Carved in Flesh ed by SL Armstrong & Kristen Pavka
Length: 193 pages
People often say that the true perfection in the human form is in its imperfections. Scars are visceral reminders of a person's past, a sign of an event that can never fade. Whether it was gained in combat, a traumatic experience, or part of a ritual with a lover, scars are the ultimate labels. They leave a permanent mark on the body and spirit that, one way or another, change a person forever.
Anthologies are always tough, and once again I found a wide range of quality, both in writing and storytelling. How much you enjoy the stories will really depend on what you want out of them: Are you here purely for the carving kink? Then they all will probably satisfy that. For those who want more depth and exploration, there are a good number for that as well, and even the ones I considered weak were still enjoyable.
I must admit that the creation of scars always made my skin crawl, but after reading "Oren's Right" and "Sojourn Home," it has become beautiful. These stories definitely opened my eyes, and it was interesting the different ways the authors interpreted the theme.
Oren's Right by Blaine D. Arden
This was an interesting story that continued in the world of Arden's short "The Forester." I found the characters compelling, and I love the world we're provided, but I wasn't wild about the plot. While it fits in and explains some points in the story, it also feels completely unrelated to the romantic strain of the story and the narrator's near-obsession with Oren and his marks. I enjoyed the description of the scarring ritual and Vern's own marks—and his love of Oren's marks. I wanted more of that and less of the mystery, but overall still an enjoyable read.
Tiofaidh Ar La by Angelia Sparrow & Naomi Brooks
Initially I wasn't too wild about this story. It felt rushed through the meeting and the courting and the sex. The time skips jumped through massive amounts of development and potential for character building, and while I can understand why, it all went too fast. This would have been better told in a full novel to better explore the bond between the characters and to explain why a young man would go to such lengths for a man he's only known a few months/a year.
I liked Joe's difficulties with his scars and how Ryan reacted to them, recognizing them, adoring them, but not forgetting that they still hurt. The romance worked well, despite what I felt were underdeveloped characters, because of the strong emotions Joe felt about his scars and Ryan. So a nice story, but really could have been explored more completely.
Faded Love by MA Church
This one started rough for me, as the opening scene is sex and felt rather porny. It took me a while to get into the story, and I wasn't wild about the narration jumping between the two main characters constantly, but the end was sweet and made me go "Aww." So that was worth it in the end.
The plot (pretty boy loses his looks) isn't necessarily new, but some interesting things were done with it here, although again it felt like too much story was pushed into a short piece.
Scar Therapy by Logan Zachary
This one really didn't do it for me. I like the concept of the injured young man coming in for scar therapy and the bond between man and therapist, but too much was told not shown and I never really got a good sense of the characters and their bond over the story.
By the end I was so irked by the patient/practitioner questionable-ethics issue that the sex just felt like porn. There were also several things that just felt weird, like Tim's mother coming to his first therapy session (which made me think Tim was much younger than he was [he's out of college]) and Tim just showing up at Larry's house (which was just kind of creepy and a porn setup).
Gift of the Goddess by Kaje Harper
Loved this one. The incorporation of scars was fantastic for both men, and the drama and plot were riveting. It was amazing to see how far Garvin was willing to go in order to save Nyle. It was intense, and I appreciated that while Garvin was all strong about everything, it still affected him, despite his 'choice' in the matter.
This feels like it is the start of something, with the fickle goddess's attention now turned on Garvin, but the end resolved all the current issues and felt complete, leaving the reader at a compelling point. Overall this story quickly fleshed out the history of the two characters and threw me right into the action. Absolutely recommend it.
Sojourn Home by TC Mill
I struggled with this one, not because it was poorly written or boring, but because it was so emotionally charged that it hurt to read. I have difficulties with open relationships though, so some people may not be as affected as I was, although I felt the narrator was compelling in both his desires and his restraint.
Not only did it make me ache, but it also made me rejoice. The ending was near perfect (only not perfect because I like my endings oozing a sugar-laden chocolate center). But I felt happy with how things went and it fit both the characters, which can be difficult with stories of open relationships where one is maybe not so happy with that setup. Not much happens action-wise, but this is worth reading just for the compelling emotional story.
Received this book for review.