Reviewed: 2011-01-24 - (Review Updated: 2011-01-26)
There are no end of coming-of-age stories about teenagers at storiesonline, and all of them tend to follow the formula for such stories, to both greater and lesser extents. But they're not all alike, and the genre is full of sub-categories.
For instance, if I wanted to read something more romantic than erotic, something sweet with lots of gentle humour, I'd happily delve into Svengali's Ghost's "Beth" series, the ongoing story of how former theatre geek Tommy Randahl continues to find love and happiness with Beth Jones, the pretty "ice queen" who, it turns out, only needed the love and attention of a truly good guy to bring her out of her shell.
There's something very reliable and comfortable about Svengali's "Beth" stories. It's an aura that belies the actual plot lines, in which there is occasional jeopardy, with bad things, both physical and emotional, happening to good people. Yet when you come to the end of each book, it's hard to remember even a sliver of a sense of doom; above all else, there's the feeling that true love is going to win out for these kids. In that sense, this is a very "safe" story to read.
Not that Svengali's Ghost doesn't do his best to spice things up, and in "Beth 4," he presents one of the most serious cracks in the lead characters' relationship. By now, Tommy and Beth are finished with high school and taking their first stab at cohabitation, during their freshman year at college. They say you don't really know someone until you've lived with them, and the pressures of higher academics add to the strain.
While "Beth" is certainly more romance than erotica, it also doesn't limit itself to relationship issues. The cast of characters continues to grow, and at least as much time is spent on Tommy's endeavours as a photographer and inventor as on his love life. Whether true or not, there's a definite feel that there's a lot of Svengali in Tommy. But that's okay, because Tommy makes for an enjoyable first-person protagonist. He's Everyman, except like every good Everyman, he's far from average.
Svengali's Ghost gets high marks for readability, and for whatever reason the "Beth" stories are easier to read as a serial than a lot of stories that have you checking back on previous chapters to figure out who's who and what's what. Maybe that's because Svengali is a very reliable poster when in mid-story. The relatively low stroke score is less of a comment on Svengali's ability to present erotic content than on the fact that this just isn't that kind of story; the sex is reminiscent of an old movie, in which the camera pans away from the bed, but we know what's going on.
Svengali ends "Beth 4" with a note that he'll keep telling Tommy and Beth's story as long as people are interested. Here's betting you'll answer him in the affirmative.