Title: Horn Gate
Author: Damon Suede
Cover Art: Rey Arzeno
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Amazon. Publisher
Length: Novella/100 pages/23,964 words
Genre: Paranormal M/M
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by LadyM
Review summary: Intriguing beginning of the new series which requires a bit of effort on reader’s part. Well-written but it might be overwhelming for some readers.
Blurb: HORN GATE: Open at your own risk.
Librarian Isaac Stein spends his lumpy, lonely days restoring forgotten books, until the night he steals an invitation to a scandalous club steeped in sin. Descending into its bowels, he accidentally discovers Scratch, a wounded demon who feeds on lust.
Consorting with a mortal is a bad idea, but Scratch can’t resist the man who knows how to open the portal that will free him and his kind. After centuries of possessing mortals, he finds himself longing to surrender.
To be together, Isaac and Scratch must flirt with damnation and escape an inhuman trafficking ring—and they have to open their hearts or they will never unlock the Horn Gate.
“The real secrets could not be communicated, they could only be discovered.”
So says the line from Horn Gate and it seems appropriate for the story itself. It’s well-written in Suede’s distinctive voice, with appealing protagonist and mysterious, demonic love interest. It works well as an opener to the series, though esoteric elements of the story might be too much for some readers. If you want to know more about the evolution of Horn Gate, you should read Damon’s article Starting from Scratch posted here. I found it very interesting and it sure made me even more eager to read the series.
On his 22nd birthday Isaac decides to treat himself, so he steals a colleague’s invitation to a sex lounge. Isaac is a pudgy librarian with bad skin and issues about being touched and a visit to Gehenna is his chance to do something wild. At first, he is mightily disappointed, though he feels something strange in the club’s atmosphere. He decides to venture further down into the club and there he has an encounter which dramatically changes his life.
I liked Isaac a lot. He is sad and lonely, yet he is not without humor or imagination. He has his little luxuries and when faced with extraordinary, unnatural events he chooses to take action. Some of it is motivated by lust, sure, but also by Isaac’s compassion. He is smart, nerdy and I loved how his mind works:
Hebrew in a sex lounge. Maybe some kind of bizarre Israeli role play? Hasidic sex games? Kinky kabbalah? Isaac had visions of doddering rabbis being spanked while strict blondes forced them to eat sausage.
Scratch, a demon, a shedim, an incubus, is an appealing and mysterious figure. What we learn about him we learn together with Isaac – through Scratch’s enigmatic remarks and Isaac’s own research. Frankly, I had to read the story twice before I could connect the dots and have some idea about who Scratch really is. Although I am all for the stories that challenge the readers, I’m still not sure that I caught everything. Regardless, what is clear is that Scratch is as lonely as Isaac. He is driven to help his own kind forced to serve human desires, and Isaac’s appearance offers him the possibility of a shared existence. In a way, Isaac is as much a temptation for Scratch as the sexy demon is for bookish librarian.
The best element of the story is Suede’s writing. It beautifully conveys the atmosphere and history of New York, Isaac’s personality (I could almost hear him speak), his experiences including his attraction to Scratch, integrate numerous references (kudos for Coleridge) and pulls the reader into the story. If I have a bigger complaint (other than the one I already mentioned) it’s Isaac’s ‘magical makeover’. Every time Scratch feeds on Isaac, the librarian’s physical flaws start to diminish until they completely disappear. It made a lie out of Scratch’s claim that his kind seeks a connection with humans with the mind as the most important thing. It seems to me that Scratch’s ‘healing’ of Isaac made only cosmetic changes – it would have been better if he ‘healed’ young man’s self-esteem and if it became clear to the reader that pudgy Isaac is lovable for his mind and personality, regardless of his physical flaws.
There will be more mysteries to discover about Scratch and his world in the future stories, like who and what Pyre – The Judge – really is, why can Isaac open the Gate, where did our protagonists end up, etc. As the opening story, the Horn Gate offers enough to pique the reader’s interest. If the author had somehow toned down the esoteric elements, I would have rated the story higher. Still, I recommend that you try the story. It is short and, even if it takes some effort to understand, it is certainly worth it.