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7&7 by Sean Michael
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7&7

by Sean Michael, J.S. Cook (Contributor), Carole Cummings (Contributor), Amy Rae Durreson (Contributor), Jamie Fessenden (Contributor)10 more, Rhys Ford (Contributor), J Tullos Hennig (Contributor), John Inman (Contributor), Clare London (Contributor), Pearl Love (Contributor), Sean Michael (Contributor), Rick R Reed (Contributor), Andrea Speed (Contributor), Brandon Witt (Contributor), Serena Yates (Contributor)

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***This review does not include the story I contributed.***

As the blurb says, "Humankind possesses a dual nature, the ability to rise to the brightest heights—or sink to the darkest and most perverse depths." That is exactly what this anthology showcases in a collection of fourteen stories that go across genres, time periods, and heat levels. Each individual piece explores one of the seven virtues and the seven vices, and all I can say is that you should expect the unexpected.

The Dark of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson
If you ask people to define faith, you’re probably going to get quite a few very different answers that will mostly depend on what, if any, religion the person belongs to. As a virtue, it can therefore take many different forms, and Amy Rae Durreson chose a made-up one for this short fantasy tale set in a world both very similar and very different from ours. There are pale northeners, most of whom are well educated and live in Aurea, dark southern people who lead simple lives, and the east is mountainous,. Slavery existed, at least in the past, and not everyone believes in a higher power any longer. For those who do believe, the sun is their god, and it is this faith that gets tested every time an eclipse occurs.

Tomal, the narrator of the story, is a priest in his fifties and lives in a simple village in the south, but he spent five years at a northern university when he was younger and speaks Aurean. He feels like a fraud because he lost his faith when his husband of thirty years died a year earlier. So when a group of Aureans appears in his village to observe the eclipse, accompanied by a high priest, Tomal fears the game is up and he will be fired. But what follows is not at all what he expects, and what happens as he leads the strangers up the mountain so they can see the eclipse from the shrine, is entirely unexpected and nothing short of miraculous.

I found myself pulled right into this world of faithful sun worshippers, skeptic astronomers, and, of course, Tomal with all his doubts, anger, and issues. While the setting feels historical, the issues the small group of people deals with are very “modern”, and their world is very engaging. The occasional allusions to Christian faith made me smile, and yet the story has a feel all of its own, thanks to great world building. If you’re looking for an interesting interpretation of faith, death, and resurrection in a somewhat different format than the one you may be used to, then you will probably like this inspiring short story.

The Bank Job by Andrea Speed
What a hilarious and utterly entertaining story. With tongue-in-cheek humor verging on sarcasm, Andrea Speed presents this story about superheroes – except it’s told from the villain’s point of view. It has everything I would hope for when superheroes are around, from a heinous crime motivated by greed to endangered hostages and a daring rescue, ‘The Bank Job’ has it all.

The Destroyer is evil, conceited, feels superior, and wants to complete “just one more job” before he leaves town for good. Greed at its best, for sure. His inner monologue as he thinks about the bank robbery in progress, his utter disdain for “the guys in capes”, and his complaints about how difficult it is to recruit quality minions to do the dirty work are hilarious. He is so convinced of his own genius that he ignores any and all warning signs – until it is much too late.

I really like stories about superheroes, but I have to say this satirical turn-the-tables tale was just as good. If you like your superheroes all serious and focused, this is not your story. But if you’re up for a bit of fun - okay, a LOT of fun - you’ll definitely enjoy this version of events!

Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael
In this world with vague links to Chinese culture and a historical feel, seers and the magic they can do is no longer respected by everyone. Del of the Red, an old seer who has served the City of Clouds for decades, is ridiculed and banished by a new king. He should be looking forward to living with his husband Brawn’s tribe, the Ugul. They make Del feel welcome like one of their own, but his further visions for the city won’t leave him alone. Del throws prudence to the wind and returns to a city where nobody wants to listen to him.

