Reviews: As You Wish: Isobel Starling

As You Wish  (Shatterproof Bond 0.5)
Isobel Starling
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1 wedding, 2 best men, one hell of a love story!

Declan Ramsay's brother Oliver was marrying Annabelle Aiken at a fairy tale Castle on the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland. The bride and groom decided, so that he didn’t feel left out, Annabelle's gay younger brother Sam Should share the best man duties with Declan. 

Declan had never met the kid who was to be his joint best man.
Sam Aiken was abroad, working as an interpreter and finishing his studies. He wouldn’t meet Declan until a few days before the wedding, so the best men communicated and planned their speech by email for more than a year.

But on meeting Sam Aiken, Declan is surprised to realise the kid isn't a kid at all, but a tall, blond and athletic young man. Declan is sure he's straight, so he's alarmed by the ferocious attraction he feels for Sam. And as the attraction is reciprocated, the events at Dunloch Castle change everything Declan has ever believed about himself.

But is Samuel Aiken all that he appears to be?

This story was written as a part of the M/M Romance Group's "Love is an Open Road" event. Group members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Authors of the group selected a photo and prompt that spoke to them and wrote a short story. 

This story may contain sexually explicit content and is intended for adult readers. It may contain content that is disagreeable or distressing to some readers. The M/M Romance Group strongly recommends that each reader review the General Information section before each story for story tags as well as for content warnings. 
As You Wish, which was released in October 2015, is my first exposure to author Isobel Starling, and it is an introductory novella for her new series called Shatterproof Bond, the first full-length novel for which is scheduled for release early next month (May 9, 2016, entitled Illuminate the Shadows). It's not without its problems, but in its task of introducing the characters and leading into the dramatic story line for the coming series, it satisfactorily piqued my interest and I'm ready for more.

Before I start this review, a quick movie quote is in order:

"That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying 'As you wish', what he meant was, 'I love you.'"

In case you don't recognize it, the quote comes from the 1987 film The Princess Bride (based on William Goldman's 1973 novel of the same name). Various scenes and quotes from the movie play an amusing role throughout this novella as a shared interest of and romantic spark between the main characters, Sam Aiken and Declan Ramsey. The two men are introduced over the internet a year before the story begins, after both are asked to be best men in the coming wedding of Sam's sister and Declan's brother. The story begins with their first face-to-face meeting, and the bulk takes place during the week the wedding party is staying at a beautiful, almost fairy-tale Scottish castle, the lush descriptions of which almost make it feel like an extra character, despite it only being a backdrop. Besides being connected through their siblings' relationship, Declan also works for Sam's father, a fantastically wealthy businessman who is more than he appears, and it is this secret, one that also involves Sam and is not revealed until the epilogue, that sets up the series proper.

Those who know my reading likes and dislikes know that I tend to lump novellas, regardless of genre, in the same category as short stories and anthologies: I typically don't like them because they just aren't long enough to do what needs to be done. Fortunately, As You Wish, at roughly 45,000 words (about 140 pages in the nook/epub edition), straddles the line between novella and short novel, so there is plenty of space for it to accomplish everything a series-starting novella should.

As far as the characters are concerned, I enjoyed getting to know them. Sam is gay and, prior to the start of the story, had been overseas for the past couple years in countries that are notoriously known for their anti-gay policies, a point that the author chooses to bring up repeatedly, though sometimes at awkward (read: mood-killing) times. This fact, together with his strained relationship with his father, play a big role in driving his behavior and interactions with Declan. Declan, on the other had, has always thought of himself as straight, so he's surprised by the speed and intensity of his attraction to Sam. There isn't a whole lot of internal struggle on Declan's part though. All he knows is that his attempts to date women have been disastrous, so he welcomes this unexpected attraction almost nonchalantly; he doesn't know if this makes him gay or bi, or if he's just attracted to Sam, but it doesn't matter, and whatever it is, he'll take it for the rest of their time at the castle and see where it goes from there. I'm rather looking forward to seeing where it's going to go from there, especially since I didn't always feel the chemistry between the two of them quite as intensely as they apparently did. I'm hoping that in a longer novel, there will be more time to develop this.

The writing style in As You Wish is entirely in the third person, with the point of view shifting between the two main characters. Sometimes, particularly in the first third of the novella, these shifts are abrupt and hard to follow. Also, again mainly at the start of the novella, the flow of the writing is little choppy, sometimes  changing focus mid-paragraph, and other times reading almost like there are whole paragraphs that are out of order. Thankfully, these problems abate further into the story, or at least I was engrossed in the story enough so that I didn't notice it anymore.

In summary, as a standalone, this would be only a mediocre story at best, but as an introduction, it left me hungry for more. So I will definitely be reading Illuminate the Shadows when I get a copy!

The author generously granted me a free copy of As You Wish in exchange for my fair and honest review.

A castle wedding in Scotland sets the scene for two men to surprisingly connect in various ways.

Sam Aiken is just back from the Middle East and is ready to be the best man for his sister's wedding. He is intelligent, easy going, and funny, but has been socially isolated recently. And he's gay.

Declan Ramsay is sharing best man duties since his brother is the groom. He is broody, gruff, impatient and thrives on control. He does not do relationships or intimacy. He does not make connections. And he is straight. 

The guys were friendly enough during email chats for wedding plans, but their in person meetings are more awkward and antagonistic, not to mention confusing. But the more time they spend together, it becomes clear that there is an unexpected, simmering attraction. But it is a challenge to know how to navigate their temptation, fears, feelings, and intertwined lives. 

It was interesting to see the differences in the two men who appear to be opposites in many ways. I liked both Declan and Sam as their personalities became more evident. I enjoyed their building camaraderie, humor, and passion. Declan especially was pushed right out of his comfort zone and into something he never saw coming. And Sam had his own demons to face and complications.

Can they build something real after a  wedding week fling or are circumstances conspiring against them?

I will admit that I struggled a bit especially in the beginning getting used to the British and Scottish language. The transitions between the points of view were a little rough and fast at times. I am a huge fan of the movie The Princess Bride, so I was able to appreciate those pop culture references and they made me smile.

The side characters added laughter, understanding, drama and at times annoyance for the main characters and the castle setting was an interesting backdrop. This is a GFY M/M story with humor, steam, and surprising emotion.

This novella is longer than I would have expected for a prequel novella and really introduces these two men, their families, and their lives.  Although it does give us some resolution, it also leaves us with a twist that opens up some plot opportunities for their next story, Illuminate the Shadows and will continue in Return to Zero. 

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review. 
Illuminate the Shadows
(Book 1)
Expected May 2016

Return to Zero
(Book 2)
Expected June 6, 2016
Isobel Starling Website/Facebook/Twitter/Blog

Isobel Starling was born in Germany to British parents. She has worked as a creative in the area's of Theater, Film and Fine Art. She lived many lives, has worn many 'hats' and could tell many tales (as long as there is an accompaniment of tea and cake! )

Isobel enjoys writing about wounded souls and the complexities of personal relationships. Despite not having found proof yet, Isobel believes in love at first sight and endeavors to give her characters a thrilling journey and a satisfying ending!


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