Erotica, Fantasy, LGBT

My Review: Silk and Steel (Silk and Steel #1): by Ariana Nash

*Kindle Edition*

Publish Date: January 18th, 2019

Number of Pages: 380 Pages

Publisher: Crazy Ace Publishing

Genre(s): Fantasy, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Warning & Reader Advisory:

Silk & Steel is not a “romance”.

This series is a DARK FANTASY intended for mature readers. While Silk & Steel is a love story, it is not for everyone. It is not categorized on Amazon, and not sold as m/m romance. It DOES feature a strong m/m LOVE STORY that develops over three books.
Silk & Steel features a gay dragon shifter, a bisexual elf, and adult themes. There is triggering content that some readers may find distressing, including implied incest, abuse, violence, dubious consent, and on-page sex. None of these instances are gratuitous. There is heterosexual sex and gay sex. The intense and star-crossed relationship between the two male leads develops over three books.

…When a blurb has this included within describing what the story is about, it really raises your eyebrows at what you may or may not be getting into! Now, the question for you is this: are you someone who immediately turns away from something like this, or does it pique your interest even further? Based off the fact that this is another one of my reviews, I bet you can guess what my answer was.

For anyone who’s looking for a dark fantasy to read, I would definitely say to take this warning extremely seriously, because while I was only more curious about this book, I can recognize that the content within this story can be extremely triggering for more sensitive readers, and this story is NOT for everyone! Yes, there is a M/M love story storyline that is what initially drew me in, but it’s a small aspect that intertwines with a lot of emotional torment, rape, assault, torture, and even implied incest that’s a lot of heavy material to take in all within one book! Seriously, this book goes further with it than even HBO’s Game of Thrones or even Spartacus from STARZ.

Besides all that carnality and absolutely vicious material, what really surprised me was an actually epic war/battling kingdoms style plot that developed. Don’t ask me to name any of the kingdoms back to you, but basically it’s a Fantasy world that Elves, Humans, and Dragon-Shifters. The Elves and Humans have been taken over and oppressed by the Draconic empire, but there are small groups of rebels from both races that are gathering supplies in order to make a stand against the dragons.

Besides sex & violence, the themes of trauma, acceptance & belonging, and even forbidden love make for an actually gripping and action packed tale between two unlikely enemies-turned-lovers: an Elf assassin named Eroan, and a lonely Dragon Prince named Lysander.

Eroan is courageous, stubborn, noble, natural born leader for his tribe. He’s a warrior through-and-through, but his troupe of assassins get captured by the dragons and he becomes the only survivor, and thus becomes a prisoner, which is where he meets Lysander, the younger Dragon Prince.

Lysander is a character your heart will break for because of all the pain he’s had to deal with in his lifetime. His mother and brother have tried to kill him several times because they consider him “broken” for his sexuality, and think he’s weak because he’s not a heartless murderer like they are. Luckily, they’ve been unsuccessful and Lysander has become the greatest warrior under his mother’s rule. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from still believing he’s a useless waste of space. He’s been an outcast and the runt of the litter for all he’s known, but lately he’s been absolutely sick of it, and there’s a fire threatening to explode before you know it, no pun intended.

I would agree with the author when she says it’s not a romance title. There’s attraction and sexual acts that happen, but there’s so much pain, suffering, and violence occurring all around that romance feels like too soft of a word to describe it. The love story that’s developing between those two main characters grows in an intriguing way in the sense that they feel a kindred connection to each other that grows to a reluctant mutual respect, and of course, pure lust that may or may not being blooming into deeper feelings of love. There’s still some unsettling instances of rape and death surrounding it all, so it’s not rainbows and unicorns and happily ever afters, far from it.

The world-building was so-so with not much description in the cities/kingdoms and major landmarks, but luckily there wasn’t much mentioned in that regard to kind of save it. There’s some history with the three types of people that’s revealed in a way that’s not info-dumped. I was majorly confused by the point when one character runs into a certain group, it happens around the 60-75% of the book; it felt so randomly placed into the story and was a strange wave within the pacing, but hopefully it gets explained better in the next book. There’s a surprising amount of sub-categories within even just the Dragon empire, and it features different species that make appearances in the story. There’s major dissent that is evident within both the Dragons and even the Elves, which is surprising since you usually figure Elves are all entirely on the same page.

There are plenty of questions that popped up while reading, but I have to remember this is only the first book in a series, so hopefully that means so much more gets revealed as I keep reading on!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

The Dragon Queen’s reign is one of darkness and death. Humans have vanished under the rubble of their world and if the queen has her way, elves will be next.