Del clearly takes his calling as seer seriously. Some of the visions are so clear and compelling that to resist them would mean madness for him. It must be difficult to deal with a force that is so strong, and I can see why Del ends up giving in. The second reason is that he wants to save as many people from certain death as he can, and many do end up listening to him. Del is very concerned about his husband, so he travels alone – not a good idea under the circumstances. Luckily, Brawn is a stubborn as Del!

This is a wonderful story about mature lovers who try to out-stubborn each other, but their love ensures they don’t do any real damage. if you enjoy historical settings, magic, and watching idiots get punished for their stupidity, then you will probably like this short story.

The Gate by J.S. Cook
Set in Newfoundland during World War Two, ‘The Gate’ is a dark story of anger, aggression, and two men fighting for no rational reason that I could see. Then again, the vice covered here is anger, and that is most often not rational, so I think that is a good fit.

Jack, the narrator of the story told in first person and present tense, owns a café in an Army town and does quite well for himself. He and his bartender have things well in hand, until a dry cleaning business opens up next door and all kinds of problems pop up. The nasty chemical smell is bad enough, but when the owner erects a gate closing off the alley (and Jack’s access to garbage disposal), things get out of hand.

While this is definitely a story that belongs in the “noir” category, and I was more than shocked by the ending, I can’t say there weren’t enough hints that should have made me realize what was going on long before the big reveal at the end. Very nicely done!

Heirs to Grace and Infinity by Carole Cummings
I have often wondered what would happen if magic were real in our world. Carole Cook explores this situation where theurgists (wonder-workers, magicians) are licensed, everyone is tested for magic ability, and the Orthodox Party is running the country. They have been illegally and relentlessly eliminating unlicensed magic users for a long time, using an organization called the Bureau. Even children are not safe from them, and the methods they use to suppress magic are utterly cruel.

In come two characters who tell the story in alternating sections. One man is only known as “the Sorcerer”, and his command of magic is pretty awesome. He has been secretly freeing prisoners, children and adults alike, and I loved the descriptions of his activities. The second main character is Jackson, a captain working for the Bureau, who is reputedly one of the most loyal men in their employ. He is tasked with finally capturing the Sorcerer, but as it turns out, he has his own agenda.

This is a fascinating story of loyalty and betrayal, higher-ups who are hungry for power losing sight of basic human rights, and the men who end up fighting for justice and a better world for everyone. If you’re looking for an entertaining mix of action/adventure, political thriller, with superhero-like characters fighting injustice, corruption, and an authoritarian regime, then you will probably like this short story.

The Rendering by John Inman
Gluttony is a sneaky vice. It makes the "sinner" feel good at first, but often has unforeseen, and in Otis's case, horrendous consequences. I felt for Otis, I really did. He likes his food, and he may overdo things but in the end he is very human and very lonely. There were lots of hints throughout that his story would not end well, but I still hoped for the best almost until the very end. But the moment it turned out that Otis's blind date was a candle maker - I knew what was going to happen. Horror in its purest form, but - like gluttony - in this story it sort of sneaks up on you.

Marvelously horrific!

Covetous by Pearl Love
Envy is not considered a vice for no reason – it is one of the most destructive forces around. And the main character of this story, marketing executive Jonathan, feels it in spades and on so many levels that I am not surprised it ruins his life. Maybe not in the way I expected, and I don’t wish what happens to him on anyone, but pay for his jealousy he does.

This is a well written, more than slightly horrific dark story with a paranormal touch. I can’t say that I liked it, not being into horror, but it is well worth reading. If you ever feel the “green monster” about to make an appearance, remember Jonathan!

Hope by Rick R. Reed
Hope may be a virtue, but it is also a pretty fundamental part of human life, almost a necessity. So much so that I don’t think many people realize it – until it is no longer there. This story, set in 1997, makes this painfully obvious when Todd has to deal with not one but two major blows to his life. The source of new hope is somewhat unexpected, at least parts of it, and I liked that little paranormal twist a lot.

