Rating: 4 stars
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Ten years ago, Captain Jaysen Ghair defended his kingdom’s honor in battle by rescuing the sacred lunarstone for Galataan. Though he was hailed a hero, Jay lost his taste for battle and has spent the years since quietly tending a library in a remote village and studying poetry. When the royal guard appears at his door, Jay is shocked to learn that the new king wants to see him. King Lyam is the son of the king Jay fought under years ago. Rumor has it Lyam has none of the goodness and concern for his people his father had. He is more interested in decadence and pleasure seeking than in taking care of his people. But the great lunarstone is said to be a gift from the gods, bestowing upon the royal family a divine right to rule. So Jay accepts Lyam is meant to be the king despite his misgivings.
When Jay arrives at the palace, he finds things worse that he thought. Villages around the realm are suffering while those in the palace live in decadence. The king is a spoiled child with care for no one other than himself. Lyam tells Jay that he has tired of his royal sex slaves. Knowing his father held Jay in high esteem, and that Jay once had a beautiful lover who died in battle, Lyam has decided Jay should choose his next sex slave. Jay has no interest in the job, but is told it is that or the dungeon.
Alix works in the karmite mines under a lifetime contract, as so many of the poor villagers do. But at his heart, Alix is a scientist. He has figured out that the hard gemstones sometimes found in the karmite mines are actually concentrated forms of the powdery mineral. When these gems are struck, they explode or burn, and Alix has realized these stones can be used as fuel. And more importantly, he has realized that the royal lunarstone is not a gift from the gods, but merely a bigger version of the explosive gemstone.
One day Alix runs into trouble testing his experiment and is saved by Jay. It is clear that Alix is facing jail or death, so Jay offers him the alternative to become the king’s sex slave. It sounds better than the life Alix has been leading in the mines, and certainly better than jail or death, so Alix agrees. Jay feels a lot of doubt about delivering this appealing young man to the king, but realizes neither of them have much choice. When Jay sees how Lyam abuses and mistreats Alix, he is even more concerned. Lyam is a cruel master and loves to see Alix suffer. But there is nothing Jay can do. To even question Lyam’s right to rule is treason, and as a loyal soldier for the former king, Jay can’t even conceive of doubting Lyam is the rightful ruler.
But the more time Jay spends at the palace, the more he begins to fall for Alix. And the more clearly he sees what a disaster Lyam is as a king, neglecting his people and leading them into financial ruin. Jay has been out of a soldier’s life for years, and has no interest in getting involved in battle again. But as he sees Lyam abusing Alix and destroying the realm, Jay realizes he may need to find that part of himself once more, to save both his country and the man he is growing to love.
Bad Slave is an interesting take on the master/slave genre with a lot of neat angles that I really liked. First off, I enjoyed the setup with the unique backgrounds for Jay and Alix. Jay is a former war hero, revered for saving the honor of his country. But after seeing such mass destruction, he couldn’t bear to fight any more and has become basically a recluse. He has heard word of Lyam’s poor leadership and indulgent behavior, but he has not wanted to be involved, preferring his quiet life. When Jay is thrust into the middle of things, his first instinct is to do the job and get back to his life in the library. But as he sees first hand what the king is capable of, and begins to fall harder for Alix, Jay slowly begins to realize he just can not sit back and let others deal with the problem. Things are complicated by the fact that Jay has always believed whole heartedly in the divine right of the royal family to rule and the legend of the lunarstone. It is what inspired him to fight, and to think it is nothing but a bit of rock just shakes up everything he has believed and fought for. So not only is Jay conflicted by getting back involved in a battle, but also by the complete shakeup of his beliefs.
Alix is also an interesting guy. Despite being stuck in the mines and being fairly uneducated, he is incredibly smart with a scientific mind. He is a scientist and an engineer, and just wants to prove to everyone what he has learned about the karmite. At first Alix thinks working for the king will give him a chance to share his discoveries. But he quickly realizes that the king cares for no one other than himself and has no interest in learning anything from Alix. In fact, Lyam is much more interested in provoking Alix and finding ways to hurt him. And Alix just can’t sit quietly and follow the rules for a sex slave. He is constantly speaking out, which earns him even greater punishments.
So I really thought both these guys were interesting, and the set up for the story really a neat one. I do think that the relationship between them is a little slow to build, however. Much of the first part of the book is the set up and the slow realization by both these men of what they have really gotten into with Lyam. We spend a lot of time with Alix as he is being prepared to be a slave and the conflicts that result. I think maybe there is too much time spent on this actually, as things are fairly slow early on. As the story continues, Alix becomes emotionally dependent on Jay, as the one person who is kind and looking out for him. But Jay puts up walls between them as he doesn’t see any hope for a future for them. So while I liked both of these guys and enjoyed them together, I didn’t feel the kind of connection between them that I really wanted or see how these intense feelings were able to grow so fast.
This problem is sort of highlighted by the fact that right up until the very end, Alix is sure Jay has no interest in him. He is certain Jay will return home and leave him and that he doesn’t care about Alix at all. And while I often find this an irritating element in stories when one guy can’t accept another’s love or interest, I sort of got it here. Because while Jay thinks about Alix and clearly cares for him, outwardly there are no real signs of his interest. I think I just needed to see more connection here between these men.
There is a bit of a BDSM element here that I think the story explores nicely. Lyam is an abusive tyrant who delights in causing Alix pain. Alix endures this because he must, but obviously doesn’t enjoy it. What is interesting is that Alix has a submissive side and has fantasies of spanking and pain. When he is with Jay, and they begin to play out these fantasies, he finds them an incredible turn on. So I liked that we see so clearly the difference between pain and abuse for its own sake from Lyam, versus the loving play that Alix has with Jay. While the wheel Lyam has for beatings is an instrument of torture when he uses it, later when Jay and Alix play with it in their room, it turns into a sexy scene that both men enjoy. So I liked seeing how this clear dichotomy is set up.
Just to be clear, this story does have some dub con elements. Although Alix has technically volunteered for this job, he has little choice in the matter and is both sexually used and physically abused. There is not a lot shown on page, and we are told Lyam rarely has sex with him. But readers should be aware there are definitely places where Alix is forced into sex and threatened.
The story comes together well at the end and brings Jay full circle with his military past, which I really liked. And we get a sweet ending for these two and a nice wrap up for the story. So while I did have some issues with the slow start and the romance end of things, overall I found this one enjoyable and a unique story.