It is the first in a series of gothic m/m romance anthologies called gothika. The stories in this volume are:
Made For Aaron by Sue Brown
As a teenager, Aaron Fox was sent to an asylum by his parents because he was gay, leaving him emotionally fragile after the treatment. However it gave him Damon Fox, the nurse he later married. For over twenty years, Damon’s devotion and strength has never faltered. When Damon is killed in a car accident, Aaron’s devastation soon gives way to confusion when he is shown Damon walking away from the hospital. Despite a desperate search, Damon isn’t seen again, and if Aaron can’t live with Damon, he may not want to live at all. But forces beyond Aaron’s understanding work behind the scenes, and if he can find the courage to unveil the secrets, he might get a second chance at happiness.
Watchworks by Jamie Fessenden
Harland Wallace made his name as one of the premiere watchmakers in Victorian London, so he isn’t surprised when a handsome young gentleman named Luke Prescott comes to his townhouse to hire him for a repair job. He is apprehensive when he discovers it is not a watch Mr. Prescott wants repaired, but a complex prosthesis he has in place of a hand. As further repairs are needed, Harland begins to wonder how much of Mr. Prescott is real and how much is mechanical, but he cannot deny the growing attraction he feels toward him. When he learns Prescott’s household servants pose a threat to the man they see as a monster, Harland must choose between what his culture tells him is wrong and what his heart tells him is right.
The Golem of Mala Lubovnya by Kim Fielding
In a small, 17th-century Eastern European town, a rabbi creates a man of clay—a golem—to protect the Jewish people from the threat of pogrom. Awaiting a call to duty, the golem spends a long time confined to an attic, lonely and sad. His only joys are watching the stonemason at work across the street and listening to a lovely voice singing prayers. When the golem meets the mason, Jakob, the two become friends, and Jakob names the golem Emet. But devout Jakob struggles with his attraction to Emet, and Emet dreads being used as an instrument for violence. Though Emet’s name means truth, honest love between a faithful man and a golem will only survive if they risk everything for a miracle.
Reparation by Eli Easton
On the harsh planet of Kalan, weakness is not tolerated. When young spore farmer Edward suffers an carriage accident that kills his mail-order bride and his factory manager, Edward has little chance of survival, until Knox—an enormous “reconstitute” labor slave—plucks him from disaster. Recons are part machine, part human remains from executed Federation prisoners. But Knox is different from other recons. He can read and has flashes of brilliance. With no one else to rely on over the bleak winter, Edward forms an alliance with Knox, and against social taboos, they become friends. Edward struggles against his growing lust for the large humanoid, and while Knox thrives in his new life, memories of his past torment him. A twist of fate brought Knox and Edward together, but there will be a price to pay in blood when they learn how deeply their lives truly intersect.
The Golem of Mala Lubovnya by Kim Fielding – 5 Hearts
Wow. After reading the title I really had no idea what to expect and I was so pleasantly surprised and really moved by this story. It’s a perfect little gem of historical folklore that snuck up and taught me things when I didn’t even realize it. Told from the perspective of the Golem, the story is simple and profound at the same time. The Golem, or Emet, as he comes to be known is created by the rabbi for protection of the village of Mala Lubovnya and his basic needs to serve his people is really bittersweet. He feels and sees so much more than what the rabbi expects and reading about his time spent alone in the attic is heartbreaking. It’s written so well too. With Emet’s limited experiences and knowledge of the outside world, he is still able to convey such a moody atmosphere of unease from the threats to the town, confusion about the world around him and optimism as seems to be his basic nature. As a reader, you can’t help but root for him and want better for him which is seemingly impossible.
Emet watches a lonely and seemingly sad stone mason, Jakob, from his window above the town as he goes through his daily work with his father and brothers. The two end up meeting when the rabbi shows the town Emet and his extraordinary strength. All Emet wants to do is be helpful and when he gets the opportunity to help Jakob he is so happy. What follows is quite sweet as two lonely souls (except one really has no soul) come together.
There is an ominous air hanging over the whole story that doesn’t even need to be articulated. Given their situation, Emet and Jakob could never be together and knowing they were living on borrowed time was a tough underlying note to read through. You really have to read it for the resolution and the last two chapters absolutely slayed me. This was a really unique story that will stick with me.
Watchworks by Jamie Fessenden - 4 Hearts
This is a steampunk story at its finest. Harland is confirmed bachelor watchmaker and he’s called to Dr. Mordecai Steward’s home to help him with a “project”. Harlan is no doctor, so he’s not sure what awaits him at the good doctor’s home. There he meets Luke Prescott and he is immediately taken with the beautiful man. Being that the story is set historically, it’s not safe for Harland to act on his desires, but Luke has gotten to him like no one else ever has. The misunderstanding about Luke that follows is understandable from Harland’s point of view and is the point of the story where I fell for Luke and his heartbreaking situation. The way he is treated by the household staff and the way he is hidden away because of who he is, makes him the damaged hero that I love.
