Title: Call and Answer
Author: Val Kovalin
Cover artist: Trace Edward Zaber
Publisher: Amber Allure
Length: Extended novella (31k words)
Genre: Paranormal/Fantasy M/M, Nostalgic (1950’s-era), Interracial
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: Hot summer love between a young man and an alligator turns into something more in this story set in 1959 New Orleans.
Small-town Louisiana in 1959 is a dangerous place to have a gay affair. But Henri can’t help his instant attraction to Gabriel, a handsome black musician who accepts his advances with amused tolerance. Henri hopes for a summer of hot, uncomplicated sex before he leaves for college. He doesn’t realize that Gabriel is a powerful shapeshifter who also lives as an alligator in the bayou.
When Henri first sees Gabriel transform into an alligator, he mistakes him for the Devil. Then he learns that Gabriel exists to raise power through sex-magic. For that, Gabriel needs a human lover. In the past, some lovers have helped Gabriel spend the power for the good of the land, and others have squandered it for personal gain. What will Henri do—given that he never wanted to be a magic-wielder in the first place?
As his summer romance with Gabriel deepens into passionate love, Henri must learn to face responsibility as he encounters prejudice, family feuds, and startling glimpses into the underworlds of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Can he persuade Gabriel to take a chance on a future with him?
I will admit that I picked up Val Kovalin’s first book “Wicked Cool” because I read and liked her reviews and I was very curious whether I would like her writing works just as much. Oh, I should not have worried, I liked it much more :), in fact I pretty much fell in love with her writing and no, I am not saying that because Val is a fellow reviewer on this site. Believe me, I want to enjoy the books I choose to review, and when I saw Val’s book available I grabbed it and fast. And oh my goodness, this book did not disappoint me. The writing just grabs you from the get go.
As the blurb tells us, Gabriel is an alligator shifter. This is certainly the first time I read about the shifter of this kind and for this alone I am thankful to the writer. Besides the fact that the author did not go with werewolves or vampires or any of the popular shifters, I also loved how well she developed the *mythology* of Gabriel. He appears to be very, very, VERY old, and throughout the story references are made to Gabriel’s age in fun and entertaining ways. One reference interested me in particular and I even tried to look it up. The blurb also tells us about Gabriel raising power through sex magic and how he needs a human lover for it. Personally I think this is an instance where the blurb actually reveals way too much to the readers. I would have liked to have found this out on my own.
I fell in love with Henri and Gabriel the minute I “met” them both, but I also fell in love with the settings of the book. I always wanted to go to New Orleans, in fact few years ago I almost went, but it fell through at the last minute. I am still hoping to do it and for now I was very happy to visit this city in the book. I do not know how true to life the settings were, but it definitely *feels* very realistic and so, so beautiful.
I really liked Henri and how he deals with the necessity of spending Gabriel’s power: how he wants to do good, but often does not know what to do with all the power; how embarrassed he gets when he does good thing with it; and how what he wants to do the most is just spend time with Gabriel and not to think about all the magical stuff. In that sense Henri just seemed so endearingly eighteen years old.
However, while he mostly acted as very real eighteen-year-old young man would act in my opinion, sometimes he seemed much older than his chronological age. His easy acceptance of Gabriel’s shifting nature did not sit well with me, I have to admit. I was wondering whether somebody who never before had any experience with magic would act as calm and accepting as Henri did when he discovered that his new lover likes to swim with the big reptiles and is in fact one?
Don’t get me wrong, Henri is shocked and nervous, but his shock and nervousness, at least in my estimation, disappeared very quickly (maybe lasting several minutes?). This was the impression I got. I would have expected him take longer to collect his thoughts. However at the same time, maybe that is what needed to happen since Gabriel is pretty much a very old mythological creature, and I suppose the person who would be his lover has to sometimes act older than his years? It felt a little jarring at first, despite the powerful chemistry these two share.
Speaking of chemistry, they are hot together — just smoking hot in my opinion by the way. While this story has an original, powerful plot, if you are looking for hot sex as part of the story, look no further. 🙂
Sensory overload shut down Henri’s ability to think. His stomach flipped over as his terror and confusion seemed to drop straight into his gut, kindling into raw sexual need. He dragged Gabriel close for a bruising kiss, Gabriel tugged off Henri’s T-shirt, wrestling him into the kitchen as the screen door slapped shut. He pinned Henri down on the kitchen table, and his cock swelled, pressing against Henri’s thigh as he stripped off Henri’s jeans and briefs.
I like how the lust between Gabriel and Henri slowly transforms into love, and how Gabriel still has doubts even when he knows he is in love, which totally made sense to me based on who Gabriel is and how much longer than Henri he has been in this world.
I also liked how well author did the social commentary theme on the treatment of black people in New Orleans at that time, the complex relationships between its black and white residents; she managed to not sound preachy and stayed firmly within the story while doing it. I really cannot say more about it, because it would be a spoiler and I do not want to spoil the story more.
I really liked how wonderfully drawn secondary characters were and I absolutely loved how much Henri grew by the end of the summer so that he was able to have that conversation with his parents, and while his parents’ reactions were painful to read, at the same time it was very satisfying.
As much as I liked the majority of the book, I admit that the ending felt a bit off to me, and I specifically mean the way Henri decides to spend their power. Without including spoilers, it felt a bit too cold and out of character to me. I understand, of course, that he felt he did not have any other choice, but maybe he could have done something without going that far? I guess I would say that, compared to the Henri I thought I knew and grew to love throughout the story, it just was…off.
Overall highly recommended.