Eroan, one of the last elven assassins, lives for one purpose: kill the queen.

He would have succeeded if not for her last line of defense: Prince Lysander. Now, captured and forced into the queen’s harem, Eroan sees another opportunity. Why kill just the queen when he can kill them all? It would be simple, if not for the troubled and alluring prince. A warrior, a killer, and something else…, something Eroan finds himself inexplicably drawn to.

Trapped in a life he despises, Lysander knows his time is running out.

If the queen doesn’t kill him for his failures, her enemies will. There’s nothing left to live for, until an elf assassin almost kills him. A stubborn, prideful, fool of an elf who doesn’t know when to quit. An elf who sparks a violent, forbidden desire in Lysander.

If Lysander can’t save himself, maybe he can save the elf and maybe, just maybe… one stubborn elf will be enough to bring down the queen before she kills them all.

Duty demands they fight for their people. Love has other plans...

What I Liked:

  1. The Lust/Love between Lysander and Eroan! It’s definitely not a romance, per say, but the attraction that builds between these two characters is certainly a noteworthy aspect of this story. It’s pretty erotic in some areas, heartbreaking in others, but one scene in particular stood out a lot to me. Basically, to the other characters, Eroan is about to be assaulted and raped by Lysander, who is not happy about it. He actually has feelings for the captured Elf, and being forced upon the Queen’s captive is the last thing he wants. He leans in and whispers an apology only Eroan can hear, but surprise…..Eroan whispers back “Don’t be.” It may be incredibly creepy or perverted of me, but I found that kind of hot! I mean, at least it was consensual!
  2. Dragon-Shifters! I’d never read a book with these types of characters. I absolutely love any stories with dragons/wyverns/dragon-riders/etc. so to have humans who can change into the flying, fire-breathing beasts was something new for me that I really enjoyed!
  3. MVP Character: Lysander! By far my favorite character so far, my heart goes out for him and all that he experiences just in this first book. Anyone else would’ve given up with all that he’s been through, but still he rises above it all and becomes a better person because of it. He’s never felt like he’s belonged, and has been called broken and useless by his own family, who by the way, has tried to kill him on several occasions as a quick reminder! Seriously hoping the author throws him a couples bones this next book because Lysander deserves some happiness in my opinion!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Human World…What a random introduction into this story, and it wasn’t really explained as to how it is the way that it is. I know that justification doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without more context, but I don’t want to spoil it for readers. All I will say is it happens at about the 60-75% mark in the story.
  2. Homophobia…Poor Lysander deals with it from his mother and even older brother amongst the Dragons. Luckily, they’re the only people that really show any of it, everyone literally could care less about that sort of thing, but anyone who’s in the queer community who’s had a hard home life like that growing up knows how hard and traumatizing that can be!

Conclusion:

Overall, I was actually really surprised at how much I liked this title! Besides all the sex, violence, and torture, the plot actually got pretty intense in the sense of it feeling very similar to an epic battle happening in a show like Game of Thrones! There are some dark occurrences with rape and assault and torture, but if you’re someone who watched GoT in its entirety, it’s not necessarily anything you haven’t seen before, this story is just higher up on the gay male/male romance factor. With that said, it’s not like anyone can really say they enjoyed those moments, but it’s understandable that some readers would rather avoid that triggering content. It’s not for everyone, so definitely take the author’s warning within the blurb!

I’d recommend this title to anyone who likes M/M romance, and if you really liked The Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat; I think they have a very similar vibe in the first book introducing a very ominous vibe with a lot of violence and sex involved to shock readers but then turns into an epic tale to keep your attention!

This book was one that had me up extremely late—like 3 or 4 in the morning—and has a dramatic cliffhanger of an ending, so much that I groaned into my pillow and immediately purchased a copy of the next book in this series to get on that ASAP! the forbidden/star crossed lovers aspect of the story with the two male main characters is tearing me apart because the author constantly throws things in their way to keep each other just out of reach, and ugh………….it’s torture for me too!

