Title: These Bonds
Author: Sylvia A. Winters
Length: 5,700 words
Publisher: Less Than Three
Genre: m/m historical fantasy
Blurb: Every year, Milo hopes that he will be chosen as a sacrifice to Amor to help preserve the fertility of the land and protect his community. When it finally seems as though his dream is coming true, however, the moment is ruined when he finds himself paired not with another worthy sacrifice, but with the most irritating and immoral man in the town.
Review: Review Contains Spoilers
Milo has been waiting his whole life to be chosen as a sacrifice to Amor, and he only has 5 years left before he’ll be too old to be chosen. It is the highest honor and one that he has devoted his life and studies to. On the day he’s chosen he is elated, until the moment they call forward his partner in the sacrifice. Morgan is friends with Milo’s degenerate older brother — constantly drowning themselves at the tavern and getting into all sorts of “immoral” trouble in town. He’s the worst sort of man in Milo’s opinion, and to be paired with him, a man who is so obviously unworthy of such an honor, is a disgrace. Not to mention the fact that they’ll have to spend the next few days getting to know one another and consummating their newfound and eternal relationship before their throats are cut and their bodies are turned over the cliff into the sea, all for the fertility and peace of their land.
The characters were one of the best parts of the story. While I had a difficult time with Milo (more on that later), I really enjoyed Morgan. He’s an intelligent rebel in a community of religious robots. His background of poverty (in opposition to Milo’s wealthy family) lends to him a world-weary quality. He’s seen much more of life at the same young age as Milo. Yet, with a few exceptions, he’s not fallen into a bitter disposition because of the bleakness of his fate, but has the learned strength to fight against it. He’s a bit of a rogue, with a wink and a smirk and a devilishly sexy personality.
Milo, on the other hand, represents the sheep of the community as a whole. He has accepted and relished the belief that the ritualistic sacrifice of his life is a just and worthy cause, and sees Morgan’s will to survive over his own perceived altruism to be utter selfishness. Yet, he’s almost an innocent in a way. Not only brainwashed into what is basically an unthinking animal, he’s also been removed from the life he could have lived. He’s spent his whole childhood and the little of his adulthood cloistered in his family’s library preparing for the role he hoped he’d someday serve. The difficulty I had with Milo’s character is that not is it difficult to relate to a character such as this anyway (at least for me), but the story is told in third person close (Milo), present tense. Having more of an understanding into Milo’s character than Morgan’s didn’t really help me connect with him, but also left me wishing that I knew a bit more about Morgan.
This was a story of extremely disparate likes and dislikes for me. I quite enjoyed the characters, especially Morgan. I very much enjoyed the writing style of this ‘new to me’ author. I enjoyed the premise as well. Still, the dislikes sadly outweighed the likes for me, which I only realized as the story started to wrap up — primarily because until that point, the story had moved at a relatively slow pace, and in order to make up for that (and stay in a certain word count?) the story pretty much skipped over the middle and end. Perhaps this is because the premise of this story combined with all the background needed to complete it needs a lot longer story, yet in an extremely skilled short story author I’ve seen that done very well. In the end, the story needed quite a bit of work on pacing.
There’s no sex in this story, which I was a bit disappointed with because Morgan has a natural sexiness about him and Milo is so prudish in so many ways that a sex scene could have been a lot of fun to read The biggest problem with the story and characters (which also relates to the big jump in the story) was that there was very little time to see their relationship change from one of disdain to love, or even ‘like’. Onto that, add up all of the unresolved questions: Why is there a sacrificial ritual anyway? How does Morgan feel about Milo? How did they escape from a giant monastery (palace?) when all we see is their escape from their room? What happened to the village/country when they found out they’d lost their sacrifices? Are they on the lam? I mean, I could go on and on, but there’s no more point.
The sad thing is that I’m being so nit-picky and pointing out so many of the story’s flaws because I really enjoyed the author’s writing style and thought the story showed a lot of promise, which is why I was disappointed in the end.
I can’t recommend this one, but I’ll still check out anything this author writes in the future. C-