Title: Venetian Masks
Author: Kim Fielding
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 216 pages
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Betrayal, HEA, Italy, Mobsters, Vacation
Rating: Really Liked It
Guest Review by Heather C
Jeff Dawkins’s last partner left him with a mortgage he can’t afford and nonrefundable tickets for a month’s vacation in Europe. Despite a reluctance to travel, Jeff decides to go on the trip anyway. After all, he’s already paid for it. He packs a Kindle loaded with gay romance novels and arrives in Venice full of trepidation. There he meets the handsome and charming expat Cleve Prieto, who offers to serve as his tour guide. Jeff has serious misgivings—he wasn’t born yesterday, and something about Cleve doesn’t sit right—but anything is better than wandering the canals alone. With Cleve’s help, Jeff falls in love with Venice and begins to reconcile with his past. For the first time, Jeff finds himself developing strong feelings for someone else. But he can’t be sure who that person is because Cleve’s background remains a mystery embroidered with lies.
Then a dark figure from Cleve’s past appears, and Jeff must choose whether to let Cleve flee alone or to join him on a desperate run through central Europe. Maybe Jeff will finally be able to see behind Cleve’s masks—if he survives the journey.
Nikyta totally tricked me into reading this!
I went into this book completely blind and had no idea what it was about, although I did gather from the title that it might be set in Venice…
Poor plain ol’, boring Jeff. He’s been cheated on and dumped by his boyfriend, forced to sell his house, and now he’s on a plane traveling to Venice to begin his 4 week European vacation…alone. Shortly after arriving in Venice, he catches the eye of “Cleve”, a gorgeous, tattooed, American drifter who offers to play Jeff’s tour guide…for payment. Hmm, that doesn’t sound like a trusty, safe plan to me!
I immediately connected with Jeff. He is pretty much me (if I were a gay man), as we share many of the same neuroses. Plus, we both:
Work in IT
Live an unexciting existence
Have to plan for everything
Have never traveled anywhere alone
Carry our Kindles everywhere we go, although I haven’t maimed anyone with mine…yet
Then Jeff throws his brain out the window and agrees to give Cleve’s offer a try, while I’m screaming “NOOOOOOOOO, he can’t be trusted!!!!!” But Jeff sees Cleve’s sad eyes and decides to overlook all of his lies and half-truths, and squeezes Cleve into his travel budget…there’s just something about the gorgeous man… It truly was about the companionship, although it wasn’t long before it led to some sexy time…Cleve was never paid for sex!
Cleve…no way did I trust him in the beginning! And I don’t think I even liked him at first because of how much I didn’t trust him. Ooooh, but it wasn’t long before he stole my heart…I think I loved him before Jeff even loved him. And even though it was a bit insta-love-ish, I still loved Jeff and Cleve together and was cheering for them the entire time.
Sooooooo, I’m not going to tell anymore about Cleve or give away any spoilers about what happens next, but the lazy vacation romance suddenly turns into a twisted thriller. Huh? Didn’t see that coming. It did get a little outrageous…but who cares? It was fun and sweet and I couldn’t put it down…and that’s all that matters.
Posted by Nikyta in 41-75k, 5 Really Like It, Authors D-F, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: betrayal, Dreamspinner Press, HEA, Italy, Kim Fielding, mobsters, vacation
Title: Werecat: The Rearing (Werecat #1)
Author: Andrew J Peters
Length: 21k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal
Heat: 2 – Tame (mostly not explicit)
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Short Story, Shifters (Big Cats), Mythology, Homeless, NYC, Montreal, Disappeared/Runaway, Psychological Control, Secrets & Lies, College, Flashbacks, Shifted Sex
Rating: Pretty Good
For Jacks Dowd, a college senior who feels ungrounded from his family and life in general, an alcohol and sex-infused weekend in Montréal sounds like a pretty good escape. His Spring Break binge takes a detour when he meets Benoit, an admiring drifter with startling green eyes. A hook-up turns into a day, two days, and then a full week in Benoit’s hostel, making love and scarfing down take-out food. But at the end of the week, Benoit demands that Jacks make an impossible choice: stay with him forever, or go back to college and never see him again.
There’s something dangerous about Benoit, but Jacks has fallen for him brutally. The night before Jacks is supposed to return to college, he finds Benoit in Mont Royal Park, where they first met, to try to work things out. Benoit springs on Jacks an unfathomable secret: he’s a mythical creature, half man and half jungle panther. He traps Jacks in an abandoned cabin and performs an occult rite so they will be mated forever.
