Arwel and his siblings have been left worse than destitute following the death of their deadbeat father. With hefty debts owed, they have no choice but to turn to a life of crime. Each night, they prey upon unsuspecting passersby. Each morning, Arwel pawns the goods at a local shop in hopes of throwing off the financial shackles bequeathed to him by his father. Making a living, however, is far from the only appeal of the pawn shop.
Tomi works the pawn shop counter. He’s got a sharp eye for a good bargain. The items Arwel brings aren’t always of the finest quality, but Tomi is willing to give the young man a break. After all, Arwel offers Tomi something far more enticing that the normal fare provided by the life of a bandit—the affections of the bandit himself.
Despite enjoying one another’s physical charms, Tomi and Arwel find themselves wanting more. They want to build a life together. But with Arwel living on the wrong side of the law and Tomi’s controlling father eager to see his son wed, the brief windows where Tomi and Arwel can snatch a few intimate moments are ever decreasing. When disaster strikes Arwel and his siblings during a robbery, everything comes crashing down. It would take nothing less than a true act of heroism to bring these two lovers back together again, but have all their stolen moments and nights of pleasure formed a base strong enough upon which to build a real future?
For such a short story, the author more or less successfully pack in multiple characters that serve as more than set dressings and deliver a story line that would be meaty enough to constitute a whole novel, never mind the 50-odd pages of this story. While I wasn’t blown away by the writing, Winters does a decent job at descriptive writing that helps set the mood and the scene. Unfortunately, the same attention to detail is hit-or-miss with the cast of characters.
I was, in fact, surprised at just how strongly Arwel’s brother Emyr and sister Ceryn are fleshed out, despite their decidedly supporting role. They are interesting in their own right and I thought they added an extra layer of depth to the story, fleshing out what otherwise might have been disappointingly cut and dried. I didn’t realize I was so entertained by Emyr and Ceryn until their threads reached their individuals conclusions. Indeed, I finished the book with the strong impression that the siblings got the lion’s share of “interesting” compared to the main characters, Arwel and Tomi.
Arwel is definitely portrayed as a sort of outlaw-with-a-heart, except it’s not like he makes grand gestures based on moral superiority, but more like he makes sensible decisions that allow him and his siblings to continue robbing people blind and not causing too much trouble for themselves. As for Tomi, with an exception or two, he comes across as largely—well, fickle, which is probably due to the fact that the reader is never inside his head in any perspective. Going by the words on the page, I clearly understand that there is supposed to be chemistry between our to MCs. There are clearly scenes intended to establish this, yet it comes across as decidedly flat. When all was said and done, even as the book reached it’s mostly HEA ending, I still felt a noticeable distance or aloofness about the characters.
Pacing can be difficult at any length, but I always get worried about shorter pieces…what sounds like a fantastic gimmick in a blurb can so easily be under-explained when the length of the story can’t or won’t pay due diligence to developing certain plot aspects. With Bat’s Children, I never thought there was a lack of on-page action. I certainly appreciated that the action didn’t revolve exclusively around the romantic love interests (i.e. every scene didn’t hinge on Tomi and Arwel’s relationship). That said, I definitely felt the same kind of distance from the actions that I felt between Tomi and Arwell. Big Things happened, but I didn’t feel very invested in their outcome. Unfortunately, this held true for me with regards to the big conflict between Arwel and Tomi. Happily, it resolves itself favorably from a straight-up vanilla HEA perspective (yet still, oddly, tinged with that emotional distance).
Overall, if you’re looking for something quick and dirty (but where all the horizontal action is tastefully eschewed) set in some vaguely victorian (?) period piece that’s light on the history but heavy on the character-driven plot, you’d probably like this.