Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Miles Larson believes the world has turned against him. The poor economy cost him his cushy job and lifestyle, now Miles lives in considerably reduced circumstances back in his hometown in Minnesota. At least that’s how he sees it. He works in a friend’s pawn shop fixing broken down appliances while living in his friend’s trailer behind the shop. And all the time, he is thinking “why me, why did this happen to me?” As Miles begrudgingly goes to work and then home, the only thing that lifts his spirits is a walk in the woods nearby, a place of solice and adventure when little, now a blessed respite from the disappointment that is his life. Little does he know that as he bemoans his life, the wood have ears and are listening.
One day at the pawn shop, a box of personal goods to be sold revealed an intricately carved silver flute to be pawned. When asked to research its origin, Miles’s investigation opens up an enchanted world where one can have all he wants if only he asks the right question. Before he realizes it his reality becomes one of two worlds vying for his body and soul. An ethereally gorgeous fae wants Miles to choose him and his world but is everything there exactly as it seems? Who is the beast he encounters along with the Fae Lord in the Otherworld? For each choice that Miles might make, a price is to be paid. But what is the price of being given everything you desire? What if what you desire wars with true love and happiness? What price will you pay then? Only Miles can answer those questions…now if only he knew what those answers are….
Miles and the Magic Flute is less a romance and more of Heidi Cullinan’s LGBTQ version of Aesop’s Fables. Or should that be Cullinan’s Fae Fables? An intricately layered cautionary tale, Miles and the Magic Flute starts with one character whose sense of entitlement and displeasure with his current status starts the games of enchantment to follow.
From the beginning Cullinan builds two very realistic and opposite worlds to vy for Mile’s body and soul. One is the small town in Minnesota that Miles has returned to after losing his job and condo in the big city. A sense of desperation covers the town like a layer of dust. A factory has closed putting much of the town’s population out of work, and sometimes only the largesse of his friend Patty of Patty’s Pawn shop keeps some of them from going without food or a home. A cluttered store filled with the bits and pieces of peoples lives, the pawn store has been passed from father to daughter as has the trailer behind it. Into the shop flow various sundry folk, from a hispanic family seriously weighing how they will spend their strictly budgeted dollars to an antagonistic bully who learns that homophobic slurs will cost him big time from the lesbian pawnbroker. Cullinan paints these small town characters with the same brush as her main ones, and they are as realistically detailed and human as they could be. You can feel the paint peeling and the cars falling apart from neglect from the author’s descriptions of a small town barely surviving and the people who remain behind while others have left.
The second world starts off as nothing more than a shivery feeling as Miles walks through the woods nearby. A feeling of being watched, a ripple in the air, the appearance of a small white flower in winter, and little by little Cullinan’s Otherworld, the Fae Dream world arrives to encroach on Miles’ reality and the well being of all. I loved how the author built up not only Miles anticipation and sense of alarm but the readers as well. Layer by layer the magic comes and at first its wondrous and enchanting….and then it deepens to something more. And as we begin to get a true sense of exactly what and who the Fae Lord represents, Cullinan continues to pivot us and Miles back and forth between reality and desire, human and Fae until the contrasting images and worlds start to blend eerily into each other. The author’s locations and world building is superb and each feels as real as the other.
Heidi Cullinan has also provided the readers with one of the most realistic and wonderful lesbian couples that I can remember. Patty with her blunt ways and mannerisms that cover a depth of personality just waiting to be revealed. And Julie whose perceptions and world views are startling and compelling. I loved this couple and they provide the anchor that the story and Miles requires. Patty and her long time lover, Julie, have slowly been pulling Miles out of his depression over losing his job and successful life in Atlanta at Fetterman Financial. Patty gave him a job fixing the appliances she pulls out of trashcans or brought into the store. Julie feeds him vegan food she cooks from her amazing garden out back and items she has traded for. Cullinan does an exemplary job of conveying how grey and small this world appears to Miles in his current emotional state, the businesslike and frank manner in which Patty deals with her customers and Miles, and the generous, compassionate nature that is Julie’s answer to everything she confronts in life. And while we see their trailer, business and partnership only from Miles’ viewpoint, it is clear that Miles’ self-absorbed outlook keeps him from seeing his friends and their lives in a clear and realistic way.
And that is part of what I feel is a real issue for the reader here. The story is told from Miles’ point of view. And he is whiney, complaining, and his sense of entitlement is hard to take after a while. I get that we need to see Miles at his worst in order to get a base line from which we can chart his growth but that doesn’t make his selfishness and self centeredness any easier to take. Even as Miles realizes that he sees everything now through his “Atlanta filter”, comparing and contrasting his current life against that which he lost, his musings become a Greek chorus of want, hate, and envy. “I hate this, I hate my life, I hate what I’ve become, I hate what I lost, I hate realizing that I never really had it.” and finally “I hate my life and I would do anything and give anything to change it.” Heartfelt worlds that the woods, or someone in the woods is listening to and geting ready to answer with an offer.
But the most damning words here are probably the ones that the readers will recognize, if not understand. How the readers feels about hearing Miles utter them will reflect in how much the reader will like this story. Those words are the ones that will propel Miles to accept an offer too good to be…well good. And they are “I’m better than this. I deserve so much better than this.” What an all too human phrase…one that probably propels many a person into actions that they will regret later on. How readers feel about Miles’ sense of entitlement will be the lens through which they view this story. For many, I think it will mean they look at Miles and his predicament with a sense of detachment. And no matter what befalls Miles, that lack of emotional investment in his problems and terrors will keep readers disconnected from the story and Miles. I will admit I came perilously close to that detachment myself. It took me much longer to connect with Miles than I anticipated and by then the story was almost over.
As I said this is a story of lessons and morality. “Beware of what you wish for, as you just might get it”, “Be happy with what you have,” actually Miles and the Magic Flute is a roll call of lessons from Aesop’s Fables among others. Whether it is about appearances being deceiving or giving one’s enemies the means for your own destruction, Cullinan lines them up and marches Miles through them on his way to enlightenment, redemption, and finally love.
Yes, there is several love stories here, although no romances. I wish I had a better understanding of “the Beast” here, he is the one character without much substance. There is so much about Miles and the Magic Flute that is as wondrous as its plot. From Terris and Murali to Patty and Julie and the worlds they all inhabit, Cullinan’s ability to bring both the magical and the mundane to life is amazing. I just wished I had more of a connection to Miles, that I had wept when he did but ultimately that didn’t happen here. Other readers might find themselves incredibly moved by Miles’ story and the terrific ending that Heidi Cullinan has crafted for them all. Pick up this book and decide for yourself. I am still so very happy that I read it and journeyed for a while in their shoes.
Cover art by Wilde City Press. What a beautiful, magical cover. Loved it.
Publisher’s Note: This title has been previously published and has been revised from its original release
ebook, 2nd Edition
Published May 27th 2014 by Wilde City Press (first published June 7th 2010)
original titleMiles and the Magic Flute