Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel

 

All Elex has ever wanted is for his father’s blood to make itself known, to give him magic. And not just any magic, but Elusian magic like the king, his father, and lift him and his twin brother to the rank of princes. As a prince, Elex will be able to protect his mother, an enslaved Illyrian whose beauty brought her to the attention of the king, where she was made one of his personal bed companions. Enduring rapes and slavery, she gave birth to twin sons — Elex and Erix — and a daughter who died young. Her daughter’s loss was one blow too many, and Elex’s mother began to fade away. But if Elex had magic, he could make certain she had enough food, warm clothes in the winter, protection from the other slaves — and protection from his father, the king.

Between stress and fear, puberty and anger, Elex and Erix do indeed show signs of magic … the wrong kind of magic. Now, instead of being princes, they will be cast into the Legion where, as elemental mages, they will be trained to kill in the name of the king. In a bitter twist of fate, Maalik, their hated half-brother, also comes into his magical powers. The right powers. Maalik is now crown prince, adorned in glory and power … and filled with an unreasoning hatred and obsession for Elex.

This book is … well, I guess you’d call it grimdark. There is a whole lot of rape, torture, abuse, incest, slavery, and murder. Mageia, such as Elex, are slaves. They are either sent to brothels to be raped and abused or given to ‘masters,’ private citizens who own them and may do as they please with them or, if they’re lucky, they are given to the Legion. There, they are abused, raped, beaten, starved, rented out to brothels, and trained to use their magic to kill — usually one another. The Legion is designed to break their spirits, to destroy their pride, and instill in them obedience and fear. It’s not a pleasant place, and many horrible things happen to the characters, on page and off.

The rape scenes aren’t framed as sexual, but they feel as though they are framed to be titillating. Elex gives a blowjob to one of the Legion officers so that a younger half-brother won’t be sent to a sadistic brothel where Mageia come back brutalized and broken. The scene is written and played out showcasing Elex’s feelings of disgust and shame, and the lurid delight of the man using his power to rape Elex. In the brothel itself, Elex is drugged, bound, and both tortured and raped by Maalik, his half brother, and then made to watch as Maalik tortures and nearly rapes another half-brother. (All three men share the same father.) It shows Maalik’s obsession and cruelty, as well as how horrible he is as a person, but the scenes are drawn out and graphic and will not be to everyone’s taste. Personally, I found the framing to be more off putting than the events. Euphemisms and vague terms were used that only served to point out how the scenes didn’t need to be gone into in as much detail, how they could have been briefer and still gotten the point across. Or longer, going into more emotional detail and nuance. There is such an emphasis on rape in this book, on the lack of power and bodily agency faced by the enslaved Mageia, of the daily reality of brothels for these people, the realities of women being pulled aside for breeding stock, and the scenes point this out in such a lingering, detailed way … but say nothing about them.

The world building is a mess. It’s everything and nothing all at once, with Vodka and denim, duct tape and assault rifles, as well as bows and arrows, swords and candlelight. There is solar power and housing developments, along with shape shifting monsters and demigods. It didn’t have a feel of it’s own beyond unpleasant and full of rape and slavery. For most people, this probably won’t be an issue, but for me, the lack of solid world building stood out. Does this take place in the present day, but with magic? Or is this an alternate world? No idea.

However, there are good things to say about this book, one of them being the writing, which is strong and fluid and easy to read, with a solid plot and strong, even pacing. The author can write and, for as much as I have issues with this book, I will still grab book two to see how the story continues — because the story is good. It’s a slave revolt, a kingdom fighting for freedom, the death of a corrupt king and kingdom, and I enjoyed quite a bit of the book, mostly because of Elex.

Elex is a tiny, angry, feisty character who doesn’t know when to give up. Hit him a dozen times and he’ll stand up and mock you for not hitting him one more. He’s clever, cunning, resourceful, and empathetic. In a world that has tried to take away his humanity, he still clings to it. Again and again, he’s been hurt, but when given a chance to be kind — to his half-brother Luke, thrown into this hell with him, to an earth Mageia scared and caught in a trap, to someone in need — he doesn’t think; he simply gives. The world won’t break him; it’ll have to kill him, first.

Helios, the tall and mysterious man who saves Luke from a snakebite and offers Elex a chance at both freedom and revenge is a little less developed. He’s playful and kind, and … tall. While he serves as a foil — light to Maalik’s darkness, warmth to the Legion’s coldness, compassion and love to the king’s cruelty and indifference — I don’t really have a grasp on him as a person in his own right. Hopefully, there will be more of him in the next book.

As someone who does enjoy grimdark and darker stories, I enjoyed a lot of this book, except for the lack of world building, which still bothers me. The romance shows up late in the book and is a given thanks to the interference of the gods, which means there isn’t much buildup between the first meeting and the first fucking. It’s instant attraction and then down to business. Still, this is a solid book, very readable, with strong and sympathetic characters. It won’t be for everyone, but if you give it a try, I hope you enjoy it.