Love, Blood, and Sanctuary is a solid anthology of three novella-length stories featuring a safe haven for supernatural beings called Sanctuary. Each author has an artistic, yet distinctive, storytelling voice; thus, while the stories share a central prompt and common themes, they’re all unique. From ghosts to demigods, Lite PNR™ to full-scale world building, I think Love, Blood, and Sanctuary has something for everyone.
Sanguine Faith by Brenda Murphy – 3.5 stars
When Laurel catches her partner cheating, she decides living in her car is better than dealing with the ugly confirmation that their relationship is over. Unfortunately, as the great-niece of the leader of Clan Callan, she’s forced to go to her uncle, Marcus, for help. Laurel only wants to choose her own path and find a love like her parents’, but as the last of her family, that’s unacceptable. Even though everyone believes Laurel to be a Squib, Marcus is desperate to breed her, hoping her dormant magical abilities won’t be passed to her offspring. However, with Laurel’s disinterest in men, being an incubator, and the Clan in general, Marcus grudgingly accepts her declination. Soon Laurel’s moving into a townhouse Marcus can’t keep rented because of its ghosts, one whom takes an intimate interest in Laurel. Although Catherine lives in a liminal space between life and death, she is everything Laurel ever wanted in a Mistress, and Laurel will sacrifice everything to keep her.
Sanguine Faith is an interesting Lite PNR™ about identity, loss, communion, and use of power. For most of her life, Laurel struggles against her family’s expectations and fights to find someone that loves her for herself, not her perceived power. While Catherine once had that type of love, in the sixty years she’s been imprisoned in the house, she’s struggled not to give in to her grief and despair and uses her power to protect herself and other ghosts in the house. Laurel and Catherine’s connection is instant and intense, and coming together frees both women to be their true selves.
Overall, I enjoyed Laurel and Catherine’s unique bond and the ambiguity of the ending, but as someone who prefers more fleshed-out world building, this component didn’t really resonate with me. Murphy introduced some cool concepts, but nothing is explored, except a few specifics that seemed to interest the author. There’s no established magic system and Laurel becomes so OP, the triumph over the narrative threat is obvious, rushed, and anticlimactic. Plus, magic creates wonky timelines and plot holes (like Catherine scaring away a tenant because he wants to get rid of an important item—that’s actually hidden behind the glamour of a brick wall and a shit-ton of magical wards). Additionally, Laurel is a bit one note; after her first encounter with Catherine, she’s mostly desperation, anger, and careless displays of powerful magic. After that, she’s all about Catherine. To be fair, Laurel is described as still trying to find herself, but this isn’t really expressed until the end. Despite some narrative hiccups, Sanguine Faith is an enjoyable read with an interesting spirit in Catherine and a potent, instant connection between the MCs.
We Choose to Be by Megan Hart – 4.25 stars
As a hemomancer, Hadassah has made a comfortable life reading the potential futures in her clientele’s blood, and loves her carefree, dependable lifestyle. When she meets a weirdly intriguing stranger named Yael, she’s hopeful their conversation will lead to Hadassah’s common (and favorite) method of de-stressing. However, after an unorthodox hemomancy session followed by some of the best sex she’s ever had, Hadassah is dismayed and flummoxed by not only Yael’s postcoital behavior, but by her own inability to stop thinking about Yael a week after.
As a blood demon bound to a murderous witch, Yael took desperate action to escape. Having appropriated a corpse, Yael is unprepared for the overwhelming nature of the human experience; being on the run from her master and in the body of a woman with a complicated life, her need for guidance, answers, and sanctuary is her driving motivation. When she meets Hadassah, Yael hopes to find clarity and the means to a secure future. But the future is made of choices, and when their choices unexpectedly lead to love, both women have to decide if their bond is strong enough to keep them together.
We Choose to Be is another tale of identity, as well as one of humanity, what makes us who we are, and the blind faith needed to choose to love. Hadassah and Yael’s relationship is both simple and complicated—simple in the day to day, carefree joy they find in one another, but complicated by the specter of Yael’s secrets. Yael is not the type of demonic soldier/lover of carnage that her master wanted, and after being forced to increasingly extreme acts of vengeance, she escapes the only way she knows how. Newly human and able to access a greater range of human emotion each day, Yael struggles with the strange feelings she has for Hadassah, feelings Hadassah herself struggles with because human or not, she’s never been in love nor inclined to ignore elephants in the room simply to stay with someone.
I really enjoyed each MC’s perspective and parallel emotional conflict as it allowed for an exploration of what being human means; moreover, as someone who also tends to socially misstep or be too straightforward, I relate to and sympathize with Yael a great deal. I also appreciate how Hart manages to explain the world and lore organically, and I particularly enjoy her use of blood magic and Hadassah being a hemomancer as blood magic is rarely portrayed in a positive way. In We Choose to Be, Hart crafts a unique human/Gollum-esque love story about the dichotomous nature of humanity, life, and choice.
Promises Made by Starlight by Fiona Zedde – 3.75 stars
Isabelle (Izzy)’s life is circling the drain. As if being abandoned by the love of her life three years ago isn’t bad enough, she lost her money, her career, and the future she saw for herself and her wife, Marun. In desperate need of funds, Izzy wants to sell the building housing the bakery and apartment she and Marun shared; unfortunately, she needs Marun’s signature and has no idea where she is. When Marun breezes back into her life acting as if she’d only gone on a milk run, Izzy is hurt and infuriated. Izzy thinks that having to deal with diminishing financial options, Marun, and her feelings is the cherry on the shit cake—until she’s targeted by a runaway SUV and discovers she’s on the hit list of demigods. While Izzy is torn between the impulse to run away from the truth of who Marun is and the desire to discover if the love they once shared is real, Marun is caught between her love for her wife and her love for her siblings; the only way they can stop being powerless is to trust in themselves and their love.
Zedde crafts an interesting tale of love, growth, and vulnerability in Promises Made by Starlight. Born to a life of wealth and privilege, Izzy was a sheltered, young virgin when she met Marin. Swept off her feet by Marun’s charisma, charm, and seductive nature, Izzy’s life is the picture of HEA—until it isn’t. When Marun returns, Izzy struggles with a sense of betrayal, cynicism, and wariness, especially as Marun’s explanations for her disappearance range from vague and mysterious to folk tale unbelievable. However, Marun’s open vulnerability and honesty soon convinces Izzy of her sincerity and offers a path past her rage if she wants to take it.
Promises Made gets around the world building issue in its utilization of demigods and minimal magic use. For all intents and purposes, Izzy and Marun are working through the shortcomings and inequality in their relationship that were hidden by the intensity of their emotions and sex life, as well as dealing with Izzy’s hurt and anger and rebuilding trust. The only tonal issue the story has is its inconsistent depiction of Izzy’s knowledge of Marun’s otherworldly attributes. On the one hand, there are allusions to Izzy’s subconscious awareness of Marun’s gifts, on the other Izzy/the text ignores Marun’s power after an Edward Cullen/Jean Grey combo save. And while I liked most the ending and understand Zedde’s desire for symmetrical closure for the MCs, part of it feels tacked on. However, between the lore, the juxtaposing problems of Marun’s supernatural lineage with those of the mundanity of things like finances and marital fights, and the almost romantic comedy/oops I married a supernat drama, Promises Made in Starlight is an entertaining read.
If you’re looking for some steamy supernatural action, aren’t overly queasy about blood, and/or enjoy any/all the authors, I recommend giving Love, Blood, and Sanctuary a try.