I’ve been sitting on this one a month or two, waiting to read it. I’m glad that I read it, but also more intrigued than satisfied in a good story, though I’ll certainly read the second one, whenever it’s out.
We first meet Jacks on a supply run in the middle of the night in NYC. He stops at a familiar bodega to pick up some protein, saying hello to the familiar (and cute) clerk, then returns to his hiding place with Benoit, an old turned out warehouse. In flashbacks we see how Jack has come to this point, by meeting scruffy and serious Benoit while on spring break in Montreal after a bad night out and their weeklong tryst that never really ends. As we go through each subsequent flashback, introducing us to their relationship, Benoit’s many quirks, and how he came to be in NYC with him, now his boyfriend.
The blurb makes one half of this story quite obvious — Jacks’ time in Montreal with Benoit — but doesn’t go much beyond that point. I’m no real fan of flashbacks and I’m not sure that I could say that they brought anything particularly important to this story, but they’re a stylistic choice that slowly introduces us to the beginning of the relationship between Jacks and Benoit at the same time as everything starts to go wrong with them in NYC. Benoit, because of his age, is much more like a cat in nature than a human, which is definitely part of his growth as a character in the story. He’s possessive to a manic degree, but also seductive and beguiling to Jacks. Jacks is someone, at least to me, who seems to put on a good front of a simple college student but really likes to flirt with the edge. The allure of Benoit in Montreal, of a man in trouble that he can’t help but fall in love with is really about sex and danger than anything else. It didn’t quite endear me to Jacks, to say the least. In fact, I had trouble through a lot of this story about whether I could really feel their relationship. That is because it was moving in a direction that I wasn’t prepared for.
That change in direction is what galvanized my interest, however, and it doesn’t come until quite late the story. It makes reviewing this harder, no matter how much more enjoyment it gave me in the overall story. It makes this somewhat difficult to talk about while still withholding all the information. But it also means I can tell you that I’m even more excited to see what this author has in store for these characters next, and that I have to implore you to keep reading if you find yourself, at first, reading something that you weren’t quite sure you thought you were.
All of this, including the misdirection, makes for an interesting last minute move, but without the next story I’m still not quite sure if I can think of this as a prequel written first or not. Does this story show the direction for the rest? Or, is Andrew Peters waiting to throw us more curveballs?
I know this is a somewhat enigmatic review, so if you’re the type of reader who doesn’t like to be kept waiting, then I think you should probably wait for the next installment in this series to be published before you start reading. What I can tell you is that though I suffered through flashbacks 😉 I liked the writing style and I like that this author is keeping me on my toes. So, for now, this first story gets a Pretty Good, with a curious but tempered excitement about what is next to come.
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 4 Pretty Good, Authors P-R, Contemporary, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Paranormal, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Andrew J Peters, Big Cats, Cat Shifters, College, Flashbacks, Homeless, Montreal, Mythology, NYC, Psychological Control, Runaway/Disappeared, Secrets & Lies, Series, Shifter Sex, Short Story, Vagabondage Press, Werecat series
Title: Dance Only for Me (Dance with the Devil #6)
Author: Megan Derr
Publisher: Less than Three Press
Length: 70k words
Genre: m/m Paranormal Fantasy Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Magic, Demons, Angels, Vampires, Djinn, Cowboys, Dragons, Secrets & Lies, Past Trauma/Abuse, Mystery
Rating: Pretty Good
Jackie Black is a cowboy and sorcerer and proud of both. He spends his days breaking curses and locating items of interest for other abnormals. His pride and joy are the alchemy-enhanced pistols at his hips. The love of his life is Roman, a businessman and witch. Tired of living several states apart, Jackie decides to surprise Roman by moving closer.
But instead of being a happy surprise, Jackie finds himself the victim of an unpleasant one. Alone in a strange city, with nowhere to go and his world in pieces, Jackie is taken in by an old man who says he is a paranormal detective and could use someone of Jackie’s power and abilities to catch a killer.
I started reading this when it came up earlier this year as a sequel, and around the 40% mark I stopped reading, so I could wait until it was finished. Honestly, I think that I’m just not that good at reading serials unless they’re the never-ending kind, because I’m not that good at waiting, and no matter how good the book is I eventually lose interest having to wait. Still, I’m glad that I got to read the beginning of this when I did back in January, because it made me instantly fall in love with Jackie Black, gunslinger and man of charming words 😉 And that meant that I was really excited to see how his story ended.
