The Firebird and Other Stories - R. Coop...
** This review is word-for-word as the one contained within the Being(s) in Love Bundle **
Book 5: The Firebird and Other Stories
Star rating: ★★★★★
The Firebird (74-77%) is an adorable, sweet short that takes place in Paris, 1934. I centers around the Firebird, Kazimir and human, Seer, Jacob Rifkin. Kazimir is a firebird with a chip on his shoulder, having fought through many years of being a slave to humans until finally finding his freedom; an opera singer/performer, he laments over the false portrayal of Beings but never things to push against them. Jacob, on the other hand, is a writer/editor and ex-soldier haunted by the things he's seen, while also being a Seer who drowns himself in alcohol to forget. Until Kazimir accidentally unlocks his thoughts and opens up his writing pass, once again.
The two have great chemistry and affection for one another that blossoms on page, though over a relatively short time. I loved the characiterisation, the flair of the era and the flounce of the diva, prima donna, Kazimir. Jacob was a breath of fresh air in his brutal honesty and I love the thought of them together. There was nothing explicit about this story and that felt perfectly natural. The glimmers of side characters, the tales about Imps and such, were all nicely added to give the story some depth that I really appreciated. I'd love to see Michel's story, too.
The Warrior's Sacrifice (77-81%) is another sweet offering, with some heat. It takes place in 1947 and bravely combines the pain and torment of a man returned from war with the simple, gentle life of Teo, a muxe → a third gender, of a gay man who identifies as and behaves and dresses like a woman. I say brave, because even in a Mexican community, such as this story has, the 40's weren't a time of acceptance for gay men, never mind a muxe. Yet it was written with heart and compassion and understanding for who Teo was and who he needed to be openly.
The story takes place in Los Cerros, the location of book 1 in the series and a place mentioned in book 4, which offers a nice continuity.
Told in 3rd person, with a single POV, it was really nice to be inside Teo's head, as he was a relatable character – someone looked down on for who he was, but brave and loyal, gentle and kind. Carmelo was also a really interesting character – quiet, withdrawn and more animalistic than even some of the wolves in the series, yet it fitted his gruff but loveable personality.
There was a mis-communication theme again, but this one less so than the others. It involved a jaguar this time, which was a nice change, going back to the tehuantl ancestry and covering the Warrior and Protector role that the jaguar had over Teo's community. It was a great piece of writing, great world building and I loved the glimpse into this other community, so different from the other books in the series.
I would have liked to see a little more of Teo and Carmelo getting to know one another, as they both made it clear that they had only ever spoken once and, despite their attraction (hinted at a mating, but not clearly defined as a mate bond) they barely knew each other. A little more communication would have helped with that.
Hyacinth on the Air (81-85%) is a story set in 1961. It is...scandalous...hot...incredible...and perfect for being all of those things. The title is so very apt, because Hyacinth really does just pour his heart out to the listeners of his radio show. As a fairy, he has less shame and inhibitions as a human would, especially for the period, but his human companion, the lawyer tasked with keeping him in line, Walter, is all the things Hyacinth should be. Careful, respectful, mindful of the rules and proper. Yet, through the slow burn romance between Hyacinth and Walter, through stumbling conversations to stolen kisses, the intensity never lessens, even when they're expressing themselves, sometimes unconsciously, live over the air.
The 3rd person, singular POV was perfect, because we needed to know Hyacinth's thoughts but knowing Walter's would have ruined the effect completely. The slow burn nearly killed me, but it was in the best way, because I could feel Hyacinth's nerves and fear, the same way I could feel Cal's in book 1, despite his being a fairy who was supposed to be infallible and without fear. Walter was the incredibly real, awkward human, who wanted to succumb to his nature but was afraid of repercussions so predominant in the 60's. The addition of the “live on air” moments created incredible tension.
It was even better to see Robin's Egg (from book 4) and to be back in Los Cerros again. The continuity never goes away, with this series, no matter whether it's within the novels or the short stories.
A Giant Among Men (85- 89%) is set in 1982, covering the topic of the AIDS epidemic (as yet unnamed, in the story).
It takes place in Los Cerros again, continuing to link the stories, while also hinting at a character who is very likely Teo (an old lady with a flower behind her ear, who speaks old Spanish), as well as hinting at Carmelo, with the mention of an urban legend beast that used to protect the neighborhood. The story more blatantly shows us Calvin Parker (Cal's dad) during his police days, which was really great to see. I also really liked the hint that Teo got his bookstore, with the mention Guerrero's Books and Comics, which would be right up his alley. I'm also pretty sure that the lawyer with glasses that's mentioned would be Walter, from the previous story, since it's only 20 years after that story and he'd likely still be practicing and working with Beings.
As well as tackling the AIDS epidemic of the eighties, the story also touches on the confusion and difficulty of black Beings to pinpoint their roots, while also touching on the fact that Mami, the club owner, is a man. It's not clear whether it's drag, cross-dressing or that Mami is transgender, but I think it's another case of gender-neutral or muxe influence, because of the hints within the story. This is also the first (chronological) mention of a Being hired as part of the police force, with Tank and “others” not lasting long because of “budget cuts” but having been brought in to make it look like something was being done. It was really nice to see what paved the way for Ray.