Todd has been living it up in the big city – not really caring about the long-term, and enjoying as many men as he can. Then he gets hit with a double whammy – his mother dies of cancer before he can make it home, and his own health goes from “perfect” to “how many months do I have left to live”. He moves back to his small hometown and into the house his mother left him, and begins to fall apart. Not just does he have a ghostly woman appear in his hallway at night, his cute neighbor is clearly interested in him. But Todd can’t take things further with him no matter how much he wants to – or can he?

As stupid as Todd may have been in terms of the risks he took without even thinking about it, that is a very human condition. The way he dealt with his mother’s death was touching, and his slow recovery of his balance was a joy to watch. No, everything isn’t perfect at the end, but that isn’t what hope is all about. If you like stories about real men with real problems, yet with an added touch of the mysterious, then you will probably enjoy this short story.

Horseboy by J Tullos Henig
Pride is one of the vices, and gets a pretty well-known mention in the 1611 King James version of the bible. According to Proverbs, 16:18: Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. And that is exactly what this fantasy story is about. It is set during the Crusades and features a Muslim trans* horseboy and the Templar knight he encounters when fleeing from the Infidels after they attack and burn his hometown while he is out grazing the horses. The Templar is only just alive, his companion was not so lucky.

Sabiq is used to hiding. His mother was beheaded for witchcraft, and the one thing she taught him as he grew up was to hide his abilities, and hide who he is. So he became a boy and uses his talent with horses to make a living unobtrusively. But all those efforts may be for nothing when he finds two of the enemies who destroyed his home in the desert – one Templar knight is already dead and the other is hanging on by a thread. Sabiq faces a tough choice: should he save the wounded man or should he save himself and let the man die? They are enemies, after all, and Sabiq has much to lose. It is by no means an easy decision.

Even though Sabiq has long ago learned not to be proud, the Templar has only now lost the man he clearly cares about. The level of his devotion has to remain a secret, and he suddenly faces total dependence on Sabiq. If you like stories with a moral as well as a touch of magic, then you will probably enjoy this short trip into a fantastical version of the past.

Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fessenden
Set in 1967, at the height of the Cold War, this is the story of Jax, an American agent tasked with taking out a Russian soldier so he can take his place and gain access to Sevmash, a military base. They meet on the train, but from the moment Jax lays eyes on Yuri things do not go as expected.

The gradual change was very well done, and the sparse but intense emotions fascinated me. "Charity" is a hint as to what happens - but the time period does not allow for a true happy ending. Still, I loved the way Jamie Fessenden pulled me into the situation and made a whole time period come alive.

Red Light Special by Rhys Ford
Lust may be classified as a vice, but based on this story, I think it should be up for parole! 'Red Light Special' is a very funny fantasy tale set in an alternate world where fae are in charge of keeping law and order. Or at least their definition of it. You have Fiach, who is only half fae and temporarily in charge of Detroit. His ninety-nine cents store made me laugh, and his assistant, a dryad, was hilarious. Fiach runs into all kinds of trouble with an escaped succubus, and eighteen-wheeler, and irreverent graffiti mentioning Oberon himself. Fiach is joined by a full elf named Oengus, the knight of Chicago come to retrieve the escaped lust demon.

If you like fae and want a good laugh, give this story a try. I loved the solution Rhys found for a happy ending as well!

Traitor by Clare London
Fortitude is a virtue I don’t often think about, but it is similar to determination and stubbornness, which I am very familiar with on a personal level. In ‘Traitor’, Clare London shows the positive aspects of “mental strength and courage that allows someone to face danger, pain, etc.” (as per Merriam-Webster). It’s set in a London of the near future, one where right-wing terrorists have become so dangerous, that there is an entire Department (yes, with a capital D) of MI5 devoted to eradicating them by any means necessary. and you can take that literally, and exactly the way it implies.

The story focuses on two men. Aiden is an agent who has been working for the Department for a while. He is fiercely loyal, a master interrogator, and well known for his dedication to braking anyone who enters his interrogation room. He is the narrator of the story, and his intense, coiled anger and determination to get the latest prisoner to talk firmly jumps off the page. The man he has been tasked to get information from this time is Cam – a former fellow agent (and more) who defected to the Neo Aryans. That makes it personal for Aiden, and he scared me with his passion for revenge – and I was not the one in the interrogation room!

