Rose Hill's Writing Grove

A Fantasy author in the Twin Cities

Book Review: Unbroken

Unbroken is an erotica novel set in the same world as the Port Lewis Witches by Brooklyn Ray. We get a cameo from a couple of characters from the other novellas and short stories, which is a nice little treat if you’re already a fan.

I knew I was going to buy this book the moment Ray posted this.

This is my exact ship dynamic. Like, exact. So I was pretty sure I was going to love this book going into it and I did. The demon is a good mix of human and not, the sex was hot, consent was regularly reaffirmed (a safe word was used and respected!), and the relationship between them was interesting. This book is first and foremost erotica though, rather than erotic romance. The relationship between Michael and the demon comes second to Michael’s personal development. There’s still fluff and romance in there, don’t get me wrong, but don’t expect it to be in the forefront the way you would for erotic romance or straight-up romance.

Part of Michael’s development is moving past an abusive relationship and it gives the book a weight that you might not otherwise expect from consent-focused erotica. His coping mechanisms aren’t necessarily healthy, but they are so very true to the way people actually react. Ray has said this is a very personal book for them in regards to how Michael relates to his trauma. It’s not treated lightly or flippantly in anyway.

This is not a witch-focused book the way the other Port Lewis books have been–Michael is a normal human–so if you’re a Pagan looking for more witchy books, this won’t quite be that. The aesthetic is definitely there in the background, though. And it is definitely quite enjoyable despite that.

I don’t know what else to say about this one. If you want M/M erotica with beautiful language and rough sex, you’ll love this. It’s great. If not, give it a miss.

 

Recommended for: fans of M/M erotica, monsterfucking, demon/human relationships, Hades/Persephone retellings, consensual erotica with rough sex

 

Mind the trigger warnings: Discussion of past abusive relationships, discussion of past sexual abuse, rough sex, drinking, scene of bloodletting, self-harm, depiction of anxiety, D/s situations

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New Patreon!

I now have a Patreon where you can get more access to my writing process and even get exclusive short stories that I’m not planning to publish anywhere else. I will still be posting book reviews, submission calls, and periodic rants on here as well.

But if you want to get more access to my short fiction, come sign up for my Patreon! $5 will get you access to my SFW short fiction, and $7 will get you access to my NSFW short fiction. Even at the lowest $1 tier, you’ll still get character interviews, updates about my writing process, and more!

Book Review: The Witches of Port Lewis – Volume 1

CW: Discussion of edge play kinks

This is a collection of four stories, all in the same world with the same characters. Fictional Port Lewis is filled with witches and magical creatures and it’s so wonderfully queer. I will admit I was originally drawn to this book (and the author, Brooklyn Ray) with descriptive tags of, “queer,” “witchy,” “monsterfucking,” and “knives.” It has all of that and I love it. (The monsterfucking was heavier on the fucking than the monster, but still excellent.)

The first story, “Reborn,” is an F/F short featuring Thalia and Jordan. Thalia is a witch come home, the new matriarch of her clan. Jordan is a necromancer—and her old ex. Despite the concerns of their families (or, at least, Thalia’s family), they are drawn back into each other’s arms. This story does an excellent job setting the mood of a dark, witchy tale filled with sex, drama, and knife play.

Knife play is either explicit or referenced in every single story in this, so if that’s a hard limit of yours, maybe pass. If, on the other hand, that’s your kink? Read this book. Read it right now. I love knife play where the knife and the cutting (and to some extent, the blood) is eroticized, rather than the fear. Fear play didn’t come up here, but blood play did.

Next was “Darkling,” a novella featuring Ryder, a fire witch who becomes a necromancer. I loved his attitude, I loved the little touches of his magic, I loved the descriptions of siphoning his boyfriends magic and the knife play between them, I adored the blend of magic and sex. Holy shit that was possibly the best part (of this whole book, Ray writes excellent sex scenes and blends them with magic spectacularly). I know “darkling” as a term in the book is supposed to be an insult to a necromancer, but it’s such a cute term I want to see used as a pet name between him and his water witch boyfriend. (I might have strong Tamora Pierce associations with that term, I’m sorry.)