Jackie Black, youngest in the long line of gun-slinging cowboy sorcerers is in love. He’s had a rough ride of it in the past, but he thinks that Roman is the one — enough to move from his long-time home in the country and live in the city. When he surprises Roman after Roman canceled their date to tell him the happy news, that he’s househunting closer, he finds a complete surprise that ruins their relationship irreparably. Now, Jackie is alone in a strange city he doesn’t know well with nowhere to stay.
But the cowboy Blacks have a way of stumbling across trouble, and they’re duty bound as honest men to help in any way they can. So when Jackie meets a old man who is on the hunt after a ruthless woman stealing power he does everything he can to help. What he doesn’t know is that by getting to know the old man, he stumbled into an even larger and longer unsolved mystery involving the old man himself, a scarred vampire, and his father, the Black before him (currently off who knows where and not returning his calls). Backing down would be better — it seems that everyone who has gotten involved over the years has been killed off — but Jackie’s honor won’t let him. And maybe a touch of stubbornness that says that whatever impossible creature is picking off the people around him, he hasn’t met a sorcerer like Jackie Black yet.
Really, the best thing about this book is Jackie. He’s such a great character that you can’t help fall in love with him. He’s straight out of the old west, honor and stubbornness and all, trying to fit into a modern magical world. He’s almost comical at first until you really see his human side, and after that it’s so easy to get swept up in his adventure. I must admit that because I read the first bit of this as serial and then stopped I was under the misimpression of who Jackie’s love interest in this was. At first, I was a little miffed, but it’s only because it had been around 7 months that I’d been thinking he ended up with someone else, and I just hadn’t read that part of the story yet. But it didn’t take long for me to see that his real love interest here fit him so much better. I only hope that the really interesting character that latches onto him earlier in the book (and isn’t, of course, his love interest) will get his book, because I was a little sad that he seemed to disappear a bit after the halfway mark. We didn’t get to see him as much, even though I found him really endearing and one of the most interesting characters so far in this series. It makes me wonder if Megan Derr does have plans for him later in the series because he’s such a puzzle that never get’s solved in this book.
Fans of the series will want to continue and read this book. Honestly, it wasn’t my favorite, no matter how much I loved Jackie. I’m finding that even though I’ve enjoyed the last couple of books in this series I don’t have the same feelings as I had about the first three, which I just really loved and have read over and over. I’ll always continue to read, because even if Megan Derr’s books don’t turn out to be ones that I want to buy in paperback and keep as a comfort read, they’re still enjoyable, fun and a great escape. They’re some of the easiest and most comforting reading for me, and that only makes me even more excited for the next books to come.
Posted by Cole in 4 Pretty Good, 41-75k, Authors D-F, Fantasy, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Paranormal, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Angels, Cowboys, Dance with the Devil, Demons, Djinn, Dragons, Less Than Three Press, Magic, Megan Derr, Mystery, Past Abuse, Past Trauma, Secrets & Lies, Series, Vampire
Title: The Adorned
Author: John Tristan
Length: 101k words
Genre: m/m Fantasy Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Indentured Slavery, Sexual Slavery, Tattoos, Art/Artists, Magic, Major Class Distinctions, Alternate World Historical, Slow Burn, Revolution, Netgalley
Rating: LOVED it!!!!
My name is Etan, and I am Adorned.
A living piece of art, I exist to please the divine rulers of Kered. With nowhere to turn after my father died, I tried my luck in the capital city. Little did I know how quickly I would be robbed, beaten and forced to sell myself into servitude. But I was lucky enough to gain the attention of Roberd Tallisk, an irascible but intriguing tattoo artist who offered to mark me with enchanted ink for the enjoyment of the nobles. I was given a chance to better my station in life, and I could not refuse.
But the divine rulers want not only the art but the body that bears it. In their company I can rise above the dregs of society and experience a life most only dream of, at the cost of suffering their every desire as a pawn in games of lavish intrigue. Their attention is flattering, but I find I’d rather have Tallisk’s.
