It seems almost unfair to rate a free anthology such as the 7 & 7 Anthology of Virtue and Vice. Released by DSP Publications for the main purpose of giving readers a taste of some of its wide appeal selections by various authors, there is everything in this collection from sci-fi to historical, with fantasy and even some horror thrown in for good measure and that phrase “thrown in” is where I want to begin. Some of these pieces made me shake my head in wonder as to why they were ever released. They lacked the polish that one might expect to find in such a compilation—after all, when offering a sampling of your work, you should be putting your best foot forward—or story, at least.
I have broken this review down to three categories—those that worked and made for a great example of the impact a well written short story can have on a reader, those that fell short of the mark for one reason or another, and two that stood out for all the right and wrong reasons. The reality is that all writers are not born to write a solid short story—it, like its cousin the longer novel, is not easily accomplished and unless you have the knack, your story will come up feeling rushed or undone. That happened a few times in this anthology and despite the author being a good, solid, even gifted writer, the genre of short story is simply not something they have mastered yet.
Take note that I have given you merely a sentence or two to describe the story by each author. This is because to do more would simply be to give you spoiler after spoiler and ruin the reading for you. Also, I have not rated these stories individually—instead I have given a general rating for the groups. The reason for this goes back to my opening statement—rating what, in essence, is a free gift seems rather unfair to me. Given that, I will delineate what were the stronger, more complete offerings in this anthology from those that were not and give you the range of ratings I would apply for the group.
Group 1 (Ratings rang from 2.5 to 3.5 stars)
The Darkness of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson
A grieving priest experiencing a crisis of faith since the death of his lover agrees to accompany a group of believers to the mountaintop to witness the eclipse. While there, everything his pain has led him to is shaken to the core as he comes face to faith with his god.
The Bank Job by Andrea Speed
Superheroes clash over a bank job gone wrong where one cocky anti-hero thinks he and his minions have won the day only to be thwarted by a gay pair of somewhat silly super guys.
Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael
An aging Seer tells the arrogant Prince of the kingdom what he does not want to hear—that there is destruction coming in the form of an earthquake. Banished along with his partner of many years, they return to his lover’s tribe where he is treated with dignity and respect unlike at the palace. However, he cannot let go of the horrific vision of mass destruction and takes his life in his hands to return once more to warn the kingdom.
The Gate by J.S. Cook
Set in World War II era where to be gay meant imprisonment or more, two shop keepers are at odds with one another because of a gate erected by one which cramps the style of the café owner, Jack, on the opposite side. After a casual hookup, the story abruptly ends with a revelation about the new business owner that knocks Jack for a loop.
Covetous by Pearl Love
Jonathon watches as a colleague gets promoted over him. Not only that, the guy is a sleaze—sleeping with whomever can get him ahead including Jonathon, once upon a time. When Jonathon decides to go out and blow off some steam, little does he know that his desire for revenge will land him in hell—literally!
Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serena Yates
A crew is launched into space with a 45-year cryosleep planned so that they can begin to colonize a new planet called Eradani 2. Onboard are several prisoners as well as crew that will take on the work of making the planet hospitable for future generations. There is no need for worry of violence from the prison crew due to the temperance effect—a means of controlling zeta waves that emotionally calm the person trained in using them. However ,the closer they get to the new planet the more agitated the crew becomes and the captain is stunned to find out the truth behind the temperance effect and what it means for his crew once they land.
Overall Review of Group 1: In each of the above stories, there was a distinct sense that they were left unfinished. Often characters were shallow and not terribly easy to connect with either emotionally or intellectually. Some of these stories never quite jibed with their vice or virtue or discovering the connection was a real stretch, in particular, The Gate by J.S. Cook and Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael. For both these stories there was a brief moment when the characters exhibited their vice or virtue, but it wasn’t sustained, leading me to wonder why they chose to use either emotion for the main thrust of their stories.
In The Bank Job by Andrea Speed and The Darkness Of The Sun by Amy Rae Durreson, the stories were more like sketches—small vignettes of what should have been longer works that never came into being. While interesting at times, these shorts failed to grab the attention immediately—something a short story must. Therefore any investment the reader had in the fate of the characters was minor at best. Plus the characters were limited—Johnnie one notes–and failed to develop beyond their limited scope.
