Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Aran, an artist, grew up on his grandmother’s tales of the Side-by-Side world. He never expected his knowledge of folklore would aid his boyfriend, Brandon, in an arson investigation, but the snakes that burst into flames when agitated are something he recalls from those childhood stories.
When Aran vanishes, Brandon knows his time as a state trooper won’t help find him, so he enlists the aid of Aran’s grandmother, Ruth, and they venture into the Side-by-Side world.
But Aran has no memory of his life prior to crossing between worlds, and he’s enjoying the company of his handsome new companion, Ren. Even if Brandon and Ruth reach him, convincing him to return to his former home won’t be easy. In a contemporary fairy-tale adventure set among forests and trails, Aran must choose between a mystical fantasy world and the man he loves.
Pyresnakes by Tray Ellis has a very neat premise, some elements of fascinating world building and an execution in the storytelling that just doesn’t rise to meet either of those to the potential indicated. It comes close at points and the author’s imagination really soars with the creation of the Pyresnakes and the Side by Side world. Those snakes are a magical touch, combusting into flames when threatened and called, lying harmlessly about when not. I especially loved the reason behind their name and their role in the Side by Side universe. Made perfect poetic sense as did their reason for being in the “normal” one.
What didn’t make sense? Brandon’s reaction to the whole “snakes on fire” thing. Even after seeing them in action, he’s almost lackluster about such an astonishing creature. Even after Aran tells him about their mythology. In fact, Brandon’s easy acceptance and lack of incredulity, amazement, any believable reaction here made me quickly lose interest in him as a character. I didn’t believe in his relationship to Aran simply because it felt as though the man had no honest emotions. The word I’m looking for is cardboard.
I adored Ruth and the denizens of the Side by Side world. Far more interesting than this one, including Ren and his brand of revenge and justice. Just couldn’t understand by Aran wanted to return to Brandon myself. Ellis didn’t ever deliver a real relationship between the two of them before Aran disappears so again the reader is at odds to figure out why we should root for Aran to return to Brandon when everything in the Side by Side world is far more interesting and in tune with Aran then the one he left behind.
How he finds Aran is a neat little tale on its own but the reunion? Bland and sort of anticlimactic. The romance alone would get 2 stars because there just doesn’t feel like any connection between the MCs. What saves this story is the world building and creations here. Told from both povs, we travel with Aran in the Side by Side world as well as with Brandon in the ‘regular” universe, keeping tabs on both as the search for Aran continues, Aran’s memory loss deepens and Ruth and Brandon get increasingly desperate to find Aran. Aran’s journey is magical as is everything he sees. There’s the story, it’s his road we want to be on, his and Ruth his grandmother. A wonderful thing in a fantasy, a sad thing to say in a romance.
If this sounds like something you would enjoy, grab it up.
Cover Artist: Christine Griffin is dramatic and covers a scene in the story. Well done.
Kindle Edition, 143 pages
Expected publication: June 28th 2017 by Dreamspinner Press