Circuses and carnivals have always fascinated Cory. This year, he finally finds the time to visit the carnival that has always stopped in his university town at this time of year, Sky Blue Carnival. Cory finds even more to love at this carnival—a hot barker named Jules selling tickets to the mirror maze. Just one look and they are off to a secluded area to get better acquainted with each other. Weeks later and their passion only grows. Cory has never felt so much so intensely for someone. Michael, Cory’s police detective ex-boyfriend, came close, but a few too many times with him taking control when it wasn’t offered soured the relationship. The only problem is that Jules and the rest of the Blue Sky Carnival will be packing up and heading to the next town soon. Cory is having a hard time coming to grips with the impending end of his blazing hot summer romance.
Then, a body is found close to the circus grounds. Suddenly, Michael comes thundering back into Cory’s life and Cory’s not sure what to think. In his heart of hearts, Cory knows Jules and the rest of the carnival workers are innocent. But he can’t prove it. More questions arise when Cory and Michael stumble upon some unbelievable photographs of Jules and his friends at the carnival. Soon, Cory’s simple life of college courses and incredibly hot sex is interrupted by the mystery surrounding the carnival—one that absolutely involves Jules. Answers are hard to get, though, when one kiss from Jules is such a powerful distraction. And if Cory learns the truth about the body, what will that mean for his growing love for Jules?
The Mirror Maze is a sex-fueled romp starring a main character who is being buffeted by desire that seemingly grows with each successive scene. Cory and Jules introductory scenes set up a star-crossed-lovers type of relationship where these two can’t seem to get enough of each other. Yet Hartsock also includes some distance. Cory is an undergraduate who has just come back from a beach holiday with his parents. Jules is the incredibly sexy carnival barker who goes wherever his job takes him. Even as we see Cory grow ever more attached to his boyfriend, Cory himself reminds us that Jules will eventually move on. Another juxtaposition to this pair’s blazing love affair is Cory’s ex, Michael. Jules seems a bit jealous (or at least wary) of the police detective and, at one point, Cory seems to be at least physically attracted to him and seeks comfort from the man.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that there is something special about Blue Sky Carnival. Not only are all the workers apparently young and attractive, but several of them fill Cory with irresistible desire. I wasn’t really expecting a story about open relationships, but there are multiple scenes where Cory engages in intimate acts with several people who are not his boyfriend (TW: Cory’s ex gropes/kisses Cory without his consent). It’s clear that Cory is turned on by these people, but he is also deeply conflicted because he’s convinced he loves Jules. His partners tell Cory that Jules wouldn’t mind—and eventually, we learn this is the case. But I was put off by how long it took for Cory and Jules to get around to discussing whether they were going to have an open relationship.
Part of the reason why Cory is feeling such intense attraction and craves/engages in so many sex acts with so many partners is part of the paranormal aspect of the story. I liked how Hartsock kept us guessing about the nature of Jules and his fellow carnival workers, even as it was clear that there were paranormal elements about them. Their paranormal abilities are directly linked to the dead man found behind their carnival and responsible for arousing the interest of the police. In this way, the story develops a bit of a thriller aspect because Cory begins to wonder if maybe his boyfriend is actually a dangerous person. As the details about the dead man unfold, there were more specifics about Jules and his friends. However, I thought the revelation about Blue Sky Carnival was a but muddled, not to mention the way Cory’s life outside his relationship with Jules seems to be ignored completely by the end of the book.
Overall, I think The Mirror Maze offers readers some explicitly steamy reading material. The “plot,” such as it is, revolves around Cory untangling a mystery surrounding his current boyfriend that he didn’t even know existed until the events described in the book.