Author: Christian Baines
Publisher: Bold Strokes Publishing
Cover Artist: Jeanine Henning
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 08/16/2016
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Reylan’s last assignment for The Arcadia Trust brought a rebellious human servant under his roof, and a volatile werewolf lover named Jorgas into his bed, leaving the self-reliant Blood Shade—known to the outside world as vampires—in no hurry to risk his immortality for them again.
But when a new terror starts disappearing humans from a bad part of town, Reylan must do everything in his power to keep Sydney’s supernatural factions from the brink of war. Having an ambitious, meddlesome human in the mix is only going to make things worse…especially when that human is Jorgas’s father.
Reylan will need all his determination and cunning to keep the peace under his roof, between the night’s power brokers, and in his lover’s troubled heart.
Baines is a really good writer. I just want to put that up front. This four star rating means that I really enjoyed this book and have great admiration for Baines’ literary skill. My reaction to “The Orchard of Flesh” is that it’s something of a mashup of Clive Barker and Noel Coward. Clive Barker, a gay writer whose macabre books are usually too hetero for my taste, has a similar sense of pacing and horror. Noel Coward of course was all about elegant snark (and his books were also entirely aimed at hetero audiences, but that was generational). Baines’ main character, Reylan, a centuries-old vampire living in Sydney, takes a bit of time to warm up to; but once warmed, I rather loved him. He presents himself as this austere, predatory creature, all cerebrum and no heart. The truth is, he’s the opposite. Especially where Jorgas is concerned.
I was asked to review this second volume in the Arcadia Trust series because I’d reviewed the first one, “The Beast Without” (four stars). In my review of the first book, I commented then that it was an uncomfortable read for me, which was not a criticism but an observation. There is sexual fluidity and moral ambiguity in the Arcadia books, both of which make me squidgy (given that I’m a 61-year-old Kinsey 6 goody-goody who has written two gay vampire romance novels). Baine’s second novel, “Puppet Boy,” was unreadable for me. Again, this is not a comment on Christian Baines’ writing, but on my own broad but very clear expectations and needs when I read LGBT fiction.
Thus I started “The Orchard of Flesh” with some anxiety. Reylan is right there, dragging his reluctant, straight boy-toy to a serious BDSM club in Sydney. I love the notion of the Mannequin as a part of the vampire world, with its distant echoes of Count Dracula and his Renfield. We are re-introduced to various players from the first novel, as well as to the formidable Patricia, former nun, who has taken it upon herself to forge an alliance among the various supernatural factions in Australia’s most famous city. A new mystery arises, centered on a desolate train station in a wretched part of greater Sydney (a nice reminder to Americans that the Aussies have their own deep racist shame to live with). Reylan finds himself a reluctant and even unwitting diplomat, trying to negotiate between the arrogance of his vampire elder Colin and the fearlessness of the ex-sister. And during it all, he tries only to keep his Mannequin Brett safe, while juggling his own increasingly complicated feelings for the young, impulsive bisexual werewolf, Jorgas.
There is blood. There is supernatural mayhem of a skin-crawling intensity. There is, surprisingly, a strong romantic theme in spite of Reylan’s insistence that vampires don’t lean that way. Most important, for me at least, is the constant dry humor that Reylan demonstrates as the increasingly bizarre narrative unfolds, leaving everybody scrabbling for their lives and their sanity. All of these beings who proclaim their inhumanity become startlingly human as they face realities beyond even their supernatural ken. It is not just a plot; it is a story in which everybody moves forward, right to the almost-cliff-hanger ending that made me snarl with irritation. Because you know I won’t be able to resist buying the next installment. I care too much now to let these people go.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
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