Overall this group seemed to beg for more development and page time in order to give us a deeper glance into both the created world and its inhabitants.
Group 2: (Ratings rag from 4-5 stars)
Heirs to Grace and Infinity by Carole Cummings
Set in a futuristic world, the government is rounding up anyone, including children who are working magic illegally. The Bureau is responsible for disposing of them without thought or care. One man known as “the Sorcerer” is busy thwarting the Bureau and freeing those held captive. However, the government is closing in and the Sorcerer is suddenly trapped and his identity revealed.
Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fessenden
One American spy is sent to kill and assume the identity of a Russian soldier in order to infiltrate the enemy camp. The only problem is he finds himself falling for the man he is to destroy—all in the course of one short train ride.
Horseboy by J. Tullos Hennig
A horseboy escapes his village at the height of war only to discover a wounded Templar knight—his enemy. Now he must decide if it is worth revealing who he really is in order to save the man’s life.
Hope by Rick R. Reed
With his mother dead and buried and his own life in a shambles, Todd returns home to live what is left of what he feels is a hopeless life. Then he meets his neighbor and the lethargy and depression he had been drowning in slowly turns to something more—something he never thought possible ever again.
Traitor by Clare London
Aiden Hanwell is MI5’s best interrogator, known for breaking even the toughest criminals. When he is asked to interview a mysterious spy he has no worries he is up to the task. However, little is he prepared for meeting fact to face with a former agent, friend and lover. Now the truth must out and Aiden will need to decide if he can truly break the man he once loved.
Red Light Special by Rhys Ford
Fae, elves and a succubus—all bound together with author Rhys Ford’s special brand of humor and snark make this a story that is fun and sexy.
Overall Review of Group 2: These stories had it all—in-depth characterization, a simple yet effective plot that felt complete, and emotional impact that left this reader wanting more. This is how a great short story should leave one—with a dual sense of satisfaction and yet yearning for just a little more. From the heart-wrenching love that could never be truly theirs in Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fessenden, to the hard fought yet well earned happy ever after in both Rick Reed’s Hope and Claire London’s Traitor, these tales left us with a yearning for further time spent with stunning characters whose lives seemed so real. Adding some fun and uniqueness to this group, Rhys Ford takes us on a magically hilarious ride complete with a succubus who uses sex as his way to find victims to eat. Finally, there is Horseboy by J. Tullos Hennig, which may very well be the most poetic and lush story of them all. This sampling of writing by authors who are well established as outstanding in their field was really the best by far at achieving the task this anthology set out to do—give readers a taste of the level of excellence they can expect from DSP Publications authors.
The Final Group (unrateable for different reasons)
The Rendering by John Inman
Otis is overweight—a lover of all things bad for you and desperate to find love. In his many attempts to find someone to be with, he has always been told he is just too fat to be loved. So, imagine his excitement when a man named Lester embraces all Otis has to offer—seems too good to be true? Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.
I want to start by saying I love this author’s work, so imagine my surprise when I found myself cringing at this horror story that made the word cliché scream out of every page. First, the fat shaming—truly I felt this was really insensitive toward any man who might have body issues and low self-esteem. Then I am afraid that the plot was so thin—I knew the outcome the moment Otis hit Lester’s house and yet that did not stop me from grimacing at the gruesome description of what befell poor Otis. All in all I felt this was not in any way representative of how good an author John Inman is and I was shocked that DSP Publications allowed such a negative story to be in the anthology.
Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Witt
Holy schmolies—what an ending—and what a sad, sad story. Yet—beautiful—truly well written and with all the feelings and emotions one comes to expect from this wonderful storyteller, author Brandon Witt. I would need a bevy of stars to rate this short and still not have enough to communicate the depth of despair the main character was immersed in—all due to his own lazy approach to life in general. For me, this was the highlight of the anthology.
Final Thoughts: Overall this anthology would probably rate 4 stars and is well worth reading—it does give you a fairly good window into some very gifted writers now under the DSP Publications umbrella. However, it does one well to remember that some of these authors shine in the longer novel realm (Andrea Speed comes immediately to mind) and not so much in the short story field. My suggestion? Read through the offered stories and then go find a longer novel by these authors to really see how gifted they truly are.
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.