“Undertow” featured the same pairing, but this time the POV character was Liam, Ryder’s water witch boyfriend.  Their relationship was established in “Darkling” and continues to grow here, but the focus is on Liam’s family drama/family witch clan secrets more than anything else. Have I mentioned how much I love how witchy these books are? It feels so good to read books by witches for witches. So incredibly validating. Also, I love water witches, they are my jam.

Ryder and Liam, the protags of “Darkling” and “Undertow” are in the same circle and one of my few critiques of this is that I want to see what keeps them in the circle. There’s a ton of in-circle conflicts here (not between Ryder and Liam, mostly between both of them and Tyler the circle leader) and not much showing what keeps them together. I’d love to see them work together as a circle. (I’d also love to see Tyler being actually supportive and not a jerkface, but I get the feeling his character growth is coming soon.)

Literally the only other thing that bothered me in this was the lack of safe sex practices (or discussion whatsoever). The sex was hot and kinky and I loved it, but this is a modern setting friends. Diseases are a preventable thing. Pregnancy this a preventable thing. Why is this not addressed? (I know a lot of people don’t think safe sex practices are sexy, but in modern settings I view them as much a requirement as consent. Normalize it and make it sexy.)

The last story of the book, “Honey”, was pure fluff between Ryder and Liam. It was so perfect and wonderful to end on after the darkness of “Undertow” and made me squeal and hug the book.

Overall, I love LOVE LOVE this book. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: Pagan readers, fans of sexy contemporary fantasy, people with a knife play kink, readers who want a trans lead (Ryder), fans of M/M and F/F romance, fans of cross-elemental pairings, fans of necromancers, fans of kelpies

Book Review – Song of Blood and Stone

Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope got recommended as a potential comp for mine, specifically focusing on the romance through war aspects. I think that’s probably part of the reason I’m struggling to put my thoughts into words here. I came into it expecting it to similar to my queer violent fantasy and it’s… not.

For one thing, both participants in the main romance appear to be straight, which was definitely not what I expected for an M/M comp. Don’t get me wrong, the romance was sweet. The attraction between the main characters was clear (to the point where the ace side of me was going “oh my gods, you two, get on with it”). They treated each other well, which is a delightful change from the romance I read when I was younger (which contributed to me not reading romance for over a decade). They truly and deeply cared for each other and that came out in their actions. And, I didn’t get annoyed or bored with it the way I have with some straight romances recently.

But it was a romance between strangers, rather than long-time friends. It was a romance between a prince and a shepherdess, with an almost Cinderella-like feel, instead of a pair of assassins raised by the villain. While both stories involve a romance set in the lead-up to war, in Song of Blood and Stone, it felt like the romance was separate from the war plot until the very end. In this book, the war ended, whereas in mine, the war begins.

It also wasn’t as violent as I expected. I mean, the story opened with racial slurs and threats of racial violence, then two separate rape attempts (towards both of the main characters), so I was expecting a similar level of combat and violence all the way through. But once we leave her house, there are a few isolated incidents of violent racism and a whole lot of politicking. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy political fantasy, but again that wasn’t what I was expecting from this book.

But it also wasn’t what I’d expect from a political fantasy, either. There wasn’t much manuevering for the throne, or dealing with outside royals. Rather, this is a new monarch dealing with internal strife–particularly around refugees. This is an extremely relevant topic right now, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a fantasy novel before. I would have honestly liked to see that delved into even more, but this story was tightly focused on the romance. (Not a bad thing if you’re here for the romance!)

About halfway through the book I was wondering how they were going to wrap up the plot they set up. I started to think they wouldn’t, that killing the villain would be a series goal, but no. It’s not quite a deus ex machina, despite the appearance of literal gods, because it’s still the human MCs who have to save the day (and save the goddess!). Yet, it didn’t quite feel like a twist, either? The ending was well-foreshadowed and set-up throughout the book, but again I was expecting more violence.

This might be a book I’ll have to reread again to get a better feel. (I realize this review was pretty unfair since I spent a lot of it comparing it to a book that’s not even picked up by an agent yet. Sorry about that.)

