As a high school student, I was absolutely obsessed with the story of Cupid and Psyche. It struck some chord in my all-too-literate self, a chord so strong that when I made it to France six years later and stood in front of the famous statue by the same name, I was breathless and teary all at the same time. Imagine...a god falling in love with a mere mortal. It was almost as satisfying as the local basketball star falling for the slightly nerdy drama club president. Which never happened, by the way, but itís okay. Iím over it. Really.
However, in A Taste of Divinity, four stories are linked together by the realization of just such a dream Ė a god recognizing the beauty and value in a mortal and falling in love. This premise can be extraordinarily powerful when tapped the right way. Some of the stories in this anthology manage that, while the others fell flat. And not only was the fantasy a flop at times, the whole was far less than the sum of its parts due to horrendous editing, which knocked down the anthology's grade lower than the average of its individual stories.
Fantasy Romance Sensuality: Burning
Heather Kundert's The Winds of Heaven opens the collection opens the collection with the betrayal of a friend. Calyx, the god-hero, spends years trapped by regret and self-doubt before deciding to do what he can to fix his errors and apologize to his friend. To do so, he must travel to the world of Pleythos. There, he meets Breanna, a dancer in a club who moves as if aided by the wind, and into Calyxís heart.
This story, unfortunately, is the weakest of the collection, and sets a tone for the remaining three that is hard to shake. Fantasy shorts are often difficult to write as so much is needed in the way of world-building in order to contextualize the story. Kundert handles this well, but the relationship between her characters feels primitive instead of primal. I was skeptical that there was more than lust involved, and couldnít believe in the avowals of love. But the main problem I had with this story rests with a delicate subject matter in romance Ė that of anal sex. There has been much discussion on the inclusion of anal sex in Romantica and Erotica in the last couple of years. Many donít find it a fantasy they can buy into. Many think itís a natural sexual act and thus should be included. Me, I think that, as with many things in romance, if itís done right, it can be a potent fantasy. However, the scene in this story uses every squeamish element associated with the act, and drops the reader with a thud right out of the story. Shuddering. The whole pain/pleasure dichotomy has been well-documented, but if you need a god to take away the pain, maybe you shouldnít be doing it in the first place.
Grade: D-Fantasy Romance Sensuality: Burning
Christy Gissendanerís A Touch of Sin is a warm story in which the Welsh god of music takes a job as a popular karaoke DJ. Heroine Julie decides on the spur of the moment to visit an old friend at his nightclub. There she meets the aptly-named Sin, who has been helping Julieís friend with his bar expansion. They have a completely renovated karaoke area, run by the oh-so-seductive Sin.
Although Julie does not have the gift of music, their chemistry is instantaneous, a sweet depiction of fate-induced love at first sight. Sin is the epitome of the god-lover, erotic and intimate, charismatic and affectionate. Readers will love the "entertain me" scene. One of the strongest stories of the collection, Gissendaner offers a swift and hot tale that delivers.
Grade: BFantasy Romance Sensuality: Burning
The third story, Cast a Moonlit Spell, by Audrey Godwin, is the other weak story in the collection. A beautiful nude statue of a god haunts librarian Gwen Gregory's erotic dreams. Before the statue is removed from its park setting, she goes for one last look. This story brings the gods from Olympus into play, with a guest appearance from Thor. Love between mortals and gods is strictly forbidden, but Eros (aka Michael Eros), trapped for 50 years in a marble prison, canít give Gwen up. He bargains with his life for one night of pleasure, risking everything to hold her one time.
The author works to set up a strong atmosphere, but itís inappropriate and incongruous in the context of the story, and worse, it detracts from the romance between Gwen and Michael. Further, their love scenes especially initially, are mildly uncomfortable. Gwen is, naturally, quite frightened when Eros appears out of nowhere, and he overpowers her with his passion rather than appease her fears. Itís certainly not rape, but the author misses the opportunity for poignancy, and this scene is representative of the problems of the story in general. Godwin keeps setting the stage for solid relationship and character building, but she doesnít follow through, leaving the reader feeling as if sheís been taken to the top of a mountain, but denied the view.
Grade: D+Fantasy Romance Sensuality: Burning
The collection finishes with its strongest story, Kendra Clarkís Slaying the Goddess. A twist on the vampire/slayer romance, this story is the most detailed, the best developed, and the most satisfying. With a history of dealing with devastating personal loss, Jag's only wish now is to gain mortality so that he might pass over to the other side and see the family he lost so brutally. In order to gain this boon from the gods, Jag must eradicate the goddesses of the night. Morgen watched her mother die prematurely at the hands of a goddess slayer. She must now protect not only herself, but her baby sister, the last goddess. And sometimes, she just gets so hungry.
Jag manages to track Morgen down, but when they meet, he discovers she instead needs his protection. The two can never be together, but their passion and mutual respect are stronger than any god-imposed law.
Grade: BUnfortunately, the strength of Clark and the charm of Gissendaner do not mitigate the weaknesses of the other two stories. Another mark against this anthology is its bad editing. The plethora of spelling errors, misused words, and bad punctuation were unnecessary and unprofessional. Regardless of the good press theyíve been getting lately, e-books have to lift their game if they want to gain the respect of their printed cousins. And I write this as somebody involved in the ebook industry for the past year.
There is one very big plus to A Taste of Divinity, a plus almost worth the $6 price tag on its own - the cover. In a word? Divine. However, we all know the adage about books and covers. And it has never rung so true.
-- Kate Cuthbert
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