Okay, if there’s any single thing I can say about Catherine Lundoff’s collection Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories, it’s this: the stories go in so many different directions, both narratively and within the larger descriptor of ‘speculative fiction,’ but they always do it in a very queer way and a very clever way. “Beauty” is a perfect example of this, a story that could have been, on the surface, a simpler fantasy setting with a simpler story about a potential arranged marriage between two families in neighbouring kingdoms, and an attraction on the part of the youngest brother and the suitor who has come to claim his eldest sister as a bride.
Instead? Instead we get deep world-building about previous kingdoms which have fallen, a hidden heir to the throne of said kingdom, mystical powers and an entire empire of vampires, familial betrayals and attempted murders, and a bloody coup. Oh, and some damned sexy erotic components, too, full of peril and sensual enticements from dark creatures who could end the princeling in question if they give into their lusts too much. The shifts in this story come in regular beats, nudging the story through layers of greater tension and higher stakes bit by bit, and the payoff is wonderful.
I’ve said this more than a few times in this collection already, but I’d happily revisit this world, and I’d definitely like to learn what happened after the (albeit very hot) semi-ambiguousness of part of the ending. And, as I was lucky enough to touch base with Lundoff before I got into this collection, I got to ask her where the stories came from, and this was the answer for “Beauty.”:
This is a different version of a story that I originally wrote for a yaoi novella anthology. I had fun playing with vampires and yaoi for this one!
(Well hey, look at that, I’m 2/3 of the way through the year! This project, reviewing a short story or novella or novelette every day for a year has been a great ride thus far, but I have to admit the goal of reducing my already high piles of anthologies and collections was totally not achieved. If anything, I’ve bought more collections and anthologies, but is anyone really surprised?)