ePistols at Dawn by ZA Maxfield
Choose your weapons.
Jae-sun Fields is pissed. Someone has taken the seminal coming-out, coming-of-age novel Doorways and satirized it. He’s determined to use his Internet skills and his job as a tabloid reporter to out the author as the fraud and no-talent hack he’s sure she is.
Kelly Kendall likes his anonymity and, except for his houseboy, factotum and all-around slut, Will, he craves solitude. There’s also that crippling case of OCD that makes it virtually impossible for him to leave the house. He’s hidden his authorship of Doorways behind layers of secrets and several years’ worth of lies—until he loses a bet.
Satirizing his own work, as far as he can see, is his own damned prerogative. Except now he has an online stalker, one who always seems several steps ahead of him in their online duel for information.
A chance meeting reveals more than hidden identities—it exposes a mutual magnetic attraction that can’t be denied. And pushes the stakes that much higher, into a zone that could get way too personal..
This is a decent book with a good idea that unfortunately fails to deliver that solid emotionally punch I seem to constantly be looking for from this author. Since I know ZA Maxfield is capable of stunning emotional/angst work, I’m somewhat surprised that with the wealth of possibilities and potential latent in this book, it fails to deliver on that scope. It is still a good book with two fabulous characters (not the main couple unfortunately) and shines with some wonderful scenes that highlight why this author is a great writer. Unfortunately the entire 210 page book is not filled with the same level of greatness and ends up using tired tropes and inconsistencies to get the final happy ending. By that point, I was ready to be done too. But overall, fans will likely enjoy the book even if not love it.
The premise is that an author, Kelly, satirized his own highly acclaimed work and thereby earned the ire of one devoted reader, Jae. Jae decides to expose the scathing hack but then finds himself embroiled in a personal relationship with Kelly on many levels, leading to two scenes with the big misunderstanding trope. It takes quite a bit for these men, particularly Kelly, to overcome their sense of betrayal and personal fear to attempt a relationship. The combination of their lies and prevarications create an atmosphere of distrust that dances alongside the sizzling chemistry. With the help of BFF’s and some emergency repair on the road to love, these two must discover a way to let go of the past and embrace the future.
The book revolves around the theme of doorways and truth in a variety of obvious and subtle ways. The theme of doorways stems from the obvious with the gay coming of age book that has evolved into a scared tome for many readers. Its writer must travel through numerous doorways, each time overcoming his fear, to a different change in his life. The idea that doorways are simply an avenue to change is clear but woven incredibly well throughout the story in subtle moments and with high impact. One such example is the scene of Kelly and Jae on the beach before Kelly lets them both into the apartment, knowing their connection has weight and meaning. Additionally, the concept of truth is used just as liberally if sometimes too much. This led to some inconsistencies in the characters but shows the various angles of truth and how the image of such changes with each person and their perspective. These dual elements are repeated throughout the story mostly to its benefit with only a few missteps.
Also included are numerous references and tongue in cheek comments about the publishing world and the concept of women writing gay smut. These are often humorous and meant to allow the reader to identify and laugh with the story. Some of these are overdone and too obvious, dragging the joke on well after the first well deserved laugh. Kelly and Will’s banter however, is so witty and entertaining that it almost makes up for the long running gags that are eventually dropped in favor of more emotional angst.
The character of Kelly is undeniably the most dynamic and attention catching. His various fears, paranoia, OCD behavior and reluctance to change create a complex character that hides from life yet lives what he does experience to the very fullest. He has a courage and strength that is bellied by his overwhelming fear resulting in a man with very real flaws. His compassion, kindness, and decency are sterling but that doesn’t prevent him from running and hiding either. He makes mistakes and hurts others as he struggles to accept himself, his past, and his future. The scenes involving Kelly, either with others or on his own, are the strongest of the book. These scenes have a tangible tension and electricity that is lacking in other elements. His story is the strong focal point of the book and the clear emotional connection with the reader. I wish the author had stayed true to this instead of drifting more into areas that were not as engaging.
Kelly’s relationship with Will and the character of Will are another wonderful element of the book. A young man with an abused and horrible past but retaining innocence amid capable strength have Will sure to be a reader favorite. The scenes between these two are strong, interesting, and instantly engrossing whether they are intense or humorous. The dialogue and emotional connection between the men is entertaining and witty, almost overshadowing the burgeoning relationship between Jae and Kelly. Kelly’s clear fascination and desire for Jae help clarify matters so there is no confused loyalty but the writing and story was stronger when featuring Will and Kelly than Kelly and Jae overall.
Jae is a solid character but lacked a lot of consistency. To start with he’s described as a 6’5" Asian who towers over everyone, which led to repeated references to his huge height. This is distracting and unnecessary. Then as a reporter, his loose ethics are instantly questioned but he waivers between showing a strong sense of decency and a justification for harmful acts. A lot of this is the reporter mantra of “if I don’t do it, someone else will” but this is exercised even within Jae’s own personal life. When the second big misunderstanding was being set up, Jae suddenly decides he is scrupulously honest and doesn’t tolerate deceit, forgetting this exact situation already happened once. If he’d mused that he learned his lesson, that would be one thing but he doesn’t. Furthermore he seems to think nothing of keeping secrets yet constantly digs deeper to find Kelly’s. Although Jae’s emotional connection to Kelly is clear and strong, he is not a very sympathetic character. He has hints of interest with his freakishly tall stature and emo goth attire, but most of this is distracting and creates a juxtaposition between the two men when enough exist from outside sources. However, his compassion, understanding and love for Kelly are wonderful, adding to his character. The careful handling of Kelly and all his fears is slow and calculated with a maturity that goes against Jae’s mistakes.
I liked the character of Jae and the relationship between Kelly and Jae, but it sadly wasn’t the strongest aspect of the story. I wasn’t left with the satisfying and happy feeling for a great romantic couple that has weathered emotional angst and trauma. I was left wondering why they didn’t learn from their first big misunderstanding and how many more times in the future this ridiculousness would continue. But here’s to hoping it doesn’t as the core of the story is really interesting and engaging. It’s a slow starter as it takes almost 80 pages before all the various aspects are in place and the first deception of Jae and so on, but once the two meet it picks up quite a bit. I didn’t love the story but I liked it and want to see more, preferably Will’s story please!
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