The Petal and the Thorn, Steve B Talbot’s debut novel
The Petal and the Thorn boldly enters the realm of Fantasy, infuses it with a touch of Science Fiction, and intermingles an imaginative and interesting tale with a literary jab at the great examples of ignorance and intolerance of the modern world.
Mr. Talbot’s intent has been to educate, as well as to entertain, his audience. With this intent in mind, he has thrown his literary spotlight on such topics as racism, sexism, child abuse, homophobia, and the ravaging effects of diseases such as AIDS and cancer. Additionally, Mr. Talbot has courageously tweaked the noses of two of his favorite adversaries, the American ultra-right religious establishment, and the political conservatives. He has asked the question: “What if the supernatural did truly exist?”. He has woven this question into a remarkable tale that spans the centuries, landing squarely in our own modern times, pointing out what might happen if magical beings did exist, and pondering how they might behave in the face of the plethora of issues and events of the modern life.
The title, “The Petal and the Thorn”, was intended to examine the natures of good and evil and ponders the possibility that both ideas are, largely, little more than individual interpretations. (“Does the rose know that its petals are beautiful or that its thorns cause pain?”) The same can be said of the lead characters. For example: many people will find a hero in Paul Reese, a gay man who finds himself endowed with magical/psychic powers, who sets out to use his marvelous abilities to remove all heterosexual men from power, replacing them with a ruling class composed entirely of gay men. By the same token, a great many people would find such a being to be the ultimate and intolerable villain.
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Paul Reese and Aiden Brinkman find their tidy and logical worlds upset when they are both forced to face the realization that the natural and the supernatural go hand in hand.
Aiden, a young college student from Portland, Oregon, accidentally encounters a mysterious woman, a powerful sorceress by the name of Rhiannon. From that moment, Aiden, with the help of his magical mentors, starts down a path of mystical discovery regarding his own nature and the true nature of the world. He is taken to a marvelous Island, hidden from the world within an alternate space. Aiden learns about the Island’s people, their enlightened culture, their rich history, their highly advanced technology, and the fact that they have always had sorcerers living among them. He is taught that the “outer world” has been effected by some of these “banished” sorcerers, throughout history, and that it is the intent of the Island’s government to nullify these effects, allowing humanity to evolve naturally. Aiden discovers that Rhiannon is one of these banished beings, and he learns of the danger that she is. Ultimately, Aiden discovers that he is, himself, one of these sorcerers, and the mystery, which has been his life, is explained to him.
Paul, a gay man living in Houston, Texas, encounters this same sorceress. She becomes enamored of Paul, as well as of all gay men, whom she looks upon as possessing a certain mystical “shining” quality, and she desires to see the world through Paul’s eyes. Rhiannon gives up her own body and soul so that her magical abilities can live on through him. During that brief moment, through the misty reality of a dream, Paul is allowed to confront and banish all of his personal demons, or so he is led to believe. More importantly, Paul confronts the sinister hobgoblin of his own HIV infection, and he is given the power to rid his body of this horrific dark monster. Paul, after he awakens from the dream, and finally comes to the realization the he is a new and wondrous being, sets out to use his new powers to remove heterosexual males from their destructive places in the corridors of power so that he can place gay men in a position as the ruling class of the world.
Ultimately, Aiden and Paul are forced to confront each other in a small town in the mountains of Arizona. The setting of this climactic moment is at the funeral of a young gay man, who was brutally slain in the name of hatred, and the fate of society rests upon the outcome of that confrontation.