Title: To the Other Side (Terra #1)
Author: SJ Frost
Length: 78k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Fantasy Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Series, Alternate Worlds, Magic, Witch, Native American, Alternate Reality Historical, Dragons, Unicorns, Unusual Creatures, Fae/Elves
Rating: Really Liked It
When Garrett Evergard is rescued by the witch, Bryson Summers, he discovers an alternate world unlike anything he’s ever imagined, and when that world is threatened, he’ll do anything to save it and the man he’s grown to love.
Garrett Evergard is a finder of secrets. As a biologist and environmentalist, it’s his job to go into wild lands and uncover their mysteries in order to save them. In the Pacific Northwest, he races against logging lobbyists to save a section of temperate rainforest, but the forest seems reluctant to give up her secrets. Until a fateful meeting with a rare spirit bear opens the door to wonders beyond anything he’s ever imagine, the greatest of those being the beautiful man who comes to his rescue. As a witch and Gatekeeper, Bryson Summers is used to living a solitary life. He lives between two worlds, Earth and Terra, feeling not fully part of either, and dreams of meeting someone who understands him. From the moment he sees Garrett, he believes — and hopes — he’s looking upon a twin soul. Dragons, unicorns, and a witch with enchanting brown eyes, Garrett tries to make sense of a world so different from anything he’s ever known. But his mind and heart are open, and he finds himself drawn more to Bryson with each day they spend together. When Bryson and the gate that links the two worlds fall under threat, Garrett is willing to do all he can to protect them, even if it means facing down dark magic.
I’ve missed out so far on reading any of SJ Frost’s non-contemporary books, though I did read the first book of her Instincts series. But most of what I’ve read and really liked by this author has been her Conquest rocker series. This is a bit of a deviation from what I’m used to reading from her, but I still found her touch and sense of humor in it, and I found it to be a book that I really liked and, even more, am looking forward to the further books in the series. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, and this was a sweet, light-hearted take on the genre, not a dark fantasy by any means, but more along the mood of a fairy tale.
We meet Garrett as he’s hiking through a forest bordering the near-by and protected national forest. He works for EarthQuest, an organization that exposes environmental abuses and government action. This forest is being heavily lobbied to be cut, but Garrett is EarthQuest’s secret weapon, in a way. He travels to places in danger and, as a biologist, looks for species or plant or animal that could become a mascot for protection. What Garrett finds blows his mind. Capturing the tiny dragon-like birds, Garrett is amazed when he sees a spirit bear, a bear with a recessive gene coloring it white and a heavily revered animal by the First Peoples. He knows he can save the forest now, but in trying to get evidence of the bear, Garrett falls into a ravine.
Bryson is called to the scene of a unconscious man by Koda, the spirit bear. Bryson is a witch, the Gatekeeper between Earth and a parallel, symbiotic world called Terra, and spends his time in both places. He can speak to animals, as well as manipulate the natural forces. And the only way he can save the beautiful and injured man is to take him to his home in Terra. It’s against the rules, but Koda tells him that he trusts the man and his confidence as well as the fact that the Floras showed themselves to him leads him to trust the man.
After reawakening in a strange place, the two men get to know each other and at the same time Bryson introduces Garrett to Terra and to his friends, a ragtag group (that will surely become the future main characters of Terra books): Korran, a dragon speaker and protector, Zain, a theif and assassin and all around smartass, and Larkin, a young minstrel who can speak to the dead. Soon, there are not only forces endangering the gate from the Earth side, but also a nearby Duke who is interested in stealing the power of immortality that comes with being it’s keeper, enough to summon another witch to help in his ends.
This happened again yesterday, when I reviewed the first book of a new fantasy series (that was Dragon Slayer by Isabella Carter) — I end up writing a huge summary for the book. I suppose that’s to be expected if I was actually going to touch on all the points. First of all, I like having a decent summary. I’m not really spoiled by them because I never remember summaries/blurbs when I start the book and I actually put off reading this for a while because I just wasn’t really sure what it was about. Granted, I probably don’t remember those blurbs because I don’t really read them that closely. That’s all my fault! But still, I wanted to give an accurate idea about the book if you’re thinking about buying it. Second, as the first book in a new fantasy series there really is a LOT of setup to be done. In this case, not only do we have to learn about Garrett and what he’s doing on the Earth side, but then we also have to learn about Bryson and the gate and his home, but also about Terra and a whole different way of life there, including the symmetry between the worlds and how they’re connected and why. That’s a lot to introduce, so I don’t completely blame SJ Frost for the fact that the first half of the book was full of exposition. At least it wasn’t dumped on us entirely in the beginning, but drawn out as Bryson and Garrett get to know each other.
No, while I really enjoyed the book and I think that SJ Frost set up a really enjoyable world (though not wholly original still interesting and engaging for those who like lighter fantasy), I still felt like this story was trying to juggle conflicts, between both the Earth and Terra side, which made what ends up to be the major conflict seem slightly underdeveloped. So much time was taken to introduce the world and the relationship that when the conflict started to ramp up I felt like I wished it had been a little more integrated into the story. That isn’t to say that it was totally sudden, and it’s a relatively minor complaint for a story that I really enjoyed.
This story really reminded me of a lot of Less Than Three Press releases, so those of you who are fans of their fantasies will have to check this one out. I’m very interested in the future books, although it is my own preference that I like to not know who the relationships are going to be before their books start. But then, that’s probably bad business 😉 I like SJ Frost’s writing, and I was actually surprised to find this a lot lighter than I’m used to by her. But then, this is fantasy and those were contemporaries. But she’s known for her angst in the Conquest series, and this book was surprisingly light and fluffy, in the best sense of the word.