The Sacrifice and Other Stories by Kim Fielding gives us a glimpse of the wonderful fantasies this author so loves to produce. On top of giving two new never before published tales, the author wants us to know that all proceeds from this collection will go to benefit Doctors Without Borders and so it is no surprise that the theme of healing runs throughout this novel. Below is a short review of each individual story and at last an overall rating for the entire collection.
While admittedly the shortest of all, this little gem packed a huge emotional punch. A temple slave is given to each “sacrifice” the night prior to their death. Unlike the title, the man chosen to be offered up is not guaranteed a quick end; in fact, there is real evidence in this short story that the temple guards or “Masters” are barbaric and fond of torturing their prey. When Rylo is chosen to give pleasure to the unfortunate Ohron, little does he know that this man, one of countless many he has had to serve, will be the catalyst for change and the possibility of a new life.
I was sucked into this story from the onset. It was over too quickly and yet, interestingly, it was just enough to be a most satisfying read. I loved Rylo from his quiet acceptance of a hellish existence to his compassionate responses to a stranger who should have been just one more violation to endure. When these two men come together, it’s not the wild passion that makes them so captivating, but the sure knowledge that they are meant to be with each other. Insta-love at its best—this is where The Sacrifice really scores big. Rating: 5 stars
From the onset this story confused me. I didn’t initially get a sense of the time frame this one was set in and because of it I was unsure whether we were in the early eighteenth century or in an alternate realm. While I did read the forward and was aware that these stories were fantasy based, I would have liked a hint as to the fact that this one was set in a fantasy world since train rides were juxtaposed with dragon-pulled wagons. Once I got past the dragons and imps, I settled in for a magical ride that never really evolved. This story clashed with itself—rambling between a land of fantastical creatures and a realistic love story set in an era where such was looked upon as “deviant.”
Sickly young Julian Massey has been sent by his parents to a secluded seaside town to spend his summer in a rental cottage. With no help and a healthy walk into town to garner food and supplies, Julian is left to his own devices. When a stranger blows up on shore and he takes him in to nurse him back to health, Julian must call on an inner strength he never knew he had. Once Kit reveals exactly who he is, Julian realizes that to be with this man who has captured his heart could mean his own life being cut short by pirates set on recapturing the swashbuckling sword for hire. Determined to save Kit from a fate that may finally take his life once and for all, Julian sends him away and faces the pirates on his own.
I was glad for the slow growth and strength that transpired within Julian—moving him from a bit of a whiny Mama’s boy to a lover worth having. However, this story spent too much time inside Julian’s head, leaving us very little page space to get to know Kit or what drove him to lead the life he did. Plus the ending to this one left me shaking my head as Julian was willing to take Kit home to a hostile father and an existence that surely meant they would need to hide who they really were and their love for each other for a few years. All in all this one stretched the realm of believability even for a fantasy story. Rating: 2.5 stars
Three Wishes, much like The Sacrifice, was sparse in page length but packed full of emotion and pathos. I immediately fell in love with Xolani. His desire to simply leave the army he was forced into serving and leave behind the endless killing was so painfully realistic that even a genie in a bottle could not dampen the believability of this short story. Plus the idea of a humble and gentle genie—one who lives to serve and is compassionate versus arrogant, was such a delightful departure from the norm that I also instantly fell hard for Tendaji and his sweet composure. I also appreciated that the “costs” associated with the three wishes were not devastating but rather realistic and ones that a sweet simple man like Xolani was able to endure and even rise above. This was a love story that wrapped you up in its simplicity and left your heart warm and happy. Rating: 4.5 stars
Horrific and devastating war has been all that Volos has known. With mixed races in his blood, part of his heritage has been the cause of war between his new home land and his former for years. However, he has thrown in all allegiance to the country that his mother called her home in part to wreak vengeance on those who killed his family. While his King respects his mixed heritage, his son prince Berhanu does not and so, when Volos is asked by the King to accompany his son on a peace treaty trip, it is the Prince himself who forces the King to find another interpreter and guard. Now the Prince has been captured by a third warring party and his guard is slain and Volos is once again asked to go, but now it is on a near suicide mission to rescue the Prince. This time, he will be alone and if captured it will not only mean the death of the Prince but his own as well. Can Volos rescue Berhanu in time? More importantly, can he do so without the Prince becoming aware of the feelings Volos has hidden for the man for so long?
