by Ann Somerville, fantasy (2008)
Lulu, $1.99, ISBN N/A
Poor Derzo Einan. An empath who can sense people's emotions keenly inside his head, he has all but gone completely mad over years of sensory overload. The city of Kundo has many people, most of them living in conditions ranging from poor to hellish, so you can imagine how poor Einan must be feeling, I'm sure. With Kundo being a city overpopulated by people from rural areas hoping to make it big only to end up living in the slums, Einan is more fortunate than most in that he works in the kitchen of a restaurant belonging to a kind man.
When not popping pills and smoking weed, Einan likes to sit at the local temple and enjoy the more pleasant emotions of the visitors (he especially loves the innocent emotions coming from the infants brought by their parents for blessings). This is how he meets Thalem - the temple handyman mistakes Einan for a temple volunteer and things take off from there.
Going Down is a gay story set in a fantasy setting that nonetheless mirrors present day Earth in many ways down to the recognizable contemporary nuances in the conversations. Normally I won't be too fond of such unexceptional world building but since this is a novella, I'm willing to overlook that, especially given how much I enjoy the story.
Okay, how do I describe how much I love this story? I suppose I can wave thumbs up gestures while jumping up and down but that is rather undignified so let me just say that this one manages to do something that most novellas failed in the past - it has me getting my emotions all worked up until I find myself tearing up at that beautiful melodrama that is the final scene. Ms Somerville pulls off things here that may be considered risky by other people who are more familiar with the structure and formula of commercially published gay romances, but this is a recognizable love story nonetheless - one that I find simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting all at once.
Maybe I should warn people that the ending is not going to be to everyone's liking. Don't worry, this isn't Brokeback Mountain we are talking about, so put those fears out of your mind. Nobody dies, nobody gets divorced, nobody says goodbye just because the author fears that she will lose her street cred with the literary crowd if she dares to let her characters be happy. I think the resolution is the most believable one that the author can come up with. Just don't write a sequel, please. Ellen Kushner ended up ruining Swordspoint for me with those below-par sequels. Sometimes, it's best to let the reader plot the rest of these characters' lives and leave the mystique and the magic be.
If I have any significant quibble, it's how some of the conversations in this story feel too much like a psychiatry lecture in progress. Fortunately, for the most part I find the psychoanalyzing done well and the few moments of too-obvious Oprah Winfrey type of dialogs don't get in the way of my enjoyment of this story.
Slash fans, readers of gay romances, and anyone who doesn't mind reading about men in love (this one doesn't feature explicit sex scenes like a typical gay romance from a commercial publisher, by the way), you may want to take a look at this one.
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