The main characters are Tank, a troll, and the Elf, Simon, who are both great characters. It's great to have another 3rd person, singular POV in Tank's view, because it tells us so much about him, while not showing us how Simon really feels, until he admits it. Tank is one of those self-conscious Beings who tried to behave the way humans expect, being a Dom in a leather club and portraying the big bad Tank whenever it's needed, yet he's a pussycat underneath, especially for Simon. I loved that Simon reminded me of how feisty Cal could be, because he stands up to Tank, not scared of him or intimidated by him.
The story was another original take on the Beings in history theme, while offering great chemistry between the MC's and a good side story of the vandalism and the way that everyone, even the Beings, handled the onset of the AIDS epidemic. The Dom/sub elements of what Tank did and what he and Simon were going to begin experimenting with were nicely done, both in heat level and the appropriate experience for Simon's experience. A really great story to add to a bunch of great stories.
The Imp and Mr. Sunshine (89-93%) returns to Rennet, from The Firebird, but jumps ahead to 2005, which is nicely appropriate because Rennet was only a child in the previous story. It's a really cute, fun story with lots of mischief and teasing. Rennet is a real firecracker, causing mayhem without realising it and without meaning it. Yet, the Deputy Mayor (and sort of boss), John, otherwise known as Mr Sunshine, doesn't do anything but enjoy the chaos that follows Rennet like a bad penny. He revels in Rennet being unashamedly who he is.
There's a hint of the 'misunderstanding' theme here, again, but in a slightly different tone, as Rennet and John had a friends with benefit arrangement, though they both see it slightly differently to the other, which causes some confusion. It was nice that they were an established couple and the 3rd person, single POV from Rennet was perfect to properly explore that friendship and their long term arrangement.
It was nice to be back in Los Cerros again, getting a brief glimpse of Ray, though he wasn't mentioned by name, and having connections that gave a hint of gradual improvements to the way Beings were treated by humans.
I loved the relationship and the chemistry between John and Rennet; it was organic and well explored, with some heat. I really enjoyed it.
The Wolf in the Garden (93-97%) jumps further ahead to 2014. Although the story is about Diego and Miki, it also has a lot of Kazimir in it. To be honest, his parts made me cry, because it finally answered the question I'd been thinking about, of how Beings coped or felt when their human mate died. This wasn't the usual old-age death, though, which made it all the worse and I'm not entirely sure what got Jacob, in the end, but I can imagine that it was probably a war of some kind, with the implication that Beings like Rennet had to be smuggled out of the country.
However, although Kazimir's part of the story made it sad and beautiful and soul-destroying, I also loved Miki's part in it. He was such a gentle soul, so loveable and relatable; obsessed with his weird and wonderful flowers, as only a true, dedicated gardener could be, he is a loner and afraid to interact outside of his garden. It's almost beautiful to see him opening up to Diego, even in the small ways that begin their friendship.
Thankfully, there is no confusion or miscommunication over their attraction or chemistry. It's all made perfectly clear, with the help of Kaz and Diego's honesty.
Again, the story takes place in Los Cerros, mentioning Cassandra's magic shop and implying that Kaz is the one that Tank heard singing opera, in A Giant Among Men.
It's sad to know that Miki's parents threw him out for being gay, but the human/wolf mating was really nice to see, since it's been a while.
And that's all I can say without giving it all away. A brilliantly done story about awkward love and lost love, wrapped up in beautiful flowers.
Finally, we come to the present day, with The Dragon's Egg (97-100%) and revisit one of my favourite pairings, Arthur and Bertie, from A Boy and His Dragon. This one was...sigh...another story of utter perfection. The gentleness of Arthur and Bertie, with the heat of their simmering love for each other, was beautiful to return to, but the added joy of a baby hatchling was just too much for my heart. It was perfect and I refuse to say any more than that.
Unlike the novel of these two, this one is a single POV, through Bertie, but it's perfect for that, because it lets us see Arthur's behaviour from the distance we need to not know what's going on right away. I loved that Arthur got to go back to school, like he'd wanted and that they'd been together for a few years, by this time, as well as all the plans Arthur made for their future. I'm so excited to see how they work out.
The fact that we had a mention of Jacob's book in there just stole my heart.
Overall, the entire book was a perfect blend of old and new stories, old and new characters and it definitely answered some questions I hadn't known I was harbouring from the previous novels. I can't wait to read more from this universe. It could go on forever and I'd never get enough.
“Fairy healing or not, his little Walter could break him without even trying. He only had to leave.” ~ Hyacinth on the Air
“Simon was a thousand breathless fears. Tank was going to crush them all.” ~ A Giant Among Men
“He'd never wanted a tragic love. Of course he'd been given one.” ~ The Imp and Mr. Sunshine
“I am closer to my Yasha with every page.” ~ The Wolf in the Garden
“I can't watch the Super Bowl, Arthur, please don't make me.” ~ The Dragon's Egg