Unguarded is a tense and dangerous story of capture and rescue. In this novella, Kim Fielding takes an unflinching view of what it means to be held captive, tortured, raped and beaten within an inch of your life all in the blink of an eye. There were some rough scenes in this story—most of which could prove to be a trigger for those who have experienced past abuse. However, they were short in duration and integral to the story overall and were done in such a way as to convey the horror of being held as a pawn in a deadly war. The recovery of the Prince and his subsequent dealing with the trauma he experienced was not rushed and done so well as to make this a most believable story. Volos and his undying loyalty rang fiercely true, down to his walking away when the Prince needed him too in order to give Berhanu the space needed to heal both mentally and physically.
Unguarded was one of my favorites stories in this collection, not only for the love bond that was created by these two warriors, but also because of the gritty realism so carefully detailed to convey the raw nature of the relationship between Volos and Berhanu. It was also the vehicle to introduce a genuinely kind and fascinating side character, innkeeper, Mato. His story is detailed in the next story, Mato’s Tale. Rating: 4.5 stars
I am not sure what to say about this very short tale other than it was an instance of insta-love that was fairly weak and unbelievable to boot. The story is brief—a journey where Mato is invited to Volos and Berhanu’s wedding and escorted by a guard from the palace. A guard who is from the very race that Mato’s own has warred against for so long. As they make the several days’ journey to the castle, Mato is struck again and again by how different the land is in comparison to his humble village. Feeling lost and out of place, the guard does his best to quell Mato’s fears and somehow falls in love with him at the same time.
While I appreciate author Kim Fielding giving this character his own little story the dramatic change in his personality felt forced and just wrong. In Unguarded, Mato was confident, flirty and strong. He did not hesitate to help Volos and his strength actually aided Volos when he felt the rescue may be impossible. In Mato’s Tale, Mato becomes the complete opposite of who he was. Instead of a flirty, strong innkeeper, we have one who is embarrassed by his inn, his mother and yes, his village. Along with that, all his self worth is thrown into doubt all because of a retinue of shiny guards from the palace? No, by the end of this short story, I simply wanted the original Mato back and the love interest to drift away. Rating: 2.5 stars
Oh how I loved this novella—so very much. The Downs were, in effect, the ends of the earth—a place where a recurring fog brought with it the power to burn the flesh from a man’s body and the very forest one lived in was deadly in so many ways. Yet here there lived a small village of people who were kind and loyal to a fault. However the city dwellers who lived above ground and away from the Downs used the place as a means of punishment for those found guilty of crimes. Branded, beaten and violated, prisoners were hurled over the edge into the Downs where many died from the fall alone. But if the healers of the village were able to get to them in time, before the fog or fall killed them, then they were nursed back to health and remained there to begin a new life.
Here is where Enitan finds himself after his sister has him imprisoned for the death of their father–a crime he did not commit. When Rig finds him and nurses him back to life, the one thing he cannot cure Enitan of is his bitter need for revenge against his sister. Now, on the cusp of finding love for the first time in his life, Enitan must decide to leave Rig and return to the surface for revenge or embrace the man who is offering a lifetime of love.
I cannot begin to express how incredible both Enitan and Rig were and how their slow burning story of love and healing was just exquisite to read. Nothing was rushed in this story, each moment was carefully crafted to expose every emotion and longing the two men felt for each other and for the Downs. This was a story that developed slowly and allowed the reader to become fully invested in each character introduced. Despite it’s remote and deadly environment I even appreciated the Downs and, by virtue of great characterization on Kim Fielding’s part, I came to love the place much like Rig did himself.. This was just a fantastic story from beginning to end. Rating: 5 stars
Chasing Away Cold
From the dawn of time there was the cold—which was often lonely and wanted a mate to love. However, being icy in nature, Cold often froze and killed the lovers he took and as man grew weary of the cold, the gods made the decision to sacrifice one of their own and thereby give Warmth a chance to inhabit the earth for a season. So it became that the tribe of men would sacrifice this same god year after year and destroy cold to usher in spring. One of their own, Daku, who was born with a deformed foot and often bore up under much bullying, was asked to sculpt the ice man—the likeness of the god, Jarli, for the annual festival. But Daku could see beyond the ice to the god within and mourned the fact that Jarli would be forever trapped in the icy prison that Cold had fashioned for him. This last snippet in the collection was a sweet tail of love that reaches beyond the earthly realms. While it was steeped in folklore and mysticism, the love Daju finds he has for the ice form of the god, Jarli, is enough to free both men from the bounds that hold them. Rating: 3 stars
The Sacrifice and Other Stories by Kim Fielding held some fantastic gems and was a delightful collection overall. I would give it a solid 4.5 rating and encourage you to purchase this one for you library—particularly since all proceeds will benefit such a worthy cause as Doctors Without Borders.