All Wrapped Up

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Title: All Wrapped Up
Editor: Elizabeth Hyder
Cover Artist: Nathie Block
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Buy Link: All Wrapped Up
Genre: M/M science fiction, fantasy
Length: 80,000 words
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

A guest review by Jenre

Summary Review: I surprised myself by liking this imaginative anthology of stories involving tentacles.

THE BLURB

Tentacles are a taboo subject for most, something most people look at from between their fingers as they hide. But for a growing number of people, it’s a subject that is fascinating and sexy! Tentacle erotica has been around for ages, from The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife to Demon Beast Invasion—it’s a genre that is here to stay. All Wrapped Up explores this genre through the lens of gay erotic romance, offering four science-fiction and fantasy stories featuring tentacled heroes in all their wiggly glory.

The men in Ground Mission are podmates, a matched set: Simon Pollux, the lethal scout, and Adrian Lovasz, his willing and even more lethal combat specialist. In the midst of exploring an alien world, Simon is infected with an alien virus; to what lengths will Adrian go to ensure Simon’s comfort? In the wood-locked town of Orm, ranger Koster meets the mysterious Irsing: the guardian of the forest. Is he the one letting the forest turn to wilds, or is the forest turning to wilds on its own? In Wildwood, Koster aims to do whatever it takes to set things right.

Eli exchanges his a life of poverty in Dark Covenant when tricked into signing a contract giving himself to the masters of the Academy. His body, his movement, his life is theirs to do with as they wish, until the enigmatic Eramus offers Eli his power—if Eli will join with him. Sebastian Reed lives on the legal limits in Situation Normal, barely scraping by in his hunk of junk ship until a Peace Officer, Ten, commandeers his ship… and his body. Not that Sebastian minds, except for wondering exactly where it is that Ten means to take him.

THE REVIEW

I’m not really the sort of person who’s ever been attracted to stories involving tentacle sex. I can understand why people might like the idea of several long tentacles being able to do interesting things with your body, but I have a dislike of snakes, worms and octopi, so I was sure that sex scenes written with tentacles would just be unsexy for me. However, never let it be said that I won’t give things a go, and so when I saw this book on the list I thought ‘why not?’. It’s good to stretch your limits from time to time. In the end, I was surprised by how much I liked this anthology and any reasons for not liking parts of the stories were nothing to do with the tentacle sex scenes.

There are four stories in the anthology all two which could be classed as Science Fiction, and two Fantasy. I liked the first two stories the most, but I shall take each one and explain my thoughts:

Ground Mission by Laylah Hunter
This science fiction story takes two military men who have been modified for purpose, Adrian is the muscle and Simon the wiry scout. They get taken out of stasis and sent to a planet which looks to have had some human population at some time but all have died. When the pair arrive on the planet, they discover strange creatures with tentacles which attack them. Simon is hurt and infected, and Adrian must care for him the best that he can before help can arrive.

The part that worked best for me with this story was the camaraderie between Adrian and Simon. They are best friends and lovers and their feelings for each other come across strongly in their affectionate dialogue and teasing. I also liked the way that the lives of the two men are shown. Their growing aversion to spending most of their lives in stasis, and their dissatisfaction at having their bodies meddled with shows the reader two strong men who are also cautious in stepping outside authority. Simon’s acerbic commentary and general bad-temperedness with authority figures showed this perfectly, and Adrian was the perfect foil in his wish to smooth over conflict. The setting was vivid and I was pleased with the way that things worked out for the pair. This story ended up being my second favourite of the anthology.

Wildwood by Thea Hayworth
Kosher is a ranger who has been posted to a country where the Guardian is thought to be missing. He is pleased that the absence of the Guardian hasn’t left the woods dying or over-run with evil creatures and on the first night he attends a celebration where he bumps into Irsing, the missing Guardian. Over the next few months Kosher runs into Irsing several times until he becomes determined to find out why Irsing is shunning his people.

This was just a tremendously imaginative fantasy story with a rich setting and complex world. I loved the background to the story with the guardians who care for the people and the forest and protect everyone. There’s so much thought behind the intricacies of the setting that I could only admire the skill of the author in fitting it into the story along with the plot. I liked Kosher too, with his past hurts being perfect for helping Irsing come to understand the importance of rejoining his people. Alongside the growing romance, and the portrait of Kosher as a quiet and reserved, but friendly, man, there is a plot which keeps the interest through a number of breathtaking action scenes between the quiet moments. I didn’t really want to leave this world and whilst the ending was very satisfactory, I was sad when the story finished. Highly recommended and my favourite story in the anthology.

Dark Covenant by Gryvon
Eli is a poor miner who, when it is discovered that he has magical ability, is tricked into sexual and emotional slavery by powerful members of an academy for magic. He is approached by Erasmus, a magical being who offers an escape for Eli.

Once again, I really liked the fantasy setting for this story which took the idea of a rich/poor divide. The first part of the story was gripping and my sympathies for Eli built quickly. However, he was rather gullible and whilst his concern for his family was touching, the way he is duped by the teachers of the school annoyed me. The scenes that followed will not appeal to those who do not like non-con, and it was particularly brutal in its description. Personally, non-con sex is not something which can bother me, as long as it forwards the plot or has a reason. In this case, I felt these scenes crossed the line a little into gratuitousness, especially in the way they are repeated and rather than feel sympathy for Eli, I began to be frustrated with him. Having said that, I liked the way that the relationship between Eli and Erasmus built through the story and the ending was pleasing.

Situation Normal by Morgan Harcourt
Sebastian transports goods in his wreck of a space ship, flirting with the wrong side of the law on occasion. His ship is bordered by a cop, Ten, one of the lizard species who believes Sebastian is working for a man Ten is pursuing. Seb has always been curious about Xeno sex and Ten is only happy to oblige.

The tone for this science fiction is lighter than the previous story with some elements of comedy in Sebastian’s narration. He’s a likable chap and I found myself enjoying the story very early on. Much of the story revolves around a sex scene between Ten and Sebastian, which was imaginative and described well. The story got a little silly towards the end with the introduction of the bad guy and the end was convenient, but then again it fit with the general lighthearted tone so I went with it. I couldn’t help but get the niggling sense that, although this story was fun and entertaining, it sat uneasily with the other, more serious, stories. However, that’s not a reason to skip this story because I still liked it a great deal.

Overall, this is an anthology which is well worth reading. All the stories were imaginative and interesting to read and all used the tentacle theme in a different way. If the theme of the anthology intrigues you, then I would definitely recommend it.

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