I received a copy of this story through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
I had absolutely no idea of what to expect when confronted with this story. It sounded interesting, so I requested it and it found its way to my Kindle. The description gives away very little (including not telling me something that I would have enjoyed knowing going in) but I’m usually up for an adventure.
And…well, this was certainly an adventure of some sort. THERE ARE POTENTIAL SPOILERS (so to speak) BENEATH THE CUT. BE FOREWARNED. (tl;dr rating: *** – Worth a Look)
So first off, this is a short story. I probably could have guessed that from the intended purchase price, but nowhere on NG does it say that this is meant to be a short story. It wasn’t until I’d gotten a “chapter” or two in when I realized my Kindle was telling me I was 40% done with the book, that I clicked on that. Now, this isn’t a problem. In fact, most of the things that I’m going to bring up here aren’t problems per se, but more detriments, things that detract from the overall experience. Of course, it isn’t until you get to the end that you realize that the length is a detriment to the story.
In addition to this (though this is something else I probably could have intuited from the publisher) I was entirely unaware that this was an LGBTQ story. Again, I’m more than happy for that! And actually, some of the LGBTQ elements of the story were my absolute favorite parts–but when your characters are Matt and Shannon, it’s not uncommon to assume that it’s a male and a female. As I said, however, this is published through Less Than Three Press, who I personally know specialize in (if not exclusively work with) LGBTQ stories. I hadn’t noticed that going in, otherwise I might have guessed. But for the average reader, that might have been more of a shock.
Piggybacking on that, we find out through the course of the story that Matt is asexual. Awesome! As someone in the grey-A spectrum myself, this is a fantastic piece of representation. It’s incredibly uncommon (at least in the boring paths of the book world I seem to live in) to see ace characters, particularly in the lead. However…there’s a bit of an issue with how it’s handled. All things considered, it’s all very respectful and good. However, there seems to be a bit of a disparity between how it’s described as being seen in the world, and how Matt chooses to discuss it. It’s clearly “not the norm” to be ace in the story’s world, as Matt spends a great deal of time concerned about people pushing him to be more sexual, about not wanting people to get too close to him because of previous issues, and skates around the issue several time. However, when he and Shannon are brought more face to face with the matter, he lays it out on the table with very little fanfare, and Shannon doesn’t even seem surprised. I don’t mind Shannon’s lack of surprise; it’s a nice piece for Matt to be relaxed about. But when it’s clearly brought up to be something Matt is very worried about, there doesn’t seem to be the level of caution in him later to back that up. I certainly wouldn’t have handled it as bluntly as Matt did–and yes, I understand that every person’s experience is obviously going to be different, but when a member of the community you’re writing to tilts their head and squints at what you’ve written, perhaps you should look at it again.
All that being said, I truly enjoyed the story. The way it was handled, the way the relationships were built, it was all really excellent. My biggest complaint is that it’s ONLY a short story! There is most certainly a book’s worth of world in here, and I’d love to see Sheppard expand on it and build more into the universe which has been created. Matt and Shannon have a fascinating road ahead of them, and I’d love to follow them along wherever they go. So while decently flawed, it gets a bump for truly making me wish there was more to it.
Rating: *** (Worth a Look)