Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Being(s) in Love Stories
Magical creatures known as beings emerged from hiding amid the destruction of the First World War. Since then they’ve lived on the margins of the human world as misunderstood objects of fear and desire. Some are beautiful, others fearsome and powerful. Yet for all their magic and strength, they are as vulnerable as anyone when it comes to matters of the heart.
A firebird in 1930s Paris is drawn to a writer with a haunted past. Upon returning from fighting in the Pacific, a jaguar shifter finds a third-gender human on his doorstep. Early rock ‘n’ roll DJ Hyacinth the fairy shocks his listeners with his admiration for his quiet assistant. During the AIDS crisis, a gruff, leather-wearing troll dreams of a settled life with a mixed-species elf across the bar. An imp, who remembers only too well how cruel the world can be, tells himself he’s content to stay behind the scenes—if only his chaotic, impish magic would stop getting in the way. And a shy human tending his poisonous and carnivorous plants is convinced no one will ever want him, certainly not the handsome werewolf grieving for a lost mate. Human or being, all must overcome fear to reach for love.
I have loved R. Cooper’s imaginative series from the moment I found his story, A Boy and His Dragon, a couple that make an appearance here at the end. From the magical beings Cooper brings forth looking for romance to the sly, rich, and subtle manner in which the tales are told, R. Cooper’s stories have enchanted me, delighted me and in the case of some of the tales told here, left me more than a little haunted. Let’s look at them one by one.
The Firebird. 4.5 stars. 1934, Paris, France. Kazimir, a lone firebird, perhaps the last of his kind, sings on the famous stages along side Josephine Baker, in a tragic opera written for him. He knows little of his kind, only what his previous deceased owners have told him. Now free he sings, then retires to his flat, always filled with people, magical beings, and flowing champagne. Until a starving ex pat American editor/ writer invades the soiree, with a book he needs to publish and stories he refuses to write. Rifkin is drawn like everyone to Kazimir. But now for the first time, the attraction starts to be returned. But the war is coming, sides are being chosen, and firebirds are immortal, aren’t they?
Such a perfect bittersweet story to set the collection with. The Firebird will appear again, as well others in this story. Kazimir has been used, those that want him, who seek to own him often find themselves lost. What happens when love is finally part of the firebird’s existence? Quite a story if not exactly a romance. The threads laid down here appear throughout all the other tales.
The Warrior’s Sacrifice. 5 stars. 1947. Los Cerros. Mexico? Or Mexico/California combination. Teo has been taken, beaten, tied up and dumped at the doorstep of the tehuantl—the jaguar, left there as a sacrifice by the neighborhood gang, one of which Teo has just rejected. Thugs really who never understood Teo, the way he dressed, or acted. And now it had come to this. Teo has had a crush on the jaguar for most of his life, even before the jaguar had been sent to fight in the Pacific. War over, now the Jaguar was back, dangerous and often bloody. And Teo had been offered as a sacrifice to the one he wanted more than anything. What would the jaguar do?
This is an amazing blend of mythology, culture, and romance. Teo is such a special character, that I hesitate to give him definition here. The jaguar too is a strong, engaging character, one that pulls you towards him because you need the answers to the questions he poses. Combine Teo with mythology come to life in the tehuantl, a warrior back from the Pacific in a vibrant little village, well, this story has so many layers and hidden “notes” that it is one you will want to revisit to again and again to see what you missed the first time around. I would change nothing in this story, not even the length. Unforgettable.
Hyacinth on the Air. Rating 3.5 stars. 1961. Los Cerros Fairy Hyacinth and human Walter work on the air at a radio station in Los Cerros. Hyacinth has been among the humans for 70 years and still has no regard for human censorship, especially on the air. Something he can often get away with just a small fine as a fairy but poor Walter could lose his job over. And Hyacinth does find Walter so very attractive, even if that’s something he’s also not supposed to notice. Strange humans! But once Hyacinth realizes Walter is noticing right back, all bets are off! Its sexy, kinky and even sweet. Its light-hearted and whimsical tone sometimes worked against other elements of the story of gay rights to take away its power.
I liked the bending of history here. They are talking about “the war”, and other 60’s facts like Lee Dorsey music but with all sorts of twists and turns. I like it but when put along side some of these other stories it just pales by comparison.
A Giant Among Men. Rating 4 stars out of 5. 1982. Los Cerros. Tank, a troll with his Viet Nam MIAs/POWs Never Forget and Love Is A Many-Gendered Thing pins on his lapel, is a lovely character. Tank is his own neighborhood watch, but Mami Wata’s a neighborhood bar is a special place because of Simon. Tank’s in love with Simon, the bartender. Simon, best described as elf and ?. Delightful Simon was a bit more of a question mark but intentionally so. They made a great couple in the end and I would love to have seen this story expanded.
The story basics are recognizable but the manner in which R. Cooper has folded a AIDs like virus into this story, a similar fear environment infecting the country, it all feels so very relevant. R. Cooper’s touches to indicate the 80’s vibe which includes mentions of the movies about a murderous fog were just terrific.
The Imp and Mr Sunshine. Rating: 4 stars out of 5 2005. Los Cerros. Rennet (the child imp from The Firebird) is now grown and Los Cerros is a liberal city seeming to embrace its magical beings. That includes trying to see imps as something less demonical, and more as beings to be accepted, like fairies and elves. What Rennet likes, or moreover loves is John Summers, the deputy mayor “The Incredible Unflappable Mr. Sunshine” who he sometimes does odd jobs for. What follows is a tale of a closeted politician coming out of the closet in his love for an imp. Its charming, Rennet is endearing and the reader will have no problem connecting with the romance and the characters.
The Wolf in the Garden. Rating 4.5 stars out of 5. 2014 Los Cerros. Miki (who has a definite connection to the Firebird). Miki is a gardener who the reader will adore. Miki grows the plants needed for sale in Cassandra’s magic shop. The gardens and greenhouses exist behind the shop and they are Miki’s domain, the plants are Miki’s companions and confidants. The reason behind Miki’s shyness are easily guessed at,and his gentleness and huge heart bring the reader easily over to his side. Then Diego the werewolf arrives, mourning, dying of loss and a shocking thing occurs.
Again, what an amazing story. It moves with an awareness of the fragility of life, how easily things change, along with the need to accept new paths when they open up before you. For a story that contains so much pain, it is also full of hope and sweetness. I loved it. And would love to see more of this couple down the line.
The Dragon’s Egg. 4.5 stars out of 5. Present. Bertie the Dragon and his Arthur are back from A Boy and His Dragon. The egg appears after a night of passion. More than that I will not say. I fell back into their relationship easily, and loved seeing where the two had progressed since last time I had seen them.
But for those unfamiliar with their story, this might be a little problematic. A Boy and His Dragon built Bertie and Arthur’s relationship with great care, its foundation that of Arthur’s abandonment and ill treatment as well as Bertie’s love for his Boy. Without that background, someone new to their history and story might flounder a bit, which would be a shame, because this is a darn good story. Tender, emotionally revealing, and deep as R. Cooper’s stories tend to be. That ending was priceless, and of course, it made me want more.
From a story full of fear and despair to one that ends on such promise and love, R. Cooper takes us on a incredible journey with The Firebird and Other Stories, its one you won’t want to miss. Pick it up and being your magical voyage today. I highly recommend this collection and the other Beings in Love stories.
Cover artist: Paul Richmond. I love the cover, Vibrant, unusual, but I wish the Firebird had more of the story elements.