure him. Unexpectedly (to say the least), this causes him to travel back in time and find himself in the body of 1920s teenage girl, Jaqueline. But as Jack repeatedly jumps between time periods, losing stretches of time along the way, things get complicated in both the past, with a prohibition-era self-proclaimed prophet ruling the town by violence, and in the present (or is it?), as his actions cause rippling repercussions…
Overall, I found this a delightful read with a great narrator and a strong theme of identity. Moving between time periods (both in the “past”, and by the way losing time caused him to have to resettle in his life without knowing what’s gone on in it) and bodies brings up a strong theme about how identity itself is experiential. The situations you live through in both different time periods and different bodies: both affect your identity. Jack’s narrative voice grows and evolves throughout as a result of this variety of experiences.
There’s a lot of disconnect and skipping in the book. Both as Jack and as Jac, the protagonist finds that he ‘returns’ to whichever time to find that life has literally gone on without him. The changes in the world and technology aside, he comes back to Jack (for example) to find that he’s gone through puberty, or got a girlfriend, or got a job. All of which he didn’t remember, because the Jack who did it wasn’t him—or was, but was living life as a Jack who was separate in time. The story starts out fairly straightforward and linear and gets more disconnected and jagged the longer Jack spends in a different time and body, or the more Jack goes back to reset things. I liked this quite a bit because the disconnect is deliberate and plays well into the sense of being about an experience, learning things by living them, not by understanding how they’ve developed.
The only way I was drawn out of the story is that at several key decision points (both in the romance and in the plot), we don’t see Jack’s POV on why he’s making a decision to act. We just see the dialogue around it, or a skip to it happening. We’re in Jack’s POV throughout the story and hear a constant entertaining self-deprecating dialogue, so these moments really stood out to me. We’re experiencing so many discoveries along with Jack that not seeing the mental decisions to take those steps makes it feel very blank in comparison to what we’re reading the rest of the time. I feel it may be deliberate, to play around with the concept of disconnect/skipping/experience, but since we’re solidly in a time/setting/body and are seeing thoughts leading up to that and right after the relevant story-driving decisions are made, the lack of seeing Jack make those steps felt odd to me.
Overall, a fun adventure with great characters and a solid theme. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next Time Guardians book will have to offer.