One thing I will say I was super pleased to see is that the MC does not reconcile with her abusive racist family. She confronts the racist matriarch once and decides no, that bullshit is not worth her time. I LOVE that. There’s way too much pressure in society and books for people to put up with abusers “because family.” I am so glad to see she’s not putting up with it.

Overall, this was a good book. I liked it. I’d be interested in picking up the sequel when it comes out.

Recommended for: anyone who wants romantic fantasy, fans of interracial romance, people who want a Black woman lead, a sweet romance fans, people who want a sort of 1920s-ish second-world fantasy, #ownvoices black leads in fantasy

Book Review:In the Vanishers’ Palace

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I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on this book since I first heard de Bodard tweeting about it.  (I have mentioned my love of de Bodard’s work before, so I’m sure this comes as a surprise to no one.)  Sapphic Beaty & the Beast retelling with a dragon?  Hells to the yes.

Let me tell you, this did not disappoint.

I found the first half a little hard to envision sometimes, though that is a problem equally shared by our protagonist.  There is non-Euclidean architecture, reality breaking rooms, future alien tech, and dragons who rarely seem to stay in one shape for long.  This felt very much like a post-apocalyptic fairy tale.  Horrifically dangerous weirdness that people try desperately to survive, but wrapped within beautiful poetic prose.

I actually struggled for a long time with what to put in this review.  It’s just so wonderful I want to shove this book at everyone.  Like, queer fairytales with a dragon?  Why are you not already reading this?  I seriously can’t remember the last time a book made me cry, and it wasn’t even with the romance.  It was just a line about life and surviving but it’s so relevant right now.

Here’s a list of all the wonderful things in this book, since there are too many to go into individually:

  • Central F/F relationship
  • Multiple non-binary characters
  • D R A G O N S
  • Post-apocalyptic forests with alien machine/monsters
  • Dragon/alien monsters
  • Living mothers who are important to the plot
  • Dragon/human romance
  • Setting is #ownvoices Vietnamese inspired
  • Magic through books
  • Consent issues common to B&tB are acknowledged and addressed
  • People actually learn from their freaking mistakes
  • Healers and scholars are the main characters
  • There’s almost no fighting in this whole book
  • There’s only one living guy in the whole book and he dies pretty quick
  • Fresh take on a fairy tale retelling

 

So, yeah.  Pick any reason you want out of that list and read this book.  At 48k, it’s right on the edge of novella and novel. (Apparently 40k is the cut-off for novels for the Hugo awards, which I did not previously know!  So it counts as a novel for our big genre award.)  It’s not a long read, but it is definitely worth it.

 

Recommended for: Everyone?  Fans of Beauty & the Beast, fans of fairytale retellings, non-European settings, fans of post-apocalyptic fantasy, readers who want fantasy that’s not based on combat, readers who want mothers to exist in fantasy, dragon lovers, fans of Vietnamese settings, all Sapphic readers, people looking for non-binary rep

Book Review – The Last Sun

TW: discussions of rape

 

Image result for the last sun

 

I won The Last Sun by K D Edwards in the same Twitter contest where I got The Glamour Thieves.  After the sexiness of The Glamour Thieves and this being another urban fantasy, I was expecting a similar heat level. That was not the case. I liked the book overall, but I’m also not entirely sure what to make of it.  Let me break it down for you.

I loved the banter in this.  Love, love, love. The snark of the main character, the interplay of him with his teammates, the careful political phrasing, it was all wonderful. I appreciated that at the first opportunity, the main character took it upon himself to correct some misconceptions within his team. He communicated the issue he was having with his love interest, and said interest listened and backed off. Overall, it was great to see adults actually talking about their problems, even with the standard “I have been traumatized and don’t want to talk about my issues” going on.

I immediately liked the main character. Rune is exactly the sort of snarky violent asshole that really appeals to me. And he is protective of his people and those who need his help in a way that makes him super sympathetic.

The story seems to be set in a World of Bi, which I immediately adore. All of the flirting and romance is M/M, which is a little weird for a World of Bi, but I’m fine with M/M romance so I’m not complaining. Honestly, though, the whole story felt a bit like a sausage fest. The only female characters were bit players.

