Wren Lofthouse, once a clerk and rather desperately lonely, has found true bliss with his lover, Shrike. After challenging the Court of the Silver Wheel and assuming the mantles of the Oak King and Holly King, Shrike and Wren can finally devote themselves to building a home together. After so many years of boredom and isolation, life is proving to be one adventure after another for Wren, but with Shrike by his side, anything and everything is possible.
Tales from Blackthorn Briar contains a series of stories set after the events of Oak King Holly King and you should start with that novel first or you’ll lose a lot of critical character development and backstory. Sufficed to say, this collection often leans towards the erotic and it seems that Wren is making up for lost time in stories like Mabon and Jack in the Green. Old friends are visited in Mr. Grigsby’s Clerk and The Ballad of Daniel Durst. And Wren ends up on the brink of losing everything in the Holly King’s Peril. But regardless of whether they involve light-hearted sexual romps or more serious situations, the common thread of acceptance and love as a beautiful, joyful experience runs through each piece. This is something that author Sebastian Nothwell excels at depicting and it’s one of the reasons the author is one of few that I consider to be an auto-buy whenever a new release is available.
The Holly King’s Peril was probably my favorite of the stories, only because it was the longest and most deeply character driven. I don’t want to give away too much of the overall plot, but Wren finds himself in dangerous waters after a Hunt gone wrong. What follows is a struggle for survival that bring Wren and Shrike to the brink. I love the bond between these two characters and the love they feel for one another is absolute. That’s on display with this story and it’s really an exploration of how far they’ve come as a couple and how deeply they’re bound together without ever seeming co-dependent or lacking in individuality. Shrike is more enigmatic than Wren and that feels appropriate given his otherworldly nature, but here we seen how in unison he is with Wren’s needs and how they’re truly better together than they are on their own.
Mabon is perhaps at the opposite end of the spectrum from The Holly King’s Peril. It’s essentially a multiple partner, sexual feast between Wren, Shrike, and several new friends. On the surface, this is exactly what you’d expect — a bit of erotic fun — but there are deeper connections formed as a result that resonate throughout the rest of the stories. So while Mabon may seem like a bit of fluffy fun, it ends up having a much more significant impact and further expanding the world of the Oak King and Holly King.
I enjoyed all of the stories in Tales from Blackthorn Briar, even those only tangentially associated with Wren and Strike. They all work together on one level or another and each celebrates love. Characters, both old and new, are at the heart of every story and it’s really the strength of this collection. I honestly hope this isn’t the last we see of Wren and Shrike; they’re a wonderful couple and I find myself genuinely invested in their journey. Consider this one recommended, just make sure you read Oak King Holly King first!