May Peterson’s debut novel, Lord of the Last Heartbeat is a queer, gothic, dark, fairytale fantasy m/m romance. I’m not going to try to summarize the plot, because you were either in at “queer, gothic, dark, fairytale fantasy m/m romance” or you were not. If you are so inclined, this would be a great October read.
One of the things Peterson does really well in this story is balance fantasy, romance and a ghost story. She drops you immediately into the fantasy world, doles out a lot of pining for the slow burn romance, and keeps the ghost story fraught with emotion. Peterson was at the very least inspired by Beauty and the Beast, though not exclusively. I also saw hints of The Little Mermaid. The purpose here is not to retell fairytales, but to use those tropes to explore trauma, sin, redemption and choice. Though there were a lot of familiar elements, Lord of the Last Heartbeat felt fresh and different.
Mio is a sorcerer, son of a powerful mafia witch, and an opera singer. Rhodry is cursed, undead, a bear shifter, and the lord of a manor filled with ghosts. Though it seems like there is a lot going on, it feels natural. Rhodry, as laden as he is with tragedy and death, is also delightfully funny.
I wished I could figure out how to smoke as a bear so I could delicately tap off ashes as I crushed things. Since I couldn’t be so dainty, I released a wave of roars, making the night flash. The soldiers abandoned their positions—loyalty could not suspend their mortality, or ward off the giant black bear that was reminding them of it.
Another element Peterson approaches differently is masculinity. The majority of mainstream m/m romances feature traditionally masculine men who just happen to be gay, or occasionally bi. They are men being men who love men. Mio is not in that traditionally masculine mold, and it is refreshing. Other than being smaller and softer, he is also not traditionally feminine. He is more androgynous, but not really defined, which is rare in m/m romance. Rhodry is more traditionally masculine – he does shift into a bear.
This year has been all about debut authors and new to me authors. Most of them have been fantastic and exciting. May Peterson isn’t necessarily better than the other amazing authors, but her voice is so individual. I hope she has a lot of readers. I am looking forward to reading more from her.
I got this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.