I liked Addam as a character. He is a super sweet love interest and has the best line in the whole novel (“I needed this to be the memory you remember, from tonight”).  I think it’s adorable that he calls the Rune “Hero.”  But honestly, he doesn’t seem well matched to Rune. He’s too bright and positive for our violent protagonist, which makes me think this is a relationship that can only end badly. And, I have to admit, he’s not the person I was expecting or hoping would be the love interest. (I wanted that to be Rune’s Companion, Brand, since that is literally the same set-up I have in my novel, down to “Companion” as a capitalized phrasing.)  Despite that, he is a cinnamon roll and I love him.

The plot was quick and immediately drew me in. All solid there. Except for the first chapter, interestingly, which I kept expecting to connect to the plot but really seemed to be just introduction to the world and characters. (In looking at the preview for the sequel, it seems to be a set-up to that, so it may well be related to a larger story arc.)

The world, however…  I just don’t really buy it. The names of these theoretically non-human people (I think? Humans are used both as an Other and as an Us, so I genuinely have no idea if the Atlanteans are human, which is another worldbuilding problem) are extremely Christian, they all use Christian swears and the Tarot the courts are based off of are all the classic medieval ones (so again, Christian). Now, that’s all fine (if not what I enjoy in my Fantasy).  But then the people call themselves Atlanteans. They’re supposed to be modern refugees from Atlantis.

The destruction of Atlantic was recounted as a mythic/historical event in Plato’s time.  That’s way pre-Christian.

If you shut your brain off, the internal consistency of the world mostly works. But the Atlantean/Tarot aspect really didn’t work for me, and it was pulling me out of the story the whole time.

Now that ‘mostly‘. What does it mean to say someone is “almost pure-blooded fae” after you just killed the rest of their family? Does that mean the grandmother you just confronted was also part fae? Are fae different from Atlanteans? Are Atlanteans human? Why does that question only get more confusing the further the novel continues? The questions continue…

And finally we get to the trigger warning of this post.

Rune’s rape as a teenager gets referenced a lot in this book. Definitely more so than I was expecting. Now, the author doesn’t spring it on you. It’s referenced obliquely in the prologue, comes up in increasingly direct methods as the story goes on, until in the end we get first a flashback to it and then one of the rapists taunting Rune with what he did to him. It’s taken seriously at all times and the horror and damage of what was done to him doesn’t get downplayed. But it is still really rough reading those parts and I would not recommend it if that is one of your triggers.  It’s also strongly implied that a child Rune adopts in the first chapter was sexually abused by his family for years. (The plot of the sequel seems to focus on that child and potential forced marriage/sexual slavery, so clearly this topic is not going away.)

Overall, I did enjoy this book. It was a lot of fun.  I’d be interested in reading the next one because I want to see Rune grow and claim his power and see what happens with Addam. (Also, I totally ship Max and Quinn and want that to be a thing.)  I would not, however, recommend it to people for whom rape and sexual violence are triggers.

Book Review – The Glamour Thieves

The Glamour Thieves by Don Allmon is one of the most delightful books I’ve read in a while. It has a sort of fantasy-cyberpunk feel to it, a bit of Bright meets Mercedes Lackey’s SERRAted Edge series.  With lots of queer inter-species sex thrown in, to make everything better.

The story is mostly told through JT’s POV, an orc former car thief, with occasional glimpses into Austin’s POV, an elf who is an ex-fwb who drags JT back into trouble on the wrong side of the law.  We also get a few snippets of Buzz, a human hacker who JT has an old crush on, during the climax.  JT is the perfect combination of shy, horny, and kinky to make me fall in love with him.  He’s easy to sympathize with.  Austin could very easily be obnoxious to the point of unlikable, but I found him endearing.  I’d hate him if he were a real person, but when it comes to fictional characters, I love that brand of asshole.  None of the other characters stood out quite so vibrantly, including Buzz, but none of them fell truly flat, either.  It was simply clear that this wasn’t their story and there wasn’t room for anything else.

