Off the Beaten Path – Rukis

Synopsis:  Spending her life beneath the oppressive control of an abusive husband she’d had no choice in marrying was a hard life, but Shivah strove to endure it in order to protect her child.

When her child was slain, and Shivah herself viciously attacked and left for dead, she swore she’d make her husband pay dearly for his greatest mistake…leaving her alive.

She is joined in her hunt by the two men who pulled her from the jaws of death, and a group of lawmen hunting a dangerous band of raiders threatening the countryside. But there may be deeper, more widespread evils hidden in the shadows of the conflict she finds herself a part of.

I don’t even know where to begin with this book. I fear that whatever I write here won’t do the book any justice by a long shot, for Rukis has written this book so incredibly well that it is simply impossible not to read the other two parts as well.

Off the Beaten Path has a very solid story, which takes is on a journey viewed from the eyes of Shivah, a broken woman who evolves very nicely throughout the book, to become a very strong, and rational, protagonist. The story in itself is quite simple, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. It has enough interesting twists and turns that it’ll leave you hungry as a reader. I will not say too much about the story, as I would just spoil way too much.

The true strength of the book isn’t necessarily the storyline though. Personally, the fantastic characters are what make this book work. You cannot help but grow to love at least one, and hate at least one of the characters, which is a good sign. I personally really loved Puquanah and the interaction between Shivah and Grant, Grant definitely being my favourite character in this book. Another one that I liked was Magpie, for his good humour. The ones I wanted to punch in the face are Ransom, for obvious reasons, and, wait for it, Crow. Ransom just hurts the people around him way too much for me to like him. Yes, he’s broken inside, but that doesn’t excuse his behaviour in my eyes. I just hated Crow for breaking up the lovely interaction between Shivah and the marshal.

There is wonderful character development in this first part of the trilogy, and I wonder how the character will evolve in the next book.

The ending of this first installment is so incredibly good, that it’s hard to put into words what I thought about it, without spoiling too much. I just have one word for this: “WOW!”. It was just such a clustercuss of so many things happening at the same time, that it’s impossible not to want to read part two, which I will do quite happily.

BUY THIS BOOK! I’m not joking. I personally believe this is one of the strongest novels, especially in a trilogy, that I’ve read in a long time. Rukis, I want to thank you for the many hours of enjoyment and the silly grins you’ve conjured on my face while I was reading this fantastic story. You did it again. You are now officially on my list of favourite writers.
– Faolan




Off the Beaten Path – Rukis

Hot Dish #1 -Anthology

Some foods take longer to cook. Some stories take longer to tell.

Hot Dish is a collection of stories that arose from submissions to Heat, our all-orientations anthology of romantic and erotic short stories, comics and poetry. Mixed in among the submissions were great stories that we had to reject simply because they were too long for the Heat format. We squirreled these submissions away in our cold cellar, and we kept in touch with the authors in hopes of finding a suitable recipe for their stories.

Eventually, we had enough stories to whip up a full anthology. We called it Hot Dish in homage to the gooey, Midwestern casserole that is slow-cooked to let flavors deepened and meld — in contrast to the more crispy, flash-fried tales found in Heat. The length of Hot Dish’s stories allows for more complex and subtle flavors to develop, leading to a deeper, more satisfying reading experience.

Cover art is by Kamui, and each story is accompanied by illustrations by Keovi.

Seducing the Sky by Kandrel tells the tale of a star-fighter tiger who crash-lands on a planet of technologically-primitive otters. Despite the clash of cultures, he unites with the otters’ chieftainess against a shared enemy.

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre by Huskyteer brings two same-sex, mixed-species couples together for the purpose of procreation. Friendships are tested and traffic rules are violated, but in the end a new life is created and the characters’ own lives must adapt.

The Evening’s Festivities by Faora Meridian finds a coyote thief infiltrating a high-society ball for the purpose of absconding with the lupine host’s most prized possession. However, a distraction in a dress on the dance floor diverts the thief from his original plan.