I do have some other titles I need to read first because I have a reader friend/coworker named Erika who I make deals with to have us read books that we pick for each other. If she wants me to read a certain book, I make sure she knows I have a title for her too so we can get what we both want out of it and to be able to talk about yet ANOTHER book we’ve both read. If you don’t have a reading buddy like that, I highly recommend it because one of the worst things a reader can suffer from is being absolutely obsessed with a book/series but having no one to talk about it with in person!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, LGBT

My Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree: by Samantha Shannon

Publish Date: February 26th, 2019
Number of Pages: 827 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre(s): Fantasy, LGBT+

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

It took me many moons, many breaks, and many other books in between, but I felt accomplished when I finished this behemoth of a Fantasy novel. Now, was the book as incredible as I hoped for it to be?…

Honestly, I find it hard to say…

There were quite a lot of parts of the story that I enjoyed immensely, some more than others, but I felt as though the book needed a little more editing done as in it maybe needed to be condensed because this book was long…so so long, and I felt like it didn’t need to be. There were quite a lot of high-octane, important moments that pique your interest, but with that comes a lot of slower moments within the four intertwining stories that may or may not be a real haul to cross over, and it felt like because of that the more exciting parts of the story fell flat because they couldn’t entirely hold up the weight those slower scenes gave us.

I will also say that when I started this book back in April 2019, I had no idea it was going to take me until October to fully finish it. The reason behind that was because those slower moments made me have to take breaks from it. The excessiveness made my eyes travel to other books to read in between sessions, and it was like I had to work my way up to getting back into this book. I look at other reviews, at least the ones that are glowing, and scratch my head at how those people managed to zoom through this large book in three days or less…

I didn’t hate it, and there are plenty of parts of it that I really had a lot of fun reading! The dragons and wyverns, even a new creature called an Ichneumon, the slow (literally so effing slow) burn romance, and I really enjoyed quite a lot of the characters. It’s like I said though, I think the author tried to do too much all within this book, that with inconsistent pacing that made it feel like the plot got lost a few times in the middle (or maybe just went off on a tangent too many times) that made the book not start to really interest me until about pages 450-500, and made me not enjoy this title as much as I could have.

Believe me, I am disappointed about that too…

What It’s About:

There’s an ancient evil that rose almost a thousand years ago; an enormous fire-breathing dragon known as “The Nameless One.” He was the king of all dragons and wyrms, and with his army of other fire-breathing creatures, he was destined to destroy the whole world in his raging flame and end life as we all know it. Miraculously, he was defeated and imprisoned deep beneath the ocean, with a myth that so long as there’s a descendent on the throne of Virtudom of the one that ended his tyranny, the dragon-king would never rise again.

Almost a thousand years later, The lands of the east and west are tense and isolated from each other; the reason being that there are different legends of how The Nameless One was actually defeated. The West believed a single man with a magical sword was the hero, while the east believe there water-dragons banded together and defeated their enemy. It caused tensions to rise, and for any alliance between them to end, and have shut their gates of entry with the east terrified of a draconic plague, and the west for thinking the east as heretics and “wyrm-lovers” for revering their water-dragons as gods, along with the possibility of them being allies with The Nameless One.

The story revolves around four main characters as they travel all over the world as rumors begin to stir that the king of dragons may once again ascend from his prison and lay havoc upon them all once again.

Tané has trained her whole life to becoming a high-level dragon rider in the East, but when a strange circumstance presents itself in front of her the night before her coronation ceremony, it causes her to make a choice that could ruin all the work she’d done, and all that she’d sacrificed to get there be for nothing…

Ead Duryan may live inside the walls of court, but she couldn’t possibly feel more like an outsider. As a lady-in-waiting, she keeps a watchful eye over the queen, Sabran Berethnet, who is the descendent of the one they believed to have vanquished The Nameless One. As threats draw near and shadows dance in every corner, Ead must use forbidden magic in order to assure no harm comes to Sabran in the dark times ahead…

Lord Arteloth “Loth” Beck, who is a close friend in Sabran’s court, is banished and sent on a dangerous quest in order to find answers, but finds more than he could’ve imagined…

Niclays Roos, former alchemist for Queen Sabran and her court, has been exiled in the East for many years, making him vain and bitter in his old age, but ends up on an unexpected journey for answers, justice and retribution…

What I Liked:

  1. The Dragons! I never tire of reading books with dragons (or wyverns) within the story. By the way, shout out to the author for knowing the difference between the two! Surprisingly, not as many people know the difference, Google it if you’re one of those people…
  2. The Diverse Cast of Characters! Representation matters, and that is a mantra the author must’ve told themselves as they created the cast of characters within this story. We’ve got almost all ethnicities involved, and even a good amount of LGBTQ+ characters are represented, two of them are of the four protagonists this story follows.
  3. The Slow-Burn F/F Romance! A major highlight of this book is how you watch a relationship start from literally nothing and experience how it develops into an uneasy alliance, to friendship, and then a romantic relationship. It was done so well, and between two important & complex female characters too! Yes, that’s right: a slow burn LGBTQ+ F/F romance!
  4. There’s Feminism Up The Wazoo! If people thought that Game of Thrones was feminine empowerment, think again; this title puts that comparison up in smoke. Every female is a strong, fierce lady in ancient times, even amongst the male characters and fiery demons of the sky coming to cause a lot of chaos. Also worth noting is how these all these powerful women are in high positions of power, which is surprisingly so rare for a fantasy novel!
  5. The Lady Of The Woods Shocking Twist! There’s a mysterious legend behind a witch known simply as “The Lady of the Woods” and seemed like a story that was used to frighten little kids to stay out of the forest at night. ***Mild Spoiler Alert***She’s real, and she plays a bigger role than you’d first think. At around the 500 page mark, a shocking twist is revealed and added some pretty brow-raising news that changes what everyone in this story was lead to believe their whole lives! It. Was. Awesome! Going off of that, there were plenty of other twists throughout the story, and they were fun, but they weren’t anything earth shattering or *gasp* worthy; I’d say this specific twist is the only one that got a big reaction out of me, and the reason behind that is because to me, it was the only one that felt like the author had it planned out before she even started her first draft, when she planned out all the major story beats. It wasn’t randomly placed or added for pure shock value, no, it changed the landscape of the story, and revealed the opposite of what was known as the “truth” was actually a lie for a very long time.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Book Moves Incredibly Slow…After the initial set-up, the book moves at a much slower pace than I’d anticipated. It’s rich and exuberant with the world building and character development, but when other reviewers on Goodreads say things like “Just stick with it, it gets so much better around 70% in”…Okay, a book SHOULD NOT take that long to finally get interesting…especially a book the size of this one…the book is gargantuan and could cause some major damage if used as a weapon.
  2. TMI With The Worldbuilding…This kind of goes off #1, but consider this more specifically towards the world building done in this novel; while part of me wants to commend the author for going so in-depth with all the history, the different cultures, the history and the legends, the languages, and of course the dragons…it just felt like some of it was a gigantic info dump that made the story so much slower to get through. Maybe it was all important to some readers, but to me, it felt like up to 200 pages could’ve been taken out; I didn’t need so much information on literally every single city they visited or the history of the crown in one of the kingdoms, especially if they were only a part of the story for one chapter.
  3. The Confusing Gender Politics…So while I loved the females with power in the Queendom, part of me was confused by the way their political systems were set up. My impression of some of the lands had the same set up as the same ole way as traditional male-dominated courts we feel familiar with in a plethora of other fantasy. It felt like it was supposed to be a polished and ready to be another chauvinistic, sexist society, but it simply wasn’t…it was just female instead. What my complaint about this is why have a female dominated rule be so similar to that of a male reign? Why not switch up the rules of how the court rules, how the royalty reigns? I felt like the author could’ve made the story a little more interesting if she maybe flipped the normalized, familiar societal culture of a fantasy kingdom on us and created something new and different.
  4. An Ending Like Season 8…What’s super ironic about the ending is that it actually felt so rushed and condensed…UNLIKE LITERALLY THE REST OF THE BOOK. It wasn’t a terrible climax, but I was still shaking my head as it ended and thought “That’s it?!?” It was squeezed in to make sure it was there, to reassure we get an ending, but maybe if the author took my advice and condensed the overall book, maybe she would’ve had either more time or more space to make it more memorable. Sloppy pacing in my opinion. (And yes, I’m referring to the final season of Game of Thrones if no one has caught that by now)

Conclusion:

A story with a rich and complex world full of mystique and wonder, and female empowerment in almost a surplus amount that makes it feel fresh, new, and exciting addition to the fantasy genre; I was disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this title as much as I’d hoped I would. In my opinion, the author maybe needed to have spent less time on their world-building, and maybe more time on tightening up the plot to possibly condense the intimidating size of this standalone novel.

The characters are the big highlight rewarded to those who dare lift this book off the shelf like a literary King Arthur and Excalibur in order to open it’s pages; they are complex, engaging and well-developed as they travel over land and sea and move the story at it’s inconsistent pace. I recommend this to anyone who loves dragon-centric fantasy, anyone looking for a well written female/female slow-burn romance, or someone who’s just looking for some badass, powerful female characters trying to save the world, and that I’m seriously not exaggerating on! Just because I may not have enjoyed it doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking into for yourself; the book has a lot of positive reviews which makes it incredibly worthwhile to a lot of readers! I just don’t want a book that grabs my attention at the halfway mark!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell