by Katrina Strauss, historical/paranormal (2008)
Samhain Publishing, $2.50, ISBN 978-1-60504-272-5
Sleight Of Hand is a very short story, as you can no doubt tell from its $2.50 cover price. In a way, this is a pity as the cover art is too pretty not to be featured on the cover of an actual print book.
Meet our hero, Edwin Matthews. At 19, he is already a sickly fellow due to his recent stay at an asylum. Suffering from alternating bouts of ennui and restlessness, Edward is diagnosed by the medical specialist at the asylum to be suffering from an overactive spleen. After a charming medical regime involving phlebotomy and purgative bitters, Edward is now supposedly better, although the poor dear looks like he's at death's door.
Of course, his physical appearance makes him the perfect bishie, which is what he is in this story when, on a train with his mother and sister, he catches the eye of Sir Marco Satori. The self-described "illusionist, hypnotist, and spiritualist extraordinaire" wastes no time manipulating virginal Edwin into a seductive game of hanky-panky. Yes, this is a paranormal story, but I'd let readers of this story discover the paranormal elements of the story on their own, heh. I can't spoil everything about this story, after all.
I love Sleight Of Hand. The author's ability to let me walk in the shoes of her characters and experience what her characters are seeing, hearing, or smelling is most impressive indeed as everything feels so real here. There is also ample build-up towards the appearance of Marco Satori in this story, with the author slowly drawing me into Edwin's restless ennui so that when he is startled to see Marco's grand entrance, I am too. When Edwin likes what he sees, so do I, because it is as if I'm seeing Marco myself through Edwin's eyes.
Oh, and the sex play is of dubious consent, folks, so do have some care if you are touchy about such things in your stories. I personally find the sexual aspects of the story edgy, dark, and erotic, but I have a feeling that they may not appeal to every reader out there. Still, I like it, and of course, that is what counts the most where I am concerned at the end of the day!
The story falters in one pretty significant aspect. At one point in this story, Edwin asks Marco why Marco believes himself to be in love with Edwin. I'm still wondering about that long after the story has ended. Sure, Marco can talk prettily about how Edwin makes him feel, but the thing is, Edwin is still a rather sullen 19-year old kid, not someone who typically capture the very jaded imagination of someone like Marco unless I'm to assume that Marco has a fetish for Edwin's innocence. Heaven knows, innocence won't last long enough to sustain a month of happily ever after, much less a lifetime.
Nonetheless, considering the limitations of the short story format, I feel that Ms Strauss has done an excellent job in bringing this naughty little gay romp to life. This is one story that is as good as the cover art would suggest.
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