Caught between factions, I learn that a revolution is brewing, one that could ruin Kered–and Roberd and myself along with it…
I got this book for review on a whim, and I am so happy that I did because it completely took over my life yesterday. I started reading it in the early morning and I couldn’t put it down — I read all day. And to be honest I was a little worried after I requested it because I had previously read a book by John Tristan that I DNF’ed and I think it might have been his first book. I just couldn’t get into the writing and I kinda liked it but also didn’t. So I couldn’t believe that I had none of the same issues with this book that I did with that earlier book. And if this author keeps writing books like this then I’ll definitely stick around and keep reading!
When his father dies with a multitude of debts, Etan is forced to sell his home and all his belongings and travel to the capital city of Kered to look for work. His only skills are his ability to read and write, and while those are rare abilities for a country boy, with no money to garner an apprenticeship, his only choice is manual labor, something he’s unable to do because of a sickness as a child that stunted his growth. He’s pale and petite, and saved by a man in a rickshaw when beaten in the street. The man offers to send him to a place to stay, where he learns after a few days is a home for indentured servants. His only option thereafter is to sign away his rights and work for this man in trade for a place to stay and food to eat.
When the man sees Etan without bruises and washes he almost doesn’t recognize him, but he has an even better idea of work for him. Etan is introduced to Roberd Tallisk, a tattoo artist whose patron is the head of the Council, run by the Blooded, the ruling class of Kered society who possess magic believed descended from the gods themselves. There, Etan’s slave bond is bartered between the two men when Tallisk agrees to take Etan on as his new work of art, an Adorned. The Adorned have always mystified those of the lower classes. They’re those of beauty who are tattooed by master tattoo artists with enchanted ink to become living works of art for the pleasure of the Blooded. Their art is not allowed to be seen by those who aren’t Blooded or the artist. And no one else but the tattoo artists are allowed to wear ink.
Etan’s new life seems wonderful and exciting. He’s protected now for life with gifts of riches from patrons and by the ink he wears on his skin. But there is also an aspect of being Adorned that he never expected. He soon learns the hard price to pay when he starts to mingle with the elite of Keren society and exactly what they expect from him. And he finds himself a pawn, a sort of Mata Hari in the political play between two warring factions for the future of the Keren society.
There are two things that I love most about this story and they go behind the tattoo art (which is super cool) and a lot of the other little details that made this story come alive for me. First is the epic quality of the story. We really get to see Etan’s life played out over a lot of major changes in his life that also herald major changes for the whole world. We meet Etan when he’s young, still living at home with his father and before he’s had to completely depend on himself and we get to see how he changes over time. I typically prefer characters who are alive, present and very decisive about their lives in fiction, especially in fantasy worlds. Etan is alive and present, certainly, but he’s also like a piece of detritus in a massive current once he makes it to the city. He’s buffered on all sides by those making choices for him. I can’t see him acting any other way certainly, as someone who has very little choices, but he’s also very internal and cautious. I didn’t see those parts of his personality changing until much later because it was such a slow change, but Etan grows as the world changes around him and as he needs to take more of his own care for himself.
The second thing I really loved was the cast of characters. We meet a multitude of secondary characters, most of whom are a good sort, and a faction of those who are good people who make some bad choices. As the world in the story changes, it reveals the best and worst of the characters and each of them are made to understand their regrets, in particular Isadel and Lord Haqan Loren. All of them, however, are well rounded characters that we get to know rather well. And this was done sometimes in a rather subtle fashion. The writing requires the reader to be present and active in piecing the world together and in drawing connections, and I can’t tell you how often I find myself wishing for writing like that.
You might not find this story to be perfect, or it might not impact you as much as it did me. Part of how you feel about it, in the end, will depend on what you like most in your romance books. The relationship between Etan and Tallisk is very slow to build and it takes almost the full length of the novel for the two to really come together. The bulk of the story is rather Etan’s journey and finding himself, someone who still feels like a country boy, realizing that he’s a good person with heart amid vultures who would pick at him until there’s nothing left. He has to realize what he really wants out of life, if it is security or love and if those things are separate.
I finished the book wanting more, sad that the story ended and hoping there was a way a sequel could be written, lol. I don’t think that’s really possible. But I know now that I’ll definitely keep my eye on book by John Tristan and I hope that it isn’t too long from now that I find another book that I get so lost in.
