Form/Publisher/Year: Novelette (10.2k words), JCP Books, 2012
From the Blurb
Not everyone can be a prince. Sometimes, though, an everyman will do.
Talent comes in all shapes and sizes, but some talents are a heck of a lot more useful than others. Hal’s particular gift? Talking to doors—a natural lead-in to an unglamorous career of locksmithing. What else would he do with himself when popping a lock comes as naturally to him as breathing? Other than burglary, of course. A guy’s gotta have some scruples.
Leave it to Hal to find someone locked in a five-story building without a single door leading to his prison. Sure, it’s probably a setup, and no, Hal doesn’t relish the idea of being played for a chump. The guy in the window is clearly accustomed to batting his eyelashes and getting his way. But if he really is stuck, Hal can’t just leave him high and dry.
Freeing him will merely involve outsmarting the gigantic tattooed bully that’s holding him hostage. How hard can it be?
Reworked fairy tales are nothing new in the publishing world, even several years ago when the original version of this story appeared in the anthology Torqued Tales. But if there was ever a writer of original m/m fiction inventive enough to bring a story as well-trodden as Rapunzel into the modern world, it would be Jordan Castillo Price — her urban fantasy series Psycop and Channelling Morpheus are some of the best in the genre. Ms Price has since re-written and re-released Locks of Love under her own publishing label, JCP Books, and while her cover art is as gorgeous as ever, I noticed a surprisingly large number of formatting errors and typos for such a short work (I counted four, including the glaring use of ‘Titan’ instead of the artist, ‘Titian’).
Hal’s first-person point-of-view is very readable, and his descriptions of the world around him are streetsmart and laced with humour. He also possesses a rather perfect magical talent for a fairy tale tradition in which doors and portals are such important motifs. In fact, some of the story’s best moments are Hal’s attempts to cajole the recalcitrant doors he comes across in his locksmithing work (though I did find some of the word choices in these scenes too on the nose: “I stroked the second pin with the curved hook of my prick” was particularly cringe-worthy).
Ms Price’s evocation of industrial and urban environments is excellent and lend the setting a realism that is unfortunately let down by Locks of Love’s less convincing elements. Hal falls in lust with the story’s putative damsel-in-distress, Micha, at first sight. This is such a common fairy tale trope — not to mention convenient for the plot — that I can hardly complain, even if it felt like an emotional cop out. Micha is also repeatedly referred to as ‘exotic’ which, considering he is being held prisoner in a doorless room, is uncomfortably reminiscent of press reports of Eastern European sex slaves. This comparison is made all the more disturbing when (spoiler alert!) Hal accepts Micha’s offer of sex when he is still a near-powerless captive. Don’t get me wrong, I believe many men would have done the same in Hal’s position, but his actions don’t do anything for the reader’s belief in Hal’s self-professed scruples.
To be honest, I didn’t find Micha himself to be a particularly likeable character either. I appreciate that Ms Price was trying to invert the helpless damsel stereotype by making him savvy and assertive, but Micha lacked a core of vulnerability that would have helped along the story’s sense of urgency. And when we discover the semi-nonsensical vanity that led Micha to his current situation, my sympathy for him all but dried up.
I think part of my dissatisfaction with Locks of Love is the unreconciled see-saw between realism and fairy tale logic. Even the climax, which seems to promise some kind of magical altercation, finally ends in the most mundane of ways. I also found the last lines so clichéd I almost couldn’t believe the usually-ingenious Ms Price had written them.
Locks of Love isn’t a total train crash, but there are too many half-baked or unsatisfactory elements to really bring this up to par with the rest of her corpus of excellent writing.