Short Stories 366:355 — “The Christmas Angel,” by Eli Easton

Before I start, I feel like I need to add a caveat about this day because of some issues I had with the format. I did end up enjoying “The Christmas Angel,” but it’s a rare “I’d suggest reading it, not listening to it” from me. For one, I had to speed up the playback to x1.5 to make the reader’s incredibly slow pace hit a natural cadence. He was excruciatingly slow at normal speed. And another, there were quite a few mispronunciations: blackguard, regaled, some British-isms. So, all in all, I ended up having to kind of get “past” the performer, which made it harder to sink into the story from an author of holiday novellas I’ve really enjoyed in the past (I often do a yearly re-listen to “Blame it on the Mistletoe” and “Merry Christmas, Mr. Miggles.”)

Another smaller caveat is more to do with the historical setting, and the fallout thereof. The reason I picked this one up was because it begins a series of interrelated but standalone books that span many years and all feature, at some point, a carved Christmas angel. I’d read some of the other stories, the ones set closer to the present day, and enjoyed them enough to want to see the beginning. The angel is carved in this book, by one of the protagonists, and that angel is inspired by a visitation that happens to him when the book opens and he’s contemplating suicide. Now, it’s a very “It’s A Wonderful Life” sort of opening, but doesn’t follow that narrative, and the historical setting has fuelled much of the darkness in Alec’s heart: he had fallen for someone, a Duke, and they cannot be together, he will never know love, he believes, and now the Duke is marrying and ending their affair (which was chaste to keep their souls pure) and I almost ejected right off the bat. Not because this isn’t within the realm of the realistic for the time, but more because this is why I shy away from historical fiction around queer people as a whole: the present day is frustrating and depressing enough, thanks.

I did keep going, and I’m glad I did, as the story that unfolded was very much more about finding the joy in the cracks between, a kind of found-family narrative that I enjoy the most, tucked in historical London. At times the story does delve a little darker than I would normally enjoy in a holiday novella (most specifically, there is a sexual assault/attack that happens near the end of the story providing a black moment), but it does ultimately deliver something upbeat and ends absolutely on a happy note for nearly every queer character (and certainly for those deserving of one).

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