Pyresnakes, by Tray Ellis
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: June 28, 2017
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
There is another world existing alongside the one most see everyday, and although it is a place of magic and wonder, the dangers are very real.
Aran, an artist, grew up on his grandmother’s tales of the Side-by-Side world. He never expected his knowledge of folklore would aid his boyfriend, Brandon, in an arson investigation, but the snakes that burst into flames when agitated are something he recalls from those childhood stories.
When Aran vanishes, Brandon knows his time as a state trooper won’t help find him, so he enlists the aid of Aran’s grandmother, Ruth, and they venture into the Side-by-Side world.
But Aran has no memory of his life prior to crossing between worlds, and he’s enjoying the company of his handsome new companion, Ren. Even if Brandon and Ruth reach him, convincing him to return to his former home won’t be easy. In a contemporary fairy-tale adventure set among forests and trails, Aran must choose between a mystical fantasy world and the man he loves.
Pyresnakes is listed as urban fantasy on the publisher website, but I’d say it scoots from urban fantasy to straight portal fantasy almost immediately. As far as portal fantasies go, this one is pretty much middle of the road. It’s good for what it is, a novella that manages to create a believable alternate world and portray a number of believable characters, and carry a plot with some emotional weight.
The writing falters continuously throughout, enough to make me want to lower my rating, but at the same time, I was still drawn along by the story. I wanted to finish this, and I felt anticipation at the end when Aran and Brandon meet up again. Brandon initially thinks that his boyfriend has been taken away from him by something like a curse, but he quickly releases that’s not the whole story. The core tension in the story is Brandon’s fear that Aran may not want to come home with him, and that should have remained the sole focus for a story of this length. Instead, we also get a somewhat irritating revenge side-plot that has no payoff and no apparent bearing for the story in its current incarnation.
The Side-by-Side, the magical alternate world, is basically Earth but with only a handful of people and a faint sheen of magic. There are details in the Side-by-Side that sparked the joy I get from good fantasy, like the pyresnakes. However, the Side-by-Side seems to be an effortless place to live in, and it reminded me of Neverland: a place where you never grow up. Ellis does a good job of trying to balance out the pros and cons of living in the Side-by-Side and the different reasons that bring people there, but the end tally sheet still falls on “everyone in the Side-by-Side is inherently good but sometimes misguided.” I’m never really a fan of this kind of utopic fantasy world, so that also affected how I felt about this at the end.
Nature plays an enormous role in this story, and I appreciated how each of the characters interacts with or embodies nature in some manner. This is a fantasy book for the nature lovers – for the people who have a deep calling to wander the woods or dive into the sea. For them, I think the Side-by-Side is just the place to visit.
Tray Ellis grew up across from an empty field, where she spun a lot of imaginary adventures, helping to prepare her for a lifetime of writing. When she isn’t writing, she stays active by hiking, cooking, stacking the odd cord of wood in the shed, baking, and being too busy to keep her home in any semblance of order. Currently she tries to find a balance between the logical way she thinks and the flights of fancy she often daydreams about. Mostly, the daydreams are winning.
You can purchase Pyresnakes from:
Barnes & Noble
Or add it to Goodreads
I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.