Rating: 3.25 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
After the plague that swept London, turning a good portion of its citizens into zombies, things are rough on those that aren’t a member of the undead. Reuben is just trying to make ends meet working in his father’s bakery, but life is hard when he goes to bed hungry most nights, his father hates him, and the world condemns him for his unnatural desire to be bedded by a man. When a casual friend offers him a chance to get out of the painful rut he’s been existing in, Reuben jumps at the chance. He agrees to help steal some of the bread from his father’s shop to take into Bylondon—the lawless area outside the walls around London—to sell to the inhabitants. Only, the bread was a ruse, and the real commodity is Reuben himself—his back-stabbing friend selling him into slavery as soon as they’re outside the walls.
Reuben finds himself forced into a slave trade that pits humans against zombies in an arena for gladiator-like combat. Humans that survive are granted their freedom—but there aren’t really any that survive. Reuben is terrified, thinking that he’s about to die at the hands of a hoard of zombies, when a mysterious man enters and checks over all the slaves present. After his inspection, this man chooses Reuben as a personal slave. Knowing that this man just saved his life, Reuben thinks that he’s willing to do anything this stranger wants in repayment. That is, until he finds out that Master Eric has selected Reuben to be his new prize “stallion.”
As you can probably tell from that summary, this book is really outside the box. I wouldn’t suggest reading it without a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into, since I would definitely consider this an edgier read and it may be too intense for some readers. There’s very explicit kink of the pony-play variety, sexual slavery, pretty severe humiliation, and some consent issues going on here in large doses, so skip this one if any of those don’t appeal to you since those concepts are pretty much the pup-tent this whole story resides under.
So let me start out by saying that I really loved the unusual premise of this and that Merikan really built a very complex world here. The writing was pretty tight, the descriptions vivid, and the plot enjoyable for the most part. This would have been an excellent narrative had it not been for the completely baffling character motivation. I just did not understand Reuben as a character at all.
During the first part of the story, he’s portrayed as someone who’s so downtrodden and partially broken by his tough life, and then he ends up in Erik’s possession and he starts acting incredibly defiant and afraid of submitting. Then through the next portion, he waffles back and forth from needy sub to proud brat. Which, considering his situation, is kind of a valid response for a lot of characters, I just didn’t feel like it was valid for this character. The Reuben we’re first presented with seems like he was half broken-in already and that being Erik’s sex slave, even if the kink wasn’t quite to his taste, was pretty much the answer to his prayers. But the Reuben that actually shows up in response to Erik’s first attempts at control is held together entirely by his pride and fear of people looking down on him. It’s like he had a personality transplant from one chapter to the other.
I also just never really connected with any of the reasons for his protests and acts of disobedience to Erik. They all seemed so petty and trite and I really got the feeling that his waffling between eager submission and willful defiance was only an excuse to have him punished since that was clearly a featured kink here. And that’s fine, I love discipline, I just feel like it could have been achieved in a way that served the character, and the story, in a better way. Especially since he’d just been betrayed by someone he considered a friend and sold into slavery. There’s a lot that could have been done with that to achieve the same outcome that would have made Reuben’s disobedience feel way more legitimate.
Then there was Erik, who is just flat out a bad Dom. He has unreasonable expectations of Reuben, a completely untrained sub, he never explains anything or actually voices his wants to Reuben, aftercare and sub-drop are apparently foreign concepts, and he’s far too impatient with any mistakes from Reuben considering Reuben is completely inexperienced. And really, I wouldn’t have minded that being a plot point at all, or just his character, because really, Doms are people too, and they’re allowed to have faults, had it been addressed in any way. Instead, while Reuben is left confused and hurting by his master’s erratic behavior and unrealistic expectations, Erik is confused about why Reuben doesn’t think he’s perfect, and Reuben’s “groom” Jack constantly praises Erik for being a kind and affectionate master. It’s just faintly distressing that no one acknowledges how incredibly terrible Erik is at training “horses.” Eric also acts like a spoiled child throughout the entire book, with absolutely no personal growth, and while that’s at least a consistent choice by the author, it’s just not a very sexy one.
Mostly, I was just left feeling very confused about how I should feel about these characters throughout the entire narrative and it made it hard to connect too emotionally to the story. Even still, after having completed the book I’m not sure how I feel about the relationship between Reuben and Erik. Had it just been presented as straightforward kink with no attempt at romantic feelings, I would have been fine. Or, had it been a story about a slave capturing his master’s heart and blending submission with romance, that would have been good too. Instead, it’s somewhere in the middle, where Reuben has accepted his submission, and has romantic feelings for Erik as his Dom, and Erik seems to have a genuine affection for Reuben, but still views him as property and flies off the handle at the slightest hint of doubt from Reuben. I just don’t know how I’m supposed to take that. I feel very ambivalent about this romance, and I’m actually still pretty confused about whether or not it was even supposed to be a romance.
On the flip side, the kink was great. Lots of variety and creativity in the scenes and well-written. Had these characters worked a little better this could have been an outstanding read with its unusual traits, instead it just made it an interesting read despite my lack of investment in this romance.
I’d recommend this one for anyone who is an avid kink fan, or for someone looking for an adventurous, out-of-the-box story. Everyone else should probably take a pass.