Posted by Cole in 101-125k, 6 LOVE IT!, Authors S-U, Fantasy, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Alternate World Historical, Art, Artists, Carina, Class Distinctions, Indentured Slavery, John Tristan, Magic, Netgalley, Revolution, Sexual Slavery, Slow Burn, Tattoos
Title: Deprivation; or, Benedetto furioso: an oneiromancy
Author: Alex Jeffers
Publisher: Lethe Press
Length: 130k words
Genre: Gay Fiction
Heat: 2 – Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Dreams, Delusions, Coming of Age, 1990s, Italian Renaissance, Poetry, Parents, Divorce, Family Issues, Secrets & Lies, Economic Downturn
Rating: So So
Reviewed by Sadonna
the interpretation of dreams in order to foretell the future.
Sleep deprivation does funny things to your head. Steeped in the romance of Renaissance Italian literature, Ben Lansing isn’t coping well with the routines of his first post-college job, his daily commute from Providence, Rhode Island, to Boston, the inevitable insomnia and lack of sleep, or the peculiarly vivid dreams when he does manage to sleep.
For Ben ”wished to be a paladin. He wished to mount Ariosto’s hippogriff and fly to the moon. He wished to sing a Baroque aria of stunning, shocking brilliance, bringing the audience to its feet roaring, ‘Bravo! Bravissimo!’ He wished to run mad for love.”
When Ben encounters a lost prince squatting in a derelict South Boston warehouse with his little sister and elder brother, exiles of an imaginary Italy, he resolves to rescue Dario and Dario’s family and himself. Stumbling from dream to real life and back again, Ben begins a fabulous quest. Amid visions of futures, pasts, strangely altered presents, he encounters mythic personages raffish bike messenger/artist Neddy, dilettante translator Kenneth, his own mother and father. He falls in and out of love. He witnesses the flight of the hippogriff and the collapses of the New England economy and his parents’ marriage. He discovers what he never knew he was looking for all along.
In Deprivation, a novel as real as a fairy tale or romantic Renaissance epic, neither Ben nor the reader can ever feel certain of being awake or dreaming, walking the streets of Boston or the mazy paths of dreamland. Can you separate wish from fulfilment? Do you want to?
I’m not even sure I can describe this book. The best synopsis I can come up with is what a long strange trip it’s been. Honestly at some points I wished I was on drugs reading this.
The story starts with a dream/hallucination/delusion – not sure how to even possibly describe it. The reader has no idea what is going on with Ben, our main character. It seems like he’s maybe on a bender or something and he comes across these squatters in South Boston. Or does he??
Ben is a temporary placement agency employee who finds temp jobs for people. It’s the early 90s and the economy is in the dumps. Originally from California, he’s got a degree in Comparative Literature – always a marketable skill. He has taken the job in Boston and he commutes from his college apartment in Providence that he is loathe to give up but which leaves him quite sleep deprived. (At this I had to laugh. I’m more than twice his age and I’m before 5 every day and have a 60 mile commute by bus into Chicago every day. I’m out of my house most days by 6 and can be home anywhere from 6 to 7:30 each night.) He is nearly run down one winter day by Neddy, a bike messenger who then proceeds to insure that they will see each other again.
Ben’s co-worker, Jane, then wants to introduce him to another guy – one of her temp workers. He claims that he’s not gay, but apparently he likes to dabble and he seems to like Ben. Turns out he’s a wealthy guy who is also quite well educated and is going to be translating and book and needs to take a trip. He might need an apartment sitting while he is gone. Ben still does not want to give up his Providence apartment for some reason.
Finally we meet Liam, Ben’s on-again, off-again college boyfriend. He apparently has a key and lets himself in whenever he’s in town and has the urge to see Ben. He’s Irish and a grad student. But is he real? We don’t really know.
Lastly among Ben’s potential paramours, he gets a letter from his old prep school Italian teacher/soccer coach and he’s coming to Boston on business as he’s left teaching and maybe they can get together. He was Ben’s favorite teacher. In addition, it seems that Ben’s mother is a novelist who is getting some notice. In her latest book, which Ben gets a galley copy to read, she writes about a woman who is married to a doctor has a gay son who is HIV-positive and a family trip to Italy where the husband is discovered with a man. Ben is furious with his mother and they have already had words – via a letter about this book. He is disinclined to read it, but then his father calls. Ian, Ben’s father, admits that his mother has asked him to leave and that he is in fact gay and even though Ben already knows this in his heart, it’s another blow. He has in the past suggested to his father that they should go their own ways, but Ian was having none of it.