The Moment at Eternity by Dark End throws a human woman and a “meta,” a human-constructed canine sex slave, into the Alaskan wilderness when their cruise ship sinks. Each must depend on the other to survive, and along the way the woman comes to a much greater understanding of the implication her own species’ genetic machinations.

A Monster and a Gentleman by Lady Chastity Chatterley tells the tale of a queen who, desperate to avoid a beheading, turns to enchantment to produce an heir. Her beastly offspring finds love, but also prejudice against his monstrous appearance.

Dream a Little Dream of Me by Kandrel finds a mink confused and worried about the dreams being induced by his new SDU (Sweet Dreams Unit). Soon, his waking reality seems to start misbehaving too, leading to some startling insights about who he is.

A Secret Place by Dwale pulls a stallion from his technologically-advanced but socially-stratified urban life to a nursery run by his wheelchair-bound aunt in a forgotten corner of the land. When not working in the greenhouses, she teaches him the nearly-forgotten romantic language of flowers, and he struggles with feelings that society considers taboo.

Dance With Me by Tack Otter follows an Australian shepherd and his male crow roommate through their preparations for a talent show competition. The stress they are under comes from more than just the shepherd’s troubles herding his fingers across the piano keys.

What Would You Do If I’m Not What I’m Supposed To Be? by Arcane Reno forces a reclusive African wild dog to confront his fears and his sexual orientation when he finally meets his best online friend — someone who knows him as a totally different species in an online role-playing game.

Whew, that was a lengthy summary, wasn’t it? However, I feel that this anthology is more than worth it, as these stories combined make for an excellent and interesting read. I will highlight my personal top 3 here in no particular order.

Seducing the Sky by Kandrel is the first story of the book, and immediately deals with material that always manages to grab my attention: the encountering and exploring of an unknown tribal culture. In this story, we follow Taj as he crashes down after encountering an enemy spaceship. A tribe of otters takes him in and cares for him. He teaches them the way of the warrior as he was taught it, and they, mainly Sky, pretty much teach him what it’s like to be part of a tribe and to actually be a normal living being, instead of being something that resembles the behaviour of a machine.  The clash of cultures in this story is absolutely wonderful.

A Secret Place by Dwale is another story where two cultures clash, but in a different way. The story main characters are Ipomoea, Ipo for short, and Fjola. Ipo was raised in a high-tech environment, while Fjola enjoyed the ways of old. When Ipo visits Fjola on work vacation, he has to get used to quite a few new things, especially his feelings for his auntie. The way Dwale so seemingly effortlessly created this new world is absolutely amazing, and the characters feel real, due to them being very believable. The way the characters make their feelings and emotions known through the language of flowers is an amazing touch that I’ve never seen in a story before. I’m quite surprised that Dwale doesn’t have more books on the market.

What Would You Do If I’m Not What I’m Supposed To Be? by Arcane Reno is the last story in the book, and one that deals with the difference between a wonderful fantasy realm and hard cruel reality. The story revolves mainly around Kraid, real name Marcus, and his gaming partner Daigen, real name Jade. The story is set in the future as well, in which virtual reality has evolved up the point where people’s senses are actually lined up with the game. Sounds fantastic, right? Kraid sure thinks so, especially because he uses the game as an escaped of his “trapped” existence in a wheelchair. After Daigen moves to his city and wants to meet up, he knows he can no longer hide behind his in-game avatar. The interaction between the characters is wonderful, and the in-game moments are great,however, I do feel the “romantic” scene between the two feels a bit rushed.

The funny thing about these three stories are set in the far future, which is generally something I don’t enjoy that much. I’d say that says enough about the quality though. Reno’s story doesn’t feel like it’s set that far in the future though. It’s very subtle about it.

All in all, I think this is a wonderful anthology that definitely deserves to be read by many

– Faolan




Hot Dish #1 -Anthology