At 46k words, The Glamour Thieves is more novella than novel, which works perfect for a quick read.  On the other hand, I felt like the story had pieces missing (namely, any subplots whatsoever), but that might just be because I’m not used to the novella format. I have a great love for convoluted epic fantasy, so it throws me a little to read a straight (ha) story all the way through with no detours or complications. Like, other than the climax (and you have to expect things to go wrong at the climax), there was only one place where things didn’t go perfectly according to plan.  Like, I know half the plot was focused on the sexual tension here, but it still felt really easy.  I would have love to have seen this more drawn out, but then this would have crept into novel length, and if a novella is your target, then keeping it simple works.  This may just be a happy reader wanting more of the story.

I have to admit, this may be the first time I’ve ever actually enjoyed a love triangle. Maybe because it’s the first time it’s an explicitly queer one?  Or maybe it’s because both love interests are give their pros and cons and treated like real people?  Either way, I loved it.  And I loved that it was resolved not with the death that I was afraid of as we built up to the climax, but with two of the characters simply continuing their lives in different directions. That sounds oddly drama free for a novel, but it was truly refreshing.

I also loved the worldbuilding in this. It was familiar enough to the US to be vaguely recognizable, but there were enough hints of the way things had twisted and the larger weirder world that I adored it.  It truly felt like stepping into the world.  There were no infodumps, or at least none that stood out to me.  We were simply there with the characters, as we should be.

For 46k, there were a lot of sex scenes in this.  Well-written ones too, nothing that made me cringe or roll my eyes at the biology, or even get bored and skim forward.  Now, I write erotica so this was right up my alley, but if explicit M/M sex isn’t your thing, maybe give this a pass.  I even appreciated that condoms came up–and got insisted on.  (Once, at the end, but that’s still better than most of what I read.)

My one real critique of this is that I felt like JT let Buzz’s fantasy racism go too easily–especially since it was directed at him. Buzz calls him an animal an a cannibal and is consistently afraid of JT throughout the novella, and JT basically lets it slide.  I find that hard to believe.  Like, even if he let it go on the outside, most of the novel was in JT’s head, and some sort of rant or resentment should have come up there.  The fact that it didn’t felt hollow–but no doubt necessary for that leg of the love triangle to play out.

Overall, I enjoyed this quite a bit.  I was smiling and laughing reading most of it, from the banter of the characters and the characters’ inner thoughts.  And it ended with a blatant Star Wars reference, which I absolutely adore.

Recommended for: Fans of sexy urban fantasy, fans of sexy cyberpunk, anyone looking for M/M in the fantasy genre, anyone who is looking for an orc/elf relationship as much as I am, anyone looking for a quick, fun, sexy read

Book Review: Dreams of the Golden Age

Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn is the sequel to After the Golden Age.  It’s told in alternating POVs: Celia, our protagonist from the first book, now twenty years older; and Anna, her teenage daughter.

This is a family tale.  After the Golden Age also was, since it was about the non-powered daughter of superhero parents.  But this, this dives deeper into it.  Celia not only has to deal with her own plotline, but having two teenage daughters and all the drama that carries with it.  Anna is dealing with a superhero plot of her own, while navigating the complicated relationship between a teenage daughter and her overbearing mother.  The family relationships are part and parcel of story.

One of the things I love about this duology is that it takes a superhero story and makes it extremely personal.  You don’t get the grandeur or epic battles of other superhero stories.  You get the pettiness, the rivalry, the inadequacy, the fear–because these are human beings we’re talking about.  Their lives, and the lives of their friends and family, are at risk.  Vaughn does an excellent job making you feel that.  This is what I loved about the first book.  It’s just as prevalent here.

And, in contrast to some short stories I’ve read recent, Anna really feels like a young woman.  She has that nervousness, the need to prove herself, the rivalry with friends, the conflict over her crushes.  And Celia felt like a woman in her prime.  These are beautifully characterized and believable people.

I highly recommend both these novels, but if you’re going to read them, start with After the Golden Age.  There’s enough context that I think it’s important to read that one first.

Recommended for: Fans of urban fantasy, fans of superheroes, fans of family drama in fantasy settings

Anthology Submissions

A random collection of anthology calls I think look interesting.

