Three wonderful authors bring us suspense filled stories that make the hair on the back of our necks slowly rise. Gothika #3, Claw, shines a light on the dark and hidden wolf-like creatures that our nightmares are made of and our hearts seek to love. Each story gives us a unique perspective on a tried and true paranormal trope. This collection was exciting and one not to be missed.
Isolation by Jamie Fessenden
Jaime Fessenden explores the power of nature and our desire to be one with it. In his story, Isolation, we meet Sean, who had left the young man he loved more than anything else behind and gave in to the deep-seated fears that being gay was simply the wrong way to be. Having lived all his formative years with homophobes and racists, Sean caved and turned his back on the one thing that made him happy, his best friend, Jack.
After four years of an empty marriage, Sean returns home to find Jack and hopefully pick up where they left off. But Jack has changed, and while he may still love Sean, he knows there is a near impenetrable gulf that now exists between them. He must prove to Jack that he is willing to give up everything in order to convince Jack to take a second chance on loving him. Sean must somehow show Jack that he can be the person Jack needs him to be. The only problem is the woods are calling to Jack and Sean must be willing to give up a huge piece of himself in order to be with Jack forever.
This story is left a bit open-ended at the end but full of hope. When Jack’s secret is exposed, Sean has a huge choice to make. He has come back to find that the man he once loved is no longer the same person. While the love may remain, a life together is no longer certain.
Isolation was an incredible short story. It began with all pistons charged, emotionally intense, and only grew exponentially as the story unfolded. Sean came home imagining that Jack would have remained in almost a frozen stasis. What he failed to understand was that while he was gone, Jack had turned to the one place he’d always felt comforted, the one thing that he had always loved when he lost the boy he thought was the love of his life. Fessenden unwraps, in short order, both the mystery that surrounds Jack and just how far Sean must go to prove that he still loves this mountain man. Steeped in tenderness and uncertainty, the characters hold such mystical appeal that I felt myself smiling sweetly at the end of the story. Once more this author proves he can create compelling characters and surround them with a fascinating plot that keeps you enthralled to the end.
Rating: 5 stars
Transformation by Kim Fielding
Transformation by Kim Fielding is the second offering in the Claw anthology. Once more centered on wolves, this story takes us back to what seems to be the turn-of-the-century where homesteaders were making their livelihood off the land and being gay was out of the question. Disgraced and sent away by his father, Orris is then taken in by his brother Samuel. The most tolerant brother of the family, Samuel gives his brother a second chance. But they are in remote territory, and despite his brother assuring him that he could travel into Portland to have his needs met, there is little chance for any encounters, much less a relationship with another man for Orris.
While scrabbling out an existence is tough enough, there are now wild wolves roaming the area and killing the livestock. However, despite the real fear of encountering the wild beasts, once Orris catches sight of one wolf in particular, he finds himself inexplicably drawn to the beast.
When Samuel is asked to use his meager doctoring skills to help out a neighbor, Orris discovers that finding a man that shares his own proclivities was not as difficult as he once thought.
In many ways, I found Orris and his transformation from a frightened and downtrodden man into one who was willing to give everything up in order to be who he was going to be a true inspiration. In a time when being different in any way was dangerous and isolating, Orris found himself and the strength to give up everything that was safe to embrace his destiny.
This was a transformative story that clung to the ideal that we are all created equal and have the right to be happy.
Rating: 4.5 stars
The Black Dog by Eli Easton
The final story in the Claw anthology is The Black Dog by Eli Easton. Set on the Scottish moors in a remote town, a vicious creature that is said to take the form of a larger than life black dog has recently killed some livestock. On the trail of the mysterious legend supposedly come to life, Constable Hayden MacLairty comes in contact with a well known author, Simon Corto, who is also investigating the long lived story. As the attacks and sightings become more frequent, Simon and Hayden are thrown together again and again and each time, the normally reserved Hayden finds himself aroused and interested in the American writer. But changes are afoot for both men and the black dog is on the prowl. Now it only remains to be seen if both men survive the nightmare terrorizing the small town and find the space to let love bloom.
I so enjoy this author. Eli Easton creates such palpably real characters and is a master at finding the gentle spirit within her men while maintaining their masculinity. The added supernatural element and the town secret made this story a nail biter and a swift read. Wrapped in action and suspense, The Black Dog hid a gem of a tender, slow moving love story inside its many layers. It was just a lovely story all the way round.
Rating: 5 stars
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.