Years ago, Austin the elf and JT the orc were part of a job that went bad. Grey, their friend, and Roan, Austin’s sister, were killed. JT and Austin were captured by the mage, Firelight. For days, JT was experimented on until, suddenly, they were free. Free from captivity, at least. They found a place to hide and lick their wounds and to try to figure out what went wrong.
It had been a trap, but by who? And why? Austin was obsessed, going over every video, every scrap of information for answers. His sister was dead and he wanted to know who had done it. JT, just as traumatized by his own torment at the hands of the mage, just wanted to put it behind him. So… he left. He left Austin and found a new life.
And then Austin came back. Now they’re more or less back together — back to being friends, of a sort; lovers, of a sort — and it’s finally time to even the score. Austin has a plan to kill Firelight once and for all and maybe to free Roan’s ghost. Or to free the AI using Roan’s image and memories to convincingly portray her ghost. With Dante, JT’s orcish ward, Comet and Buzz, a lethal killing machine and a genius hacker, they might just stand a chance.
If only they don’t get in their own way.
The Blue Unicorn series is sort of World of Warcraft meets Bladerunner with a dash of Sam Spade. It’s elves and orcs (and unicorns) along with sentient AIs, drones, technomages, and druids. There’s a dragon, a fox made of magic, and corporate-owned police. It sounds like a muddle, but somehow Allmon makes it work. It’s one of my favorite series, and I’m very sad to see it go, but if the story had to come to an end, I’m glad this is how it did it.
Austin and JT had tragic, horrific childhoods. They both suffered abuse — physical, mental, and emotional — and its left its mark on them. Austin can’t handle confrontations. He has to be right. He’ll use anything and everything to get his way — his body, his knives, his friends — and has the morality of a snake. He’s also so very broken. Roan and JT were all he had, and he lost them both. Getting JT back, his first love and his best friend, has become a quest of its own. He’s not sure if this AI, the Blue Unicorn, is his sister or not, but so long as there’s a chance, he’ll take it. He’ll throw them all at the mage who got her killed, risking his own life, if it would bring her back.
JT is an orc. He has a well of self-loathing, as well as a deep seated need to please. Like Austin, his issue’s issues have issues, he’s torn between wanting Austin again and wanting to back to the way things were before Austin came back into his life. The idea that Roan managed to turn herself into an AI ghost fascinates him. He’d love to do to the same, to exist on the ‘Net and be whatever he wants to be, to not have to be a monster anymore.
JT finds it easy to blame Austin for everything because Austin accepts it. Austin accepts all the muck and mud flung at him as his due, even when he doesn’t deserve it. It’s easier to hate Austin than love him, because how do you love someone who doesn’t really know what love is? Obsession, yes. Need, yes. But love? Austin doesn’t know what love is; he just knows he has to have JT back in his life, no matter the cost.
Their relationship is one of two broken, scarred people who just so happen to look at the other person and see — not the scars — but the beauty beneath. For Austin, JT’s very oricishness is part of what attracts him. He’s not really a fan of sex, but he’s a fan of JT, and with JT it’s worth it. There’s a scene where Austin is sucking JTs toe, and it’s not elegant or romantic. It’s sweat, sweater lint, and toe jam, but it’s also JT. He does it because JT enjoys it, and that’s all there is to Austin’s world.
Do what you have to in order to get what you want. And if he wants JT, then he does what JT wants. For JT, it’s Austin’s glamour — the flavor of elvish magic that brings out a violence, a cruelty and monstrousness in him — that draws him to the elf. At the same time it keeps him away because he has to know: Is he in love with Austin, or infatuated by the way Austin’s magic makes him feel?
JT worries about this, and with good reason. JT wants answers. He wants the world to follow a logical path. And yet, for all his introspection, he never turns it on himself, not really. While he was being tormented by Firelight and his mages, Austin was kept in the cell next to him. He never once wonders or asks what happens to Austin. It’s not that JT doesn’t love him, it’s just that JT doesn’t know why, or how much of that love is for the Austin in his head.
There’s a great line:
The funny thing was: JT’s head-version of Austin was better at being Austin than Austin was himself. Head-version knew all of real-life Austin’s arguments and was better at defending them than real-life Austin could ever hope to do. It was like JT practiced arguing with Austin and had perfected it to an art, and Austin didn’t even have to be there.
Austin doesn’t think. He lets JT do that. But at a critical moment, Austin’s lack of thinking and his refusal to feel for himself brings JT to a realization about Austin that the author explains better than I can:
It had never occurred to JT until now that an elf could be confused between what was real and what was glamour, the way other species were. He had spent four years in vicious self-debate over whether what he felt for Austin was real love or only the sexual urgings of Austin’s glamour. He’d spent four years debating whether he was simply introspective and morose by nature or those thoughts had been caused by Roan. Those two internal wrestling matches had torn him, and knotted him up, and bewildered him, until that moment by the wall when everything had become clear and he’d confessed.
Here was Austin caught in the same torn, knotted confusion. The trick that Austin’s mind was playing on itself was perfectly plain to JT because he had done the same thing. In Austin’s need for his sister to have survived, Austin was mistaking the reality of his grief for the fiction of her glamour.
I loved the writing, I loved the characters, I loved the world and the plot. And I hate that this series is over. Of the three books, I think this one is the weakest because it dives more into the plot than the characters. It has to balance Austin and JT, Austin and Austin, and JT and JT against the actual enemy in Firelight. It does this between passages of very raunchy sex, including so many tentacles — so very many tentacles — felching, toe sucking, and more descriptive and lurid scenes.
If you’ve enjoyed the first two books, read this one. If you haven’t read the first book, go back and read it first or nothing in this book will make sense. You won’t feel the struggle or the poignancy of the relationship between Austin and JT as strongly, or feel the ending as keenly without that first, bitter introduction. Without seeing them broken, you can’t truly appreciate how happy I was to see them starting to come together. Read this series. It’s worth it.