Title: The War at the End of the World
Author: Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
Length: 10,000 words
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Genre: m/m historical paranormal romance (sort of)
War correspondent Joseph Byrne has been cheating death all his life, ever since he spent two years in an iron lung as a boy diagnosed with polio. In the years since, the Fetch, a strange being charged by Death with collecting Joseph and transporting him into the unknown, has been condemned to watch and wait.
Now, with Joseph working in a Finland caught in a tug of war between Nazi and Soviet forces, it seems a foregone conclusion that the Fetch’s sentence is at its end and Death will have Joseph for her own at last. Joseph, an openly Jewish American, has no doubt where his allegiance lies, no matter the danger. But after all these years at Joseph’s side, watching him overcome adversity to grow into a brave and principled young man, the Fetch has come to realize that there are forces stronger and so much sweeter than even the purpose you were made for.
This writing pair are getting a name for writing unusual paranormal stories and this one was no exception. In fact, it was a little too unusual and slightly obscure, so much so that I wasn’t sure what was happening for much of the time. Maybe it was just me being a bit thick!
The story tells of American journalist Joseph, who is crippled after surviving polio as a child. He’s in Finland reporting on the Finnish involvement in the Second World War, and in particular trying to show how false their neutrality seems when they are siding with Nazi Germany over the protection of their borders against Russia. This aspect was particularly interesting for me because it was something about which I was completely ignorant. I thought the authors had done a very good job of being very even handed with this part of the book, showing the bravery of the Finnish people, as well as the less savoury parts of their uneasy relationship with Nazi Germany.
Joseph’s life is viewed through the supposedly dispassionate eyes of a ‘fetch’ a spiritual being which was called to bring Joseph to death during the polio outbreak, but which failed to do so. Since then, this being has been with Joseph, waiting for an opportunity to claim him, whilst all the time growing to love and admire Joseph. This being is the narrator of the piece and it took me a while to work out what he was and his role in Joseph’s life. This confusion bothered me a little, especially when the story takes a different turn towards the end and I was left with some questions about the new characters who appear towards the end of the book.
Another aspect which confused me was whether this story ended happily or not. I thought perhaps it did, but, then again, it also didn’t. I’m being deliberately vague so as not to give anything away but the reincarnated souls plot never really works for me and in this case I was left slightly disappointed and scratching my head in confusion. Maybe if the ending had been extended a little I might have been happier. I’ve put that the story is sort of a romance. It’s certainly not erotica since it has no erotic content whatsoever, but the romance is very low key so don’t come to this story expecting a conventional romance.
Having said that, the writing in this story really is superb, with crisp imagery and a vivid character in Joseph, with his struggles and conflicts clearly shown. It’s also completely free, so there’s no excuse not to read it and see whether my confusion was valid or not!