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
Title: Across Borders
Author: Alex Powell
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 25,500 words
Genre: m/m Fantasy Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: The Bestiary collection, Unusual Creatures, Shifters, Under the Sea, Enemies to Lovers, Royalty, Warriors
Rating: So So
In an effort to help mend a long-standing rift between the Shui-long dragon clan and the Ceffyl Dŵr, Xin-jian reluctantly agrees to be the ambassador for the dragons and spend time amongst the Ceffyl Dŵr. The enemy he comes to know is nothing like he expected, however, especially Tiernan. But before he can truly begin to explore peace, he must stop those who will not give up the old hatreds.
Xin-jian became foster-brother to the princes and princess of the Sui-long when his parents were killed in combat. Like his brethren, he’s a sea dragon, but unlike most he’s a very rare frozen dragon, able to manipulate water like the others, but also ice. Taken in and fostered by the Emperor for this ability, he is chosen as a protector for the princess Mai-hua, the royal sibling he is closest to. As the story starts, Xin-jian finds himself searching the sea desperately for Mai-hua and her brother, unable to fathom why she would have snuck away from him during the night and out into the void-zone, where confrontation with their enemy race, the Ceffyl Dŵr will surely find them. What he comes upon is a dire situation, and barely escapes with his life and that of Mai-hua’s, though she is severely injured.
During the fight, he ends up in a stand-off with the Ceffyl Dŵr fighter, Tiernan. A race of flying horse/serpent creatures (like, kelpies, maybe? not totally sure), they are evenly matched, except for the tactics Tiernan uses to unbalance Xin-jian, namely of a sexually lecherous nature 😉 The secret Mai-hua is hiding is for the good of all, peace amongst their nations, and not only will Xin-jian have to circumvent the various factions among the Sui-long who are urging for peace or war, but he’ll have to face Tiernan again — something that scares him more than anything.
This story opens with a pretty elaborate fight scene, which captivated me right away. The story drops the reader immediately into a fast-paced scene with elaborate displays of magic without giving a lot of information about it. I liked that, but kept waiting for more information. Ultimately, this was a great story that just didn’t give enough time for the story to play out. The plot is more suited for a novel or longer novella, with time to develop not only the relationship but the political machinations of different warring races and nations of different magic users within nations. The biggest part of the story deals with a building of a peace treaty in which Xin-jian stays with Tiernan and vice versa in each other’s cultures to learn more about each other and possibly bring each nation together. But it was all just too rushed to me. There is too much information to explore, too much actual plot and history to examine on top of developing a romance within this short time frame. It led to a very, very quick pace and each scene seemed rushed to get to the next. I never felt as if much chemistry or intimacy could develop when the rough pace made the prose seem like a recitation of an outline, without more time to stop and develop the story within the words. The story itself was thought out, but there just wasn’t enough time to experience it. The best example of this was in the ending with the Emperor, and it’s rather anticlimactic ending.
So, what started out as a rather interesting story because of the world presented, ultimately frustrated me. I wish that the author had been able to expand the story, because I would have really loved reading more about the relationship between Tiernan and Xin-jian when they had more time to explore it, and without the plot moving at breakneck speed and steamrolling everything into just a couple days.
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 3 So So, Authors P-R, Fantasy, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Alex Powell, Enemies to Lovers, Less Than Three Press, Royalty, Shifters, The Bestiary collection, Under the Sea, Unusual Creatures, Warriors