Both Ben’s parents end up visiting him and there is of course quite a bit of family drama. Ian and Sandra, Ben’s mother in a surprise move, arrive the next evening in Boston. Ian tries to convince Ben to come back to California. Ben confesses his strange dreams/hallucinations and chalks it up to his sleep deprivation although he asks his father’s take on it – like maybe he is crazy. He also gets a disturbing call from Jane at the office.
After Ben’s parents leave, he has another encounter with Neddy that eventually results in him reaching out to Kenneth. He takes Ben to get his hair cut and he meets Colin, Kenneth’s hair stylist. Colin has his own opinion about Kenneth’s sexuality. Nothing is clear about any of these relationships but Ben is looking forward to Paul’s visit.
Throughout the novel, we also have this underlying current of Italian Renaissance literature and the imagery that entails. Ben has some vivid dreams/hallucinations of participating in this fantasy/fairy tale.
Boy where to start on this review. This was nearly a DNF for me, but I can say I’ve only given up on one book in the past 10 years. The beginning of this book reads like a 70s drug trip experience. The reader doesn’t know what’s real, what’s dream, what’s delusion for Ben. I was probably at least 30% in before I thought it might be worth finishing and even then I wasn’t sure. I’m a fairly educated and well-traveled person. I have a liberal arts degree and nearly a science degree as well, I’ve been to Italy, I have season tickets to the opera but this book made me feel stupid. I just didn’t get it. I kept thinking that I was missing something. I still think I am. It took me forever to read it and I had to go over a lot of it more than once because it just didn’t make sense to me.
The prose is interesting (although there are a few artifices and quirks that I didn’t like), but the story left me cold. At the end, I really didn’t care what happened to any of these characters. It’s not a good thing that the dream characters introduced at the beginning of the story elicited the most interest and empathy from me. I didn’t care for Ben’s parents at all. Everybody in this story has a LOT of issues and finally, I just didn’t care. I’m not sure who is the target audience for this story, but I guess it wasn’t me.
Posted by Sadonna in 126k+, 3 So So, Authors J-L, Gay Fiction, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: 1990s, Alex Jeffers, Coming of Age, Delusions, Divorce, Dreams, Family Issues, Italian Renaissance, Lethe Press, poetry, Secrets & Lies
Title: Stealing the Wind (Mermen of Ea #1)
Author: Shira Anthony
Length: 69,784 words
Genre: m/m Fantasy Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty**
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between**
Keywords/Tags: Series, Shifters (Merfolk), Sea/Rivers/Sail, Under the Sea, Slaves/Prisoner, Indentured (Sexual) Slavery, m/m/m scenes, Multiple/Other Partners, Spies, Civil War, Resistance, Dreams, Superpowers, Reincarnation, Sex in Shifted Form (underwater mermen sex, which is much more interesting than underwater basket weaving)
Rating: Pretty Good
Taren Laxley has never known anything but life as a slave. When a lusty pirate kidnaps him and holds him prisoner on his ship, Taren embraces the chance to realize his dream of a seagoing life. Not only does the pirate captain offer him freedom in exchange for three years of labor and sexual servitude, but the pleasures Taren finds when he joins the captain and first mate in bed far surpass his greatest fantasies.
Then, during a storm, Taren dives overboard to save another sailor and is lost at sea. He’s rescued by Ian Dunaidh, the enigmatic and seemingly ageless captain of a rival ship, the Phantom, and Taren feels an overwhelming attraction to Ian that Ian appears to share. Soon Taren learns a secret that will change his life forever: Ian and his people are Ea, shape-shifting merfolk… and Taren is one of them too. Bound to each other by a fierce passion neither can explain or deny, Taren and Ian are soon embroiled in a war and forced to fight for a future—not only for themselves but for all their kind.
Believe it or not (and I can’t), this is the first book I’ve read by Shira Anthony. I have several and there are many of her books that I’ve really wanted to read, but somehow never found the time to. So when I saw this on the Dreamspinner Coming Soon page I made sure that I made room for it in my schedule. It wouldn’t only be a chance to try out this author, but also a book about mermen! Just like unicorns, I’m really an 8 year old little girl who loves the cute and cuddly fantastical creatures. Except, you know, when they have gay sex and aren’t as cuddly anymore, except maybe in a post-coital fashion.
I’m glad that I made room for this book, it was quite fun to read. The whole book takes place over a somewhat short amount of time — about 8 weeks — but the book starts with Taren at a young age and the first few chapters traverse his teenaged years as he’s sold and stolen as a slave and passed through several masters’ hands. The journey that Taren takes in this first book of the series is pretty big. He learns quite a bit about his life and goes through many transitions of change before the end.
Taren doesn’t know anything about his parents, save that his master told him they gave him away. He longs for the open sea and though he’s just a rigger for his master’s shipyard, he hopes that one day he’ll be able to travel the seas and be a proper sailor. When he’s sold to pay off his master’s debts, Taren becomes a slave to a man who runs an inn. He’s not sure how old he is, though he thinks around 18 or 19. He’s been mostly sheltered in his life, so when a handsome captain introduces him to his sexuality in a room full of watching sailors at the inn, he finds himself excited rather than scared and violated. He’s submissive and clings to the safety he feels in a man like the captain, whom he later knows as Rider, because of the man’s kind, yet firm dominance.
Stolen by the sailors of the ship that night, he wakes to find himself the captain’s prisoner and introduced to indentured slavery of the sexual kind. But, for a young man like Taren who has always been a slave, sexual slavery aboard a ship on the open ocean is a kind of freedom that he’s never known. Taren revels in it, especially when he comes to be a loving presence in Rider and his lover’s bed and allowed to put his knowledge of sailing to use aboard the ship.
But there is so much that Taren doesn’t know or understand — why he has such vivid dreams and the extra-sensory feelings that he has in reading the water and weather at sea. When he’s knocked unconscious and lost at sea, he washes up to their rival vessel, captained by Ian Dunaidh. Ian is enamored of Taren immediately and their connection, once he wakes, pushes and pulls between them as they sail to Ian’s home island where a shadowy presence called The Council awaits to judge Taren as a spy in their war against a resistance group of their own people who live on the mainland. Living through the hell of their torture, the betrayal between Taren and Ian and the possibility that he might never be free takes everything in him. All he knows to get him through is that he is destined for a higher purpose than this, if it is true that any higher power is guiding them.
I went pretty far in summarizing the story for you, but that is because there is such a long and twisting plot in this story. Taren goes through so many changes, homes, and relationships with other people for only 70k words. It makes me curious how many books this author has planned for this series because I didn’t feel as if I started to understand the larger picture until the very end of the book. I have no doubt that that was intended for the reader, that we should pull the pieces together at the very end, but it also meant that I had to wait through the whole book to really understand what was happening. Which, ultimately, meant that I really had to enjoy the story for the present, for what was happening to Taren in the moment without understanding where the story was headed to really enjoy the book. Sometimes I felt as if I was right there with him and Ian and I was really sucked into the present of the story. But, sometimes I wasn’t and I felt as if the story lulled, perhaps because the relationship between Taren and Ian is so freaking complicated. For much of the book they’re separated, though not for any very long pieces of time. It takes the whole book for them to really reach the same page, relationship-wise, because they each needed this book to progress themselves. Taren is searching for his destiny, a shadowy purpose that we and he knows is there, somewhere, for him to understand one day, and for him to understand his race and his history. Ian is battling his own demons — regret and guilt — that stand in the way of his happiness.
So once again I say that while I really enjoyed this book, it’s as a first book of a series. I still feel as if I don’t know much about where this series is headed. In a way, I like that because it means that this author is doing a fine job of withholding information until the correct (and perhaps most artful) time to release it. On the other hand, I fear not knowing enough to keep me interested in the big picture, and that it makes my reading experience different. So, I’m excited to read the next book and hoping that the ending of this one — seeing the formation of a more solid relationship between Taren and Ian — will carry forward through the rest of the series.
**There is a pretty big imbalance in the heat level and sex frequency in this book, as far as trying to rate it goes. The first several chapters are hot and heavy, with m/m/m scenes (spitroasting, exhibitionism) that really raise the heat, and frequent sex in those chapters. The rest of the novel has little to almost no sex at all and what intimacy there is is very romantic and tame (the underwater mermen sex).
Posted by Cole in 4 Pretty Good, 41-75k, Authors A-C, Fantasy, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Captive/Slave, Civil Wars, Dreams, Dreamspinner Press, Indentured Slavery, m/m/m scenes, Merfolk, Multiple/Other Partners, Prisoner, Reincarnation, Resistance, Sea/Sail/Rivers, Series, Shifter Sex, Shifters, Shira Anthony, spies, Superpowers, Under the Sea