Both Trapped in the Valley of the Kings and The Last Birthday Party are a part of Dreamspinner Press’ Advent Collection, but they are standalone stories that can be read individually. I would also say that both of these stories are only tangentially holiday themed and relatively non traditional in their association with that holiday.
Trapped in the Valley of the Kings by Blue Jones
Will doesn’t expect to get trapped in an unexplored tomb during one of the worst sandstorms Egypt has seen, and on Christmas too. But that’s the life of an archeologist and he may just have found the lost tomb of Queen Nefertiti, which would be no small compensation for his troubles. And then Jude shows up, a rival who Will can’t help but want. They had a quick fling at a masked costume party the year before, but Jude didn’t know it was Will. Now, with the storm raging outside, Will and Jude have plenty of time to explore the tomb and one another.
Trapped in the Valley of the Kings had an interesting premise that got lost somewhere along the way. The unrequited aspect of Will and Jude’s relationship plays out nicely enough, but the story founders on some rather silly events. We have two archeologists stuck in what could be one of the most important historical finds in Egyptian history and they just end up playing strip poker. Really? It seemed like a bit more time could have been spent on the tomb given the author chose to make it the central setting of the story. Also, the idea of the previous hookup at a masked party didn’t fit the wider context of the plot and felt like an unnecessary layer. So on the whole, Trapped in the Valley of the Kings didn’t really work for me.
The Last Birthday Party by Mere Rain
Akihito has grown up sharing his birthday with the Emperor and celebrating that day with his best friend, Kenji. It’s a tradition that means more than almost anything to Akihito, but there will soon be a new Emperor and so this will be the last year that Akihito and Kenji celebrate the tradition. It doesn’t help that Akihito is madly in love with Kenji. He’s done his best to ignore that and try to let the brilliant Kenji live his own life, but they’ve both reached the cusp of manhood and Akihito is afraid this last celebration will somehow be the end of him and Kenji as well. They’ve come to a crossroads and each will have to decide if they walk a separate path or if they can use this as an opportunity to make new traditions together.
The Last Birthday Party was rather charming and sweet. I know very little about Japanese culture save that tradition and honor can be very important. This short story did an excellent job of depicting two young men who have celebrating the same tradition for years and now everything seems to be on the verge of changing. It packs of a lot of layers into a small package and manages to make them all work well. We can relate to Kenji and Akihito because we were all young once and reaching adulthood was thrilling and terrifying for most of us. And the push and pull of that dynamic is well done here. The entire story takes place over the course of the day and the author has done a great job of giving us all the right information to make that premise work. There were a few things about Akhito’s character that annoyed me, but these were minor and The Last Birthday Party was really an enjoyable short story.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.