Authors: Jamie Fessenden, Kim Fielding, Eli Easton
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 220 Pages
At a Glance: All three authors’ stories are unique not only in voice but in storyline too, and unlike with some anthologies I’ve read in the past, there isn’t a clunker story in this bunch.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Beasts lurk in the shadows of wild and forgotten places and in the hearts and souls of men. They are the stuff of dreams and nightmares, but are they feral and savage, or just misunderstood? Creatures of myth and legend stalk these tales of dark desire and animal passions. Three men come face-to-face with such creatures and find they are much more than they seem. While there is danger, there might be unexpected benefits as well, if they can accept the impossible and dare to venture into the primordial regions where nature and the beasts still reign. Three acclaimed authors of gay romance explore the boundaries between man and beast and the place where their worlds overlap.
Review: There are a variety of reasons I wanted to give this collection of stories a good seeing to, not the least of which is the three authors involved. Sadly I’ve never had the chance to read Eli Easton’s work, and only a novella each by Jamie Fessenden and Kim Fielding. Too many books, too little time…
This speculative fiction anthology is the third in the Gothika omnibus, and Claw, as its title suggests, focuses on shifters. In this case, those of the canine variety: Jamie Fessenden’s Isolation, Kim Fielding’s Transformation, and The Black Dog by Eli Easton round out the threesome and each give their own personal touch to the werewolf lore.
Isolation is, at its heart, a second chance story, the tale of two men who fell in love as teenagers but couldn’t last through Sean’s betrayal of both himself and of Jack, the man Sean asked to stand beside him while he, Sean, did what was expected of him and married a woman.
Four years later, divorced, more than a little gun-shy and seeking forgiveness, Sean finds Jack in a cabin in the remote wilderness—the means to the title of this story. Jack has isolated himself, by choice, by necessity, it doesn’t matter. What matters is he’s living the way he wants to live, even if it is a lone-wolf sort of existence.
The shortest of the three stories, what Isolation lacks in word count it makes up for in heart, a little humor, and some truly suspenseful moments, not only from the creature that lurks without and within but in the sense that perhaps too much water has flowed under the proverbial bridge for these two men to find their way back to each other.
I like the spin Fessenden offers in his version of shifter lore, as well as the fact that the author resisted the urge to tie things up in a trite little bow of happily ever after at the end. I’m not sure why I expected it, but it was refreshing not to find it. There was simply too much left to resolve between these two would-be lovers for that outcome to be believable. Isolation was a satisfying appetizer to the start of this three-course read.
Kim Fielding’s Transformation is the second novella in this anthology, a story set in rural Oregon in the late 19th century. Transformation ticked all my boxes for a lovely historical read, as not only does the author ground readers in the time but also draws us into the sense of place, the rugged and untamed landscape in which the story takes place. In fact, if someone were to put a gun to my head and force me to choose, I’d have to say this one was my favorite of the trilogy. I’m such a sucker for the finding-love-against-all-odds trope, and that’s the story Fielding wrote here, with a supernatural twist.
This novella begins as a fish out of water story, though, when we’re introduced to Orris Spencer, the seventh son of a seventh son, his father an extravagantly wealthy man we never meet but certainly know the type. Orris was sent down from university after being caught in flagrante delicto with another student, Daniel, and to further add to Orris’s disgrace, his father sends him away, penniless and shamed, to live with his older brother Samuel, now an outcast himself as he’s shunned the soft life of privilege in New York City to work the land and provide for his family on their small Oregon farm.
I loved the portrayal of Orris and Samuel’s relationship, which blossoms under Orris’s own transformation, the more he proves to both himself and Samuel that he’s capable of being so much more than the studious misfit Samuel expects him to be. Samuel also proves to be not at all what I’d expected from him when first introduced, and I wanted to cheer out loud each time he imparted his wisdom and understanding on Orris.
There’s more to the story, however, than the brothers’ relationship, in the supernatural element and the canine beast that’s stalking and killing sheep on Samuel’s and surrounding farms. This storyline also serves to introduce the Bonn brothers, and more specifically Henry Bonn, the man in whom Orris discovers a kinship of loneliness and desire.
The duality of this novella’s title is revealed at its end, in the full transformation Orris undertakes, part sacrifice and part an honoring of his heart’s desire. Transformation is a wonderful second course in this trilogy.
To round things out, Eli Easton’s The Black Dog puts the finishing touch on the collection, set in the rugged landscapes of northern Scotland and bringing to life the legend of the coimheadair, a gigantic black dog said only to appear in times of national crisis.
Constable Hayden MacLairty doesn’t buy into the legend at all—it is just that, after all, a legend, a tall tale that’s been passed down from generation to generation in the small town of Laide, the place where American author Simon Conto has chosen to do some research on the Black Dog for his next book.
I have to say right off the bat, one of the things I loved immediately about Hayden is the Jamie Fraser visual that Eli Easton then references for a bit of a comical turn in this otherwise mystical and mythical tale. True to the Viking ancestry, Hayden is a mountain of a man who catches Simon’s eye—certainly after he was tackled and nearly flattened by Hayden in a case of wrong place, wrong time.
The local flavor and colorful population of Laide add to the charm of this story, moving the plot forward and adding to the suspense and mystique, as it’s revealed there are secrets locked inside the dementia addled mind of Hayden’s own mother, things Hayden has a difficult time reconciling.
While The Black Dog takes on the taste of the bittersweet in the end, Hayden and Simon find a way to their happy ending, and bring a lovely close to this charming trio of supernatural treats.
As an overall summary, I can easily recommend Claw when you’re in the mood for a touch of speculative fiction with a little variety in its mythology. All three authors’ stories are unique not only in voice but in storyline too, and unlike with some anthologies I’ve read in the past, there isn’t a single clunker story in this bunch.
You can buy Claw here: