Author: Jean Woolf
Cover artist: Brooke Albrecht
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Amazon: Buy Link Shadowcraft
Genre: scifi lite mm romance
Length: 135 pages
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: I liked the love story in this novella, but had other issues with it.
In the city of Tessera in the twenty-third century, the law can be as ruthless as those who break it. Li, hustler by night and drug runner by day, is caught in the crossfire.
His best friend and occasional lover is a prostitute, like himself. His nemesis and occasional savior is a man with a secret identity. But then, everyone’s identity is a secret in Tessera. Everyone is a shadow. If he plans to survive, Li must blend in—he must remain quiet and unseen, passed from hand to carnivorous hand without getting captured by a single one.
But what happens when he is captured? Will the shadow, once trapped, manage to escape? Or will Li fade away into the endless night, a shadow among shadows, one death among many?
First of all I want to warn the readers that you should not look for a science fiction story in this book. I have read a lot science fiction romances and science fiction stories with the secondary gay romance storyline and I would not even say that science fiction setting in this one is a window dressing for romance. It is a story which takes place in the future and it is dark, but besides one science fiction element, you may change the twenty third century in the blurb for our time and nothing in the story would change in my opinion.
Having said this, I found the story strangely compelling in places – probably because it did not try to chew more than it could bite. I thought the world building was pretty much non existent, but somehow the writer managed to convey the dark atmosphere of the city well. The story takes place in a week and Li’s potential love interest (actually I should cross out the word “potential” – if Li is kidding himself sometimes, does not mean that readers should) is his long time dear friend and a boy who had been a hustler just as long as he was. There is no Insta!Love of any kind in this novella, we can see that these boys are in love with each other even if they do not always realize it. I liked Li, I wanted him and Matt to survive and maybe be happy together sometime in the future.
Is it a romance? I would say partially for sure, but I guess I would also call it a bizarre erotic police procedural and there I run into problems. No, these problems have nothing to do with what blurb describes as “law can be just as ruthless as those who break it”, even though it is absolutely true. As blurb also hints Li is caught in the cross-fire between police and criminals and has to do stuff to survive. I cannot tell you what exactly happens to him, because we would be in the big spoilers territory, but I can tell you that while I liked the idea and thought it had a fun potential for the action, execution left me wishing for more.
I usually get annoyed when the characters do things for the bizarre reasons. Why would Li’s boss care whether he had sex during the night he spends doing things he needs to do instead of hustling as long as she gets money from him? I dislike when I read the story and start thinking along the lines that “real person or the character who is portrayed close enough to real person would not likely behave that way”. This felt as a clumsy excuse to get Li to have sex which tattered on the verge of consensual with the person I will not tell you much about ;). Actually, no I would tell you something about the person Li had sex with besides Matt, I think his character had so much potential, and I was disappointed that we did not get to know him better.
The ending was HFN and I thought it suited the story very well.