Book Review: Into The Mystic Volume 2
Into The Mystic Volume 2 is a f/f romance short story collection featuring the supernatural and leaning a little towards the racier side of the genre. Overall, I was very impressed with the book and the order of stories flowed well, although, as with most collections there were stronger and weaker stories. Mostly stronger. If you want to avoid spoiling any of the stories in the collection, I would suggest that you stop reading here, before I delve into the individual tales in this tome in more depth.
The highlight for me was Laura Bailo’s The Holy Company which struck a perfect thematic balance between a genuine budding romance and a ghost story. Of all the stories in the collection it was the only one that felt like the characters were actually interacting with the folklore of our world rather than a fantasy, and the simplicity of the internal conflicts was the perfect counterbalance to a story with external elements that could have become confusing.
A close second was Valentine Wheeler’s Dead Letter, one of the more chaste stories in the collection by virtue of one of the characters lacking a body to get physical with. There were a few offbeat moments in it that drew me out of the story but the depth of the characters easily counterbalanced any issues once it got moving.
To The Sea was the second story in the collection to display any sort of folklore gravitas, setting the Selkies in their native Scotland and following the fairy tale arc of that type of story through perfectly. It even hit the bittersweet notes of a selkie romance on the head. MK Hardy are definitely writers to watch out for in the future.
Green Love by Elena Holst took its time to get started, but once I realised that we were building up the dreamlike quality of the forest, I forgave any meandering in the first half. The fact that the story also took the time to consider the emotional impact of the story on the character’s family was a really nice touch and a reminder that nobody exists in a vacuum.
Lighthouse 5 by TS Porter was everything that I was hoping for from this anthology. Taking the time to seriously consider what a romance between a human being and a mermaid would look like, taking all the biological realities into consideration.
Unravelled by CC Bridges had some interesting worldbuilding that was somewhat lost in the rush of making this a short story, if it had been given twice the length to breath we might have become a little more invested in the somewhat flat love interest and we might have had a chance to get to know a little more about the blackmailing biology professor who was, frankly, the most interesting person in the story.
Sita Bethel’s Dressed in Wolf Skin was one of the few stories other than The Holy Company and To The Sea that resonated with any sense of reality, helped along ably by a budding romance that didn’t get talked to death.
Holy Water by Lina Langley is another strong contender for the title of my favourite story in this anthology, although it lacks the cultural depth of Bailo, Bethel and Hardy’s stories it makes up for it in emotional depth. I am a big fan of ghost stories, and this was the only story in this entire anthology that read like it was trying to scare me. Which is always a point in its favour. Just because a story is a romance, that doesn’t mean that all the trappings of its other component genres can be casually discarded.
I did not connect with the portrayal of depression in Vampire Hours but the exuberant writing carried me past that without any trouble. The relationship between a healthy and mentally ill person was handled sweetly and my only complaint about the whole thing is that the inclusion of vampirism seemed to be almost entirely pointless and irrelevant to a plot that would have chugged along just as happily without it. If your vampire story doesn’t need to be about vampires, something has gone seriously awry somewhere along the line.
The only real low point of the anthology was A. Fae’s Seaside Escape, a story revolving around the sexual enslavement of selkies by a witch who apparently had no moral compunctions about it until she decided one of them was a suitable romantic partner. If you could get past the shallow condemnation and zero repercussions that the protagonist faced as a result of her evil actions then the plot worked fine, but the writing was overwrought to the point of purple prose in places.
If you are a fan of paranormal romance, or just the more normal kind, there will be something to appeal to you in Into The Mystic 2; whether you have always wanted to romance a werewolf, a ghost, a mermaid or your childhood friend, that wish can be fulfilled here.