Book four in the Soul Match series picks up where book three ended, with Morgan and his two alien mates — Rama and Hallosh — escaping from the Nall’s palace. As they run, Morgan discovers another human, Graham, hiding beneath a car. The young man is almost unrecognizable, beaten, bloody, and bruised, with half his face horrifically scared. But Morgan knows him, grew up with him, and even at one time had a crush on him. Graham tells Morgan he’d rather die than be captured again and, reluctantly, agrees to get into the car with them.
Graham, like Morgan and Chris, was captured by Alasharians and, due to a slender build and pretty face, was chosen to be a sex slave. Unlike Chris and Morgan, however, Graham was not given to kind masters and has spent the past few weeks being repeatedly raped, beaten, and tortured. He has witnessed others face the same fate, and has seen them die for the Nall’s cruel amusement. He, his father, and his brother were sentenced to die for their role in the rebellion and Graham just basement managed to escape. With all of this, is it any wonder he flinches when the two large aliens glance his way, or when they growl at him when he gets too close to Morgan? But Morgan’s… mates, as he calls them, seem to care for his friend. They fuss over him, allow him to wear clothing, comfort him when he seems too overwhelmed by what’s happening. It’s too much for Graham, who is lost in his own despair and pain.
Balor is an Alasharian guard at the Nall’s human palace and had a moment, when faced with Graham, to realize that the human he held in his hands was his soul mate. The vibrations between them were unmistakable, and the need to protect him was all consuming. All Balor could do, however, was try to distract the guards who chased his human mate and try to give Graham the chance to escape. Balor is aided in his own bid for freedom by Advisor Omen, a retired warrior and someone Balor has had a crush on since his academy days. The older man seems just as drawn to him and, when they finally touch, that same connection of a soul match sparks to life between them.
When they reunite with the other Alasharian rebels, Omen realizes just how difficult the path laid out before him is going to be. One mate is young, needing to be trained to be a proper submissive, and the other is a human so traumatized that Omen isn’t certain the young man will ever be able to bear his touch. But if the three of them don’t consummate their bond soon, it will drive Balor and Omen to madness, leaving them vulnerable to the dark Void that has already consumed the Nall. If only Chris, chosen successor of the Sha Sha Ar, wasn’t missing. All Omen can do is be patient and be there for both his bond mates, and hope that, somehow, it will all be as it is meant to be.
This story is a work of fiction. Obviously, as there are giant aliens in it, but that’s beside the point. In this series, there is an alien species whose entire world is delineated into the dominant Ahna and the submissive Nasha. The Alasharians are either sadists or masochists. There are very, very few aliens who are versatile. The entire culture is based on a master and slave culture, which was brought with them to Earth. To them, humans are good for one thing, and that is to be a sex toy, a pet to be used to further the enjoyment of sex between two Alasharians. These humans are not asked if they consent, are not asked if they wish to be placed in bondage, whipped, flogged, spanked, or fucked. As the series goes on, the books, get darker in their content and richer in their world building.
Graham has been raped, repeatedly, by aliens who are much, much larger than he is. (The height difference between an Alasharian and a human is roughly a grown man to a ten-year-old child.) He has been tortured and half of his face has been burned. He was going to be killed for daring to escape, and he had accepted that. He was more than willing to die if it meant he wouldn’t be touched again. Unfortunately, it was Graham who lived and his brother and father who died. He barely has had time to process his own trauma, let alone deal with the loss of his family, when he is reunited with Morgan and the burgeoning core of the Alasharian rebellion.
Not even a day passes before he is told by Omen that he has been soul matched to two Alasharians, something he feels to be true. Omen promises to never touch him unless Graham allows it, and swears that he will die before allowing anyone — even the Nall himself — to ever lay a hand on Graham again. Against his will, Graham finds himself believing Omen and growing fonder of Balor.
