Small Presses, AFAB People Writing Gay Romance, and Reborn by Seth Haddon

Reborn book sitting up right behind a coffee and next to a geoid.
Drinking coffee and getting into it

Tropes: soulmates, slow burn, forced proximity

Trigger warnings: sexual content, gore, death, violence, war

In a December flurry, I bought a stack of books from small presses to broaden the scope of my reading. Small presses are super important because they publish books the big 5 publishing companies pass on. This can be for so many reasons, like they don’t appeal to a broad audience, are unique and therefore risky, compete with their existing authors. The list goes on. Also, with some small presses, unagented authors can submit their manuscripts for publication, removing one of the many barriers to publication. Agents reject books for all the same reasons as the big 5, because the big 5 are the customers who need wooing to get a book published. If we left it to the big 5, we’d see the same books regurgitated ad nauseam, because they only care about reaching the widest audience for the most sales.

In my small press adventures, I started with Reborn by Seth Haddon from Blind Eye Books, a press “dedicated to publishing the best science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and romance featuring LGBTQ protagonists.” I chose this book because it was the most recent release from the press and it was a book featuring a gay couple written by a queer man. I have very mixed feelings about people assigned female at birth (AFAB) and who identify as female writing gay romance stories. It’s fine, but I think it limits the field for gay and queer men to write in this genre because it’s so saturated with AFAB writers. It also bears asking who those stories are for, probably AFAB readers, which again, is fine, but it leaves a tiny slice of the pie for queer men to write authentically about other queer men-end rant.

Back to Reborn. There are two main protagonists, merchant lord Oren Radek who is sent from the Kingdom of Usleth after the Rezwyn Empire mysteriously cut diplomatic ties, and Izra Dziove, the visionary advisor to the Rezwyn Empire Emperor who’s in something of a coma and his daughter has designs on the throne. Izra’s been having persistent visions of his fated man, and when Oren, a soft, jolly man, arrives on the scene, his vision comes to life.

They are thrown together when Izra is framed for murder shortly after Oren’s arrival and they make a run for it, following Izra’s mysterious visions on a rollicking adventure.

I’m not a romantasy fan generally, but this one ticked all the boxes I didn’t know I had. Trope-wise, it has the soulmate trope, which is often obnoxious as one person rallies against their fate and the other one keeps screaming for them to just shut up and deal with it. In this case, while Izra has visions of his fated man, he’s by no means certain they’ll be together or even survive long enough to give it a go. It also has some great humor, especially Radeck when he’s embarrassed, which is often.

“Radeck decoupled from Izra and thought about running violently toward the window and crashing through the glass to a euphoric end.”

^^^ hilarious^^^relatable^^^^

The world is straight-forward with a simple magic system leaving room for a fun plot and a nice slow burn romance with a real explicit sex scene that was yummy. The story was like candy, an easy to read, one-off, uncomplicated story with gay butt-stuff to satisfy fanfiction lovers. I immediately bought his previous book, Reforged, that’s based in the same universe with distinct characters. I await impatiently for its arrival.

As far as Blind Eye Books goes, there are some other books on offer that look good, however there is a distinct lack of BIPOC authors, and I would like to see more. They also have several women writing gay romance stories, which is fine as I previously ranted, but it shouldn’t out number gay men writing characters from their own perspective.