The masterful description of what happens next, the psychology at work for both men, and the ultimate resolution are well worth reading. If you enjoy the duplicity of the spy business, if you are ready to have your morals questioned, and if you’re looking for a read that is the perfect illustration of fortitude in more than one way, then you will probably love this short story as much as I do.

Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Witt
Sloth, as becomes obvious in this story, is a debilitating vice if someone succumbs to it as fully as Levitt, a young teacher. The story describes five days in his life, and at the beginning things didn’t seem so bad at all. Yes, he was a little lazy, he liked his home comforts, and didn’t feel very energetic about his job – or anything at all, really. But as the week progresses, and the full extent of his issues emerges, I began to worry. By midweek I wanted to shake him so he’d wake up to see what he was doing. And by the end of it I was ready to jump inside the book to pull him back from the disastrous, slow, and inevitable slide he seemed, by that time, unable or unwilling to stop.

Wow! With its completely harmless beginning and horrific end, this story is a perfect illustration why sloth is a very dangerous vice indeed. Well done, Brandon!
( )
  SerenaYates | Oct 14, 2017 |
They need an effin trigger warning.

Nicely innovative ideas, writing from decent to excellent, but a couple of *extraordinarily* depraved stories coming out of the blue. Brief comments and links to reviews on each individual story below, but I am starting with a "I've got my panties in a twist" rant.

Rant
There are two rather, well, horrifying, horror stories in this anthology, even though the publisher's site doesn't mention that genre in their description (they list Fantasy, Historical, Paranormal and Science Fiction as the genres). The two stories are pretty extreme to me- one of them gave me nightmares for days, and the other includes what I consider rather severe torture porn. While the second torture horror story didn't bother me personally, I imagine most of the Goodreads readers with whom I've discussed LGBT-friendly fiction would find it very unreasonably violent for a story not labeled as horror. Overall, by far the most galling thing to me was not the content but the lack of warning, in both labels and consistency across the anthology.

The book's description does warn the exploration of virtue and vice could "sink to the darkest and most perverse depths." But they go on to say the stories "explore the call to good and evil - and the consequences of answering it." So one could reasonably expect there to be no or little horror in this collection (not listed as a genre), and any "consequences" explored should roughly fit whatever "evil" is described. Ironically, most of the time the consequences for "evil" in this anthology seem to be very understated (both in the vice and virtue stories), but on the other hand for two vices they go way beyond any semblance of a "consequence" into all out vicious and extreme torture.

I'm all for pushing boundaries, and for authors writing what they want to write, and readers reading what they want to read. I do think publishers of this type of material have an obligation to give the reader some idea of what they might find. For me, if they had a horror tag mixed in with the others, I think I would have been prepared that the direction and outcome of a story or two could be radically different than the others - and I would have decided to skip one halfway through or at least be prepared for its heinous and shaming ending and be able move on quickly. I certainly expect a bit more sensitivity - at least in how they present their materials, if not necessarily in what they publish - from an LGBT friendly publisher.

Ok, now to put on my big boy boxer briefs and to stop my rant.

----------------------------------------
Individual Story Summaries/Reviews
I read this anthology of 14 LGBT-friendly stories on 7 virtues and 7 vices. The work is available for free on the publisher's site.

The Darkness of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson
Virtue: Faith. Genre: Fantasy
4 stars
Bereaved, unbelieving priest confronted with questions of faith. Set with an interesting array of characters in an interesting, slightly supernatural, pre-modern fantasy setting.
review

The Bank Job by Andrea Speed
Vice: Greed. Genre: Superhero
3.5 stars
Drats! Foiled Again! Attitudinal supervillain and minions encounter a couple of gay caped crusaders
review

Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael
Virtue: Prudence. Genre: Fantasy
3.75 stars
Magical seer with disturbing vision exiled to his husband's remote homeland
review

The Gate by J. S. Cook
Vice: Anger Genre: Noir Fiction
2.75 stars (higher if you like Noir Fiction)
A gay man sees a seedier, dark side of the wartime effort
review

Heirs to Grace and Infinity by C. Cummings
Virtue: Justice Genre: Urban Fantasy
5 stars
Fugitive sorcerer matches wits with the Bureau's top agent
review

The Rendering by J. Inman
Vice: Gluttony Genre: Hateful Horror
Can we go to negative 10?