Balor is young, innocent, and has only wanted to do good in his young life. He wants to protect those he loves, he wants to serve well and be useful. He would do anything for Graham and Omen, but as a submissive Alasharian, he needs constant reassurance that he is loved, that he is a good Nasha; he needs orders and routine and masters who will give him tasks he can perform and perform well so that he knows his place in this world. Order and routine are hard to find in the middle of a civil war. Omen has always kept an eye on Balor. He knew — or at least suspected — that Balor would be his bondmate, but with the invasion of Earth being so difficult, he put off taking any actions as it can take a long, pleasure filled week to truly cement the soul bond. Upon realizing he has two bond mates, Omen has a difficult choice. He must care for young Balor while trying to woo his human. With gentle words, and even more gentle touches, Omen sets about trying to heal Graham’s soul while teaching his fellow Ahna (and how strange to find a dominant human!) how to best care for their inexperienced Nasha.
Omen says, several times, that he will never touch Graham without consent, and yet he constantly stands behind him, touching his arm, his shoulder, kissing his neck. However, thanks to the magical bond between them, he can feel that Graham isn’t upset by the touching and doesn’t mind it. To be honest, that’s part of the problem, for me. Graham doesn’t mind much of anything. His past month of captivity is one of horrific abuse, but this story isn’t about that pain or overcoming it. It’s about the healing power of love and how the magic of the soul bond and the love it inspires between the two races (in their myriad trios) makes them strong enough to fight off the evil corruption of the Void. I don’t see why, then, Graham needed to have been so badly abused if there wasn’t going to be any concern in the story shown for his recovery. At first I thought Omen, Balor, and Graham would have to take time (more than the two and a half days) dealing with the trauma and pain of what Graham had been through. Instead, it was lip service and on to the sex.
When dealing with bondage, there needs to be communication, consent, and care. In the last book, and a bit in this one, the magic soul bond takes the place of that, allowing the aliens to empathically sense their partner’s desire without having to ask for it. I get that it’s not always romantic to have someone constantly asking if their submissive is comfortable, or interested, or enjoying what’s happening to them, but without it — especially as the scenes are all from the POV of the dominant partner — it can come off one sided. I do not think the author meant, at all, to imply anything violent, evil, or hurtful in these scenes; instead you can see how much care the dominant partner is paying to his sub, how much he is aroused by the way his partner gives into his desires. But, in my personal opinion, empathy doesn’t quite make up for the lack of consent.
I also have a slight issue with the cognitive dissonance the humans of Earth are showing. Earth has been invaded. Millions have been killed, cities have been destroyed, and what remnants are left are fighting for their lives, but somehow they’re okay with these aliens, here, breaking into a secure army base and saying that they’re fighting for the humans, now. There’s one in particular, Arthur, who befriends Graham. He sees a young man, beaten, scarred, afraid, and starved being shadowed by two giant aliens… and says “I hope your intentions are pure.” What? You see two aliens who you know enslave, murder, torture, and rape humans, and see a young man who’s gone through that, but you’re just fine with two of them taking the young man off to a room because, hey, they’re the good guys now, right? In fact, every human seems quite okay with the Alasharians, now. They’re all friends, they’re all on the same side, and all is forgiven. For me, it doesn’t work. We barely forgive our cousins for stealing a cookie from us when we were kids, but murdering aliens wiping out our species are forgiven because two or three say they’ve switched sides.
This book feels more like a side volume than a continuation of the story. It’s already been seen by both Morgan and Chris that they were the fortunate ones, that not all humans were lucky enough to be with partners who cared for them and who loved them. By giving Graham’s story so little attention in regard to his healing, in waving aside what he’s gone through, it feels as though his experiences are nothing more than titillation or are cheap filler while the story deals with the growing rebellion. Of the four books I’ve read so far, this one is the weakest and, I think, has the weakest pairing. Graham, Omen, and Balor aren’t as developed as the other trios and the way Omen accidentally-deliberately lied to Graham about giving him time and not touching him without Graham’s permission didn’t strike me as romantic. This isn’t a bad book, and it’s well written, but for me those few issues stood out and took away some of my enjoyment in the story.