Warrior witches and half demons, curses and magic, and the power of love unite these three stories in this anthology. From a small cabin in the middle of a dark forest, to the life of luxury lived by an actor fated to die on his thirty fourth birthday, and even to the realms of hell itself as an order of knights finds that the evil they have spent eight hundred years trying to kill may be the one force strong enough to keep them all alive, this book offers three stories of love at first sight and the power of sex and love to bring peace to troubled hearts.
In Dusk Before Dawn, the first entry in the anthology, Aaron finds himself lost in the lonely woods at night with a dead car and unquiet spirits cursed to walk the world chasing after him. It’s a lot for him to take in. As a computer programmer, Aaron’s used to (more or less) logic and rationality. He’s not used to zombies and he’s certainly not used to witches, but when Sam tells him the truth about the cursed land — and what he needs to help strengthen his magic so that he can save them — Aaron is all too quick to offer his, ahem, services.
Of the three stories, this was the weakest in character and writing. The sentences are either small and fractured, or all roughly the same size and with the same adverb heavy descriptions, which made it feel choppy and affected. Neither Aaron nor Sam really had much personality and they went from not knowing one another to vows of love so quickly I think even the zombies got whiplash.
The second story, Accursed, is the strongest offering. Ian Northhill is a famous actor — currently starring in a stage run of Jekyll and Hyde — whose family seems to have been cursed. Each first born son has died at the age of thirty four, and Ian, currently 33, has a birthday fast approaching. Maxim’s aunt cares for Ian’s grandmother and she asks him to come help save Ian, having taken a liking to the young man and his grandmother. Maxim, a medium, is more acquainted with ghosts than demons, but after meeting Ian he realizes he doesn’t want to let the other man die, especially as he realizes he’s falling head over heels for the man.
The connection between friendly, bright, and easy-going Ian and the absolute asshole that is Maxim — who hates actors with a passion — feels real and realized. Max is instantly smitten with Ian and turns hostile, responding with one word or vague answers as he tries to look down on Ian in order to keep Ian from looking down on him. Maxim ‘knows’ that Ian sees himself as someone innately better, even though the only proof he has is his own certainty. Even after a quick fuck in the shower where it’s clear Ian is all filled with feelings for Max, Max is still all prickles and ill temper, accusing Ian (again) of looking down from a lofty height.
The curse takes a back seat to their relationship, both as a friendship and a romantic entanglement, which made the curse itself feel more threatening. Without being able to see Max break down his own walls, to be willing to be hurt in order to save Ian, I don’t think as a reader I would have cared at all about the ending, or the story as a whole.
The last story, Warriors of Sir Guy, feels confused. It feels like a larger story compressed into a short story, with a lot of world building and breadcrumbs laid out, only to have none of it matter. Robin is a Knight of the Order of Sir Guy, who is an 800-year-old half demon the Order are trying to kill (so why are they named after him?), who meets the infamous half demon while on a hunt with two other knights. Guy kills one of the knights, saves Robin, and then the two of them fuck in the cabin, only to fall in love moments later. And that’s only the start of the strange pacing issues plaguing this story.
There is world building crammed into every possible crack and crevice, but it’s all exposition because there’s not room for it to be shown off. Characters are names, with the rare one or two being a rather generic archetype, and neither Guy nor Robin have any emotional depth or character development. Just fighting, fucking, and more fighting until the it’s over. It has potential, I think, as a longer story, but as a short story it was confusing, unbalanced, and suffered (for me) by coming after Accursed, which had the better writing, characters, and development.
Unfortunately, one good story out of three just isn’t enough for me to recommend this anthology.