Eight years ago, a creature from another world made an appearance, stepping through the veil that separated Earth and its humans from the elves of the Otherworld. He was tall, human shaped, and completely … other in his beauty. The Department of Otherworld Relations (DOR) was quickly established and they took control of the being they named “Oberon.” He said he came to learn. To study music and languages and humanity, and to share that knowledge with his people. Protected like a princess in a tower, he has been a figure largely unseen, owing to the death threats, demonstrations, and hatred levied his way. But there are still pictures of him, still videos of his few interviews, and — of course — recordings of his singing. The alien, haunting songs of the fae.
Ángel, like most musicians, knows those songs. He has heard them and has been touched by them, but he never thought he get — never wanted — the chance to meet the elf-lord in person. Ángel’s father has been caught trying to run a Ponzi scheme on the elf-lord, and now faces considerable jail time, as well as the reality of having to pay back the seventeen million dollars stolen from a variety of investors, seventeen million he has no way of ever earning. However, the DOR offers Ángel a devil’s bargain and a chance to save his father. Come work for them and spend the next six years keeping the envoy company, and Oberon himself will pay ten million dollars in restitution. Should Ángel do so, the majority of the charges would be dropped and Ángel’s father will be free.
Or … don’t, and watch his father get sent to jail. There’s no choice to make, no matter how much Ángel dislikes the person his mother has become and how much his father wishes Ángel were a better, more ‘normal’ son. One who isn’t gay. Swallowing his hurt and his shame, Ángel ventures into the heartland of Montana to meet the elf lord, Oberon. The man with whom he will spend the next six years of his life …
I picked this book purely and simply because of its cover as my choice for Judge a Book By Its Cover Week. When I saw it, I knew I had to be the one to review it, because I’m an absolute sucker for a Beauty and the Beast retelling. Though, I should warn you, this one owes more to Grimm’s Fairy Tales than the sweet and safe Disney versions. The cover echoes the darker, colder themes beautifully with the slate blues and wintery whites, and I really love the font chosen for the title. It — like Oberon — is both familiar and yet not, and I think is perfect for this darker take on the familiar story.
Ángel, when he was outed to his family by his priest, lost both his parents. His mother turned away from him, as if he didn’t matter. As if she either no longer loved him, or perhaps never had. Ángel’s father, on the other hand, was angry, loud, and demonstrative in his rage and his hurt, and it was harder to tell which disappointed him more about Ángel. The fact that the was gay, or the fact that he chose to be a session musician rather than something practical.
Even so, Ángel couldn’t let his father go to prison. And a part of him hopes that this act, this sacrifice for the family, will prove to them, to both of them, that no matter what they may think of him for being gay, he’s still a good son. Still their son. Unfortunately, the ease with which they all but sell him into indentured servitude can’t help but leave a bad taste in Ángel’s mouth, and when he heads to the mansion where the fae envoy is kept, he’s not in the mood to be charitable or kind.
Oberon, in this story, is a stand in for the beast. The lonely prince cursed with an inhuman countenance who needs to find true love to be made right again. Only, Oberon isn’t human, has never been human, and will never be able to pass for human. The woman who cooks for him or the guards who watch out for him cringe away from his touch or his attention. They avoid him at all costs and Ángel quickly learns that there is no escape from the fae lord. Every room, even the bathroom, is outfitted with a camera and microphone so that Oberon can watch. And listen. Always and everywhere.
And yet … Ángel is human. And lonely, almost as lonely as Oberon is. The fae is, after all, the only one of his species on the planet. Ángel can at least chat with his best friend via Email while Oberon sends music back to his people via a plant, and hasn’t heard back from them in over a year.
I loved the emphasis on the otherness of Oberon. Ángel recoils from any initial touch, and can’t help but fixate on the differences. The shape of the eyes, the texture of his skin, the way he uses his voice of his — for lack of a better word — magic. That, along with the careful and subtle world building, really help to sell the reality of this story. So much of the events that lead to certain actions being taken are hidden from us, much the way they are from Ángel. He doesn’t know them, so neither do we, which helps immerse us into the story, to make it more personal and more immediate. And yet, when events do happen, they feel natural and right and I have no difficulty believing them or going along with them.
Ángel and Oberon are a lovely, fairy tale couple. All of Ángel’s own feelings of unworth and wrongness — especially when you take into account the line-crossing of having not only a gay lover, but a lover of a different race — are rubbed into his face again and again, and yet he never stops fighting for who he loves, even as he worries that his love isn’t worthy of Oberon.
“Why do you have faith in your own love, but not in mine?”
Ángel gazed at him. “I guess that’s a good question.” He touched Oberon’s face, his lips. “I don’t know. Maybe because no one ever loved me before without wanting me to change.”
The themes of loneliness, isolation, and compassion are woven like strands of music in this book (which practically comes with its own soundtrack, as Ángel and Oberon listen to and discuss various songs and artists.) One remarkable thing about humans, to me, is how we anthropomorphize anything. Toys, vacuums, rocks … so is it any wonder Ángel is able to see the person in Oberon, even if he can’t see the human? He’s able to reach across the divide of difference to find the parts of Oberon that most call to him as a person. The pain, the suffering, the humor, and the intelligence. Like it’s cover, there is a delicate, pale sorrow in this story as both Ángel and Oberon feel the pains of being unwanted, alone, and unloved. It’s a common trope, but one done well in this book, when Ángel realizes his own strength and worth only when he has to fight for someone else. There’s no falseness or Aha! moment; it’s just Ángel being Ángel, the same way he has been through this whole story.
This book is available for pre-order at the moment and won’t be released until September 30th. If you’re a fan of fairy tales and tragic love stories with happy endings, or just a new take on fae, I assure you, this book is worth the wait. I’m glad I was able to snag it for a review, because it hit all the right buttons for me. (Buy this book!)
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Judge a Book By Its Cover Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of two sets of 3 audiobooks (or ebooks if preferred) from Riptide Publishing! Commenters will also be entered to win one of our three amazing Grand Prize book bundles. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Judge a Book By Its Cover Week here.