It was pretty clear from the start what was set-up to happen, but I thought surely they wouldn't go to the obvious place, as most of the other stories in the anthology had a surprise twist in the end. Also, despite the clear signs from the story, I couldn't imagine going to such a hateful, shaming, horrific place, taking an extremely sympathetic character (except for one over-the-top vice) to such an horrific end (and, of course, based on the genre headings, I was not expecting horror). In some ways, I think this piece had possibly the best writing, which may have ended up making it so incredibly much worse for me because of the empathy I had for the character. (His vice was over-the-top and a bit repulsive, but overall the issues he faced and his hopes for overcoming them were all too incredibly real for me. Without a horror tag, I couldn't imagine that the story would have such a tortuous, beyond depraved outcome for this vice.). I thought a twist in the ending was especially likely given how lightly most of the other vices were dealt with in this anthology, which makes this lack of a warning extra-galling for me.
detailed review

Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serna Yates
Virtue: Temperance Genre: Science Fiction
3.5 stars
How much temperance will you need for fifty years in space and beyond?
review

Covetous by Pearl Love
Vice: Envy Genre: Horror (or torture porn)
3 stars
Pissed off ex-lover asked what he would give to get his desires
review

Hope by Rick Reed
Virtue: Hope. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
5 stars (Way too personal to rate objectively)
Looking for hope in crises around a mother's death and one's personal life
review


Horseboy by J. Tullos Henry
Vice: Pride.  Genre: Historic LGBT
4.5 stars
A Horseboy of the Lebanon, a Templar Knight, and intimate desert secrets
review

Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fressenden
Virtue: Charity. Genre: Contemporary LGBT
4.5 stars
Would James Bond off a Bond vixen? (LGBT agent version)
review

Red Light Special by Rhys Ford
Vice: Lust.  Genre: Urban Fae Fantasy
4.5 stars
Fae and elves and a succubus, oh my! (In Detroit)
review

Traitor by Clare London
Virtue: Fortitude. Genre: Spy/Cloak and Dagger LGBT
4.5 stars
Twice betrayed - interrogating one's ex-comrade and ex-lover agent
review

Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Whitt
Vice: Sloth. Genre: I have no idea (horrific interpretation possible)
No rating (Other reviewers liked it)
Too lazy to work, to relate, to love, to really live...
review ( )
  LocoLibros | Jul 22, 2016 |
Showing 2 of 2
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sean Michaelprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cook, J.S.Contributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Cummings, CaroleContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Durreson, Amy RaeContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Fessenden, JamieContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Ford, RhysContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Hennig, J TullosContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Inman, JohnContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
London, ClareContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Love, PearlContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Michael, SeanContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Reed, Rick RContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Speed, AndreaContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Witt, BrandonContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Yates, SerenaContributormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Humankind possesses a dual nature, the ability to rise to the brightest heights--or sink to the darkest and most perverse depths. What inspires some to reach the pinnacles of virtue while others cannot resist the temptations of vice? Is it something innate, or a result of destiny and circumstance? Delve into the minds and spirits of saints and sinners alike with a collection of stories that explore the call toward good or evil--and the consequences of answering it. For while rewards certainly await the righteous, there are also pleasures to be found in the darkness. Venture off the expected path with some of the most innovative voices in LGBT speculative fiction as they present their unique takes on the classic vices and virtues. Stories Included:  The Dark of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson The Bank Job by Andrea Speed Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael The Gate by J.S. Cook Heirs to Grace and Infinity by Carole Cummings The Rendering by John Inman Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serena Yates Covetous by Pearl Love Hope by Rick R. Reed Horseboy by J Tullos Hennig Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fessenden Red Light Special by Rhys Ford Traitor by Clare London Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Witt … (more)

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