The explanation of how Luke “operates” was fun and interesting to read. The moody setting of Dr. Steward’s house was a perfect setting for what was to come. As Luke and Harland get to know each other and the attraction grows I got a good feel for Harland’s frustration. How could he possibly have a relationship with a man, much less Luke? Didn’t make Harland’s feelings any less real though.
Dr. Steward’s health had me worried about Luke’s fate and rightfully so. What came next was inevitable and I hated it. Poor Luke! The fact that this was a historical really worked to make an HEA possible. It seems like the actual romance in historicals is less complicated, less emotionally angsty in and of itself. Possibly because the real world was enough of a threat then that the MC’s are just more appreciative of the love they have regardless of the “reality” of their partner (at least in Harland’s case).
Reparation by Eli Easton – 5 Hearts
Man, I got sucked into this story from the first. At the very beginning the author states:
“Reparation was inspired by two of my favorite gothic novels – Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights”
Well, she wins, definitely, because the atmosphere of Reparation is a complete blend of those two classics.
Edward is a farmer in Kalan, a harsh and unforgiving land where the only commodity that is produced is lichen that is sold off world as an ingredient to life saving medicine. The spores from the lichen are incredibly dangerous so air purifying is a way of life and any infected cut can be a death sentence if not treated quickly and properly. Because the life is so dangerous, Reconstitutes (recons) have been created to work the farms. A recon is a cobbled together cyborg worker, part human and part robot. The human part is harvested from condemned prisoners and seen as a way for the prisoners to pay their debt to society. They are strictly programmed and made for manual labor.
After a horrific accident, Edward is left on the farm without his right-hand man and being that another transport wasn’t coming for many months and the storm season is bearing down on him, Edward has no choice but to enlist the help of Knox, the recon who saved his life after the accident.
Being that involved with a recon, much less giving him responsibility with your livelihood is virtually unheard of and an unlikely friendship forms.
This was so endearing to read. Knox is more than just a cyborg, he has true intelligence and Edward finally has a friend to talk to who understands him. Edward is just so lonely and you can feel it in every scene that Knox isn’t in. What makes this one unique is how Knox begins to change and what that means to both of them and everything they think they know. Knox begins to remember “before” in dreams and snippets of memory. The mystery that follows and the questions that are raised made for a really engaging read. As they are getting to know each other, Knox is also getting to know himself. He knows the massive strong body he has now is not the one his human self was born with and I kinda loved the fact that both Edward and Knox could appreciate the packaging in a unique way. It gave Knox even more of a human voice as the story progressed.
The mystery has to be read first hand to be appreciated. All is not as it seems in the land of Kalan and the twists and turns made for a really fun and fast ride once secrets began to be uncovered. A totally unique and moodily atmospheric tale of friends to lovers that was sad, hopeful and sexy all at the same time and I loved it.
Made for Aaron by Sue Brown – 3.5 Hearts
I loved this story and hated reading it at the same time. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with the great writing or the unique story but everything to do with how it broke my heart. It’s definitely different and I really appreciated the uniqueness of it.
Aaron had lived in an institution for all his formative years and he is so irreparably damaged it hurt to read his story. His whole life outside the institution is his husband Damon and when Damon disappears he is left floundering and lost. The meat of the story is about Aaron and how he deals with the loss of Damon. The hurt, confusion and anger he feels are palpable. I could feel his anguish and helplessness. Thing is, he handled himself and all things practical really well considering which was why reading about his “solutions” to the rest of his life were so heartbreaking. I understood his thought process, but really didn’t want to, if that makes sense.
We know Damon through Aaron’s memories and can see how Damon really was made for Aaron and that added to the feeling of helplessness while reading this one. Part of Aaron was relieved when he was instructed what to do, he’d been institutionalized for so long, choices were stressful and Damon was the calming anchor that kept him grounded. Once that was gone, Aaron could function, but he was so uncomfortable and so unhappy.
In keeping with an underlying theme in all these stories, all is not what it appears to be and all the questions do get answered. I left with an HFN feeling though when I really wanted a solid HEA. I’m not sure if it was because the end seemed to get wrapped up a little quickly and neatly considering all that Aaron had gone through or if I wanted an epilogue to feel some confidence in the longevity of the “happy”. Either way, another completely intriguing read.