This is not a traditional m/m romance. It is a wonderful and thought provoking short story.
Author: Alexis Hall
Cover Artist: Simone
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Once upon a time . . . that’s how the old stories always begin.
Once upon a time there was a king of a fallen kingdom. He was just and he was beloved. Or so the numbers said. One day, he gathered together the greatest, wisest minds in all the land—not sorcerers, but scientists—and he bade them fashion him a son. A prince. A perfect prince to embody his father’s legacy.
The scientists each brought the prince a gift: beauty, strength, ambition, intellect, pride. But they must have forgotten something because when he saw the mermaids dance at the Cirque de la Mer, he ran away to join them.
For a year, he trained them, performed with them, thought he was happy. For a year he thought he was free. But then Nerites came: A merman who refused to be tamed. A captive from another kingdom. A beast in a glass cage.
The old stories always end with happy ever after. But this isn’t one of the old stories. This is a story of princes and monsters.
Alexis Hall is an enigma, a enjoyable enigma, but an enigma nevertheless. You never know what you are going to get when he publishes his next work. The only thing that can be guaranteed is that it will be wonderful.
‘Sand and Ruin and Gold’ is thirty-nine pages of such wonder. This is a prime example of literature that should not be marketed in a minority genre, but out there to be enjoyed by all. A post modern onion is the easiest way to refer to it. The layers in this short story are many, and whatever time you spend reading it, I guarantee you will spend more time thinking about what you have read. My review is just one reading I could have written a totally different interpretation, and it would still have worked.
This short story is entirely in the first person with no dialogue. It is a dystopian tale where inevitably man has turned his back on nature and retreated to cities after an apocalyptic event. The politician in charge of this world orders scientists create a son for him, genetically created. This son, now young man, created in his father’s image and to his father’s specifications should have been complete. However, as a child on a visit with his nurse to the Cirque de Mer, he feels something is missing in himself. The cirque features captive Mer people, the only beings whose names we are told. This in itself is ironic because the names are given to them by captors, so real names remain hidden in this story. The son runs away to the circus, several times, confusing his father who thought him, as ordered, ‘flawless’…
I was. I am. Everything he coded into me is there. Everything that should have made me just like him. But something got into my heart that day at the cirque. A piece of grit, love or beauty or hope. Words we didn’t use so much anymore.
How many children have had their fathers thinking them flawed because they believed differently, thought differently or loved differently? This could also be the start of a nature versus nurture argument that we are more than the sum of our genetic make up. Eventually, at nineteen the son runs away to the cirque and doesn’t return. There he learns how to care for the Mer people and has no contact outside the aquarium complex. He reveals how when seeing a picture of his father in a newspaper he,
…stared into the pixels that were his eyes, looking for loss of me. I never found it.
This was one of many phrases which broke my heart.
Much of this story can also be seen as a tract against keeping animals in captivity. Intelligent beings that we ‘train’ and condition to perform for the laughter and amusement of humans. The indignities and horrors of this are beautifully written and strike at the heart of what it is to be a sentient being. There are too many ironies to cover in one review, but there is a passage where the trainers submit the beautiful, monstrous merman ‘Nerites’, to the indignities of having his sperm extracted for a breeding programme. The bitter irony of this is paramount, the trainers feel motivated by altruism and a sense of superiority, calling it conservation. They never for a moment think is this right for the Mer people they claim to be saving. This, while surrounded by the examples of the destruction human kind have wrought on their own species. The final indignity for this merman is having the Son, who has a true connection with Nerites, observing this process.
This author retains his masterful almost gleeful use of language and alliteration to great effect,
Everything stagnated, sweltered, sweating itself to sepia.
then names the Son at the end of the story in Manx gaelic, which had me grinning when I worked out the meaning.
Alexis Hall also manages to create a very ‘romantic’ moment for two beings who cannot verbally communicate or survive in each others’ worlds. For this he uses an intertextual moment, which will be familiar to all followers of Star Trek,
…and he covered my palm with his. I don’t know how long we stood there, hand-to-hand across a panel of touch-warmed glass. I took the memory of his eyes with me when I left.
This short story is as non-traditional in its execution as the love story within. It breaks open and exposes the pain of the invisible. Those not seen by family or the strangers who interact with them everyday. It reveals how the pain of being misunderstood and having your needs ignored can be as evil and deadly, as being openly abused. How many of us smile in these situations but have a smile that is,
A pathetic simulacrum of happiness…
I will end this review with an example of one of the saddest lines, and then the most tragically romantic.
I would weep, but my father never gave me the capability.
This phrase made me ache with unshed tears of my own. But at the end…a happy for now.
And we wait. For the day I walk into the sea and he takes me in his arms, covers my mouth with his, and gives me his breath, until there’s only him and me and nothing else.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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