UNLOCKING THE MAGIC
Theme: mental illness in Fantasy
Deadline: November 1, 2018
Payment: $300 flat rate + royalties
Word Count: 3k – 6k

CRASH CODE
Theme: Dark/horror sci-fi
Deadline: October 1, 2018
Payment: $0.03/word
Word Count: 1.5k – 7k

ROSALIND’S SIBLINGS
Theme: Spec-fic scientists of gender minorities
Deadline: November 1, 2018
Payment: 0.08 pounds /word
Word Count: 500 – 7.5k

LIFE AFTER ALL
Theme: Post-apoc queer romance
Deadline: September 30, 2018
Payment: $150 flat rate
Word Count: 8k – 15k

Book Review – The Lies of Locke Lamora

The first time I read this book, some years ago, I was not a huge fan of it.  It reminded me very much of a heist movie, wherein a scene would begin with a wide panning shot of scenery before zooming in on the character.  In text, this meant a lot of description that I skipped.

This time, I read it properly and I like it a lot more.

This is possibly the most tightly-plotted 700+ page book I’ve ever read.  The initial plot we’re introduced to is plenty complicated on its own, as any confidence heist story should be, but then more and more complications are added.  But the way Lynch adds these in are smooth.  He lets the reader get a feel for the stakes of the current plot before adding a new complication.  And each time a new complication is introduced, its effect on the original plot is made clear.  I, as the reader, never got lost following the action because it was cleanly spaced out and explained.

Those descriptive passages that I skimmed the first read through?  They not only serve to explain some bit of worldbuilding, but also to enhance the “oh shit” moment in either the chapter that just happened or the one that comes next.  Each and every one serves to advance the plot.

Locke Lamora is the sort of anti-hero protagonist who falls into the “make him interesting rather than likable” category, and Lynch pulls that off supremely well.  The prologue is all backstory (which continues in “Interludes” throughout the novel, which is one of the most interesting formats I’ve ever seen), but it serves to make Lamora fascinating while he’s still a child.  We want to know what he did and how to get this 6/7-year-old boy marked for death.  Competence?  Holy hells, check.  Proactivity?  Yup, he’s clear right there too.  Sympathy?  Well, that comes later in the novel, once the death toll starts rising.  I wouldn’t call Lamora likeable–I generally try to avoid con men and compulsive liars–but he’s sure as hell interesting from the very first paragraph.

And even more than Locke being interesting, his interactions with the other members of his gang are fun.  More so when he’s an adult than when he’s a kid, but still.  The banter between the members of his gang is delightful.  They feel like a family.

I mentioned above the weird formatting?  Let me get into that a minute.  The prologue, as I mentioned, is backstory. One person is trying to sell him to another, or he’ll have to kill child!Lamora.  It immediately sets up tension, interest in an MC we haven’t met yet, and a whole lot of worldbuilding.  The numbered chapters follow Locke and his gang as adults.  The “Interludes” follow Locke as a child and all the trouble he gets into.  I have never seen backstory used like this, and it is superbly well done.  Every piece of backstory, as I mentioned above, serves to enhance the current plot–while also unravelling the mystery of what Locke did as a kid to get him this reputation.  If you want to look at how to weave backstory in, read this book.  If you want to look at how to weave worldbuilding in, read this book.

I don’t even know what to call the world of this book.  The whole thief-infested city of Camorr is built on and around these alien structures.  There’s magic, but true sorcery is extremely rare.  There’s the tech and clothing level I’d expect out of steampunk or gaslamp, but there’s no steam or gas.  Instead, nearly everything runs on fascinating uses of alchemy and these alien structures that can’t be destroyed.  (Which really makes you wonder–what happened to the one that is destroyed?)

Overall, I would highly recommend this book, especially if you’re righting ne’er-do-well protagonists.  My only caveats are: there are a lot of casual gay slurs throughout the book, which was a lot more off-putting to me the second time I read it (being more immersed in the queer community now than I was back then); if you’re not a fan of swearing in books, this is not the book for you.

Recommended for: fans of rogue characters, fans of heist movies, fans of high-stake action, fans of unusual worlds, writers wanting to examine a unique structure