Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Guild Review Team
This fourth book in the Virasana Empire series from the inimitable Brackhauses is not part of the Sir Yaden series, but a stand-alone novel with all sorts of tangential connections that keep making the reader (at least this one) say “ah!” Aside from its own epic romance – between Thomar Quetzal, the youngest Duke in the empire, and his slave ‘pet’ Robert – the book offers a delicious and often disturbing look at the morally ambiguous notion of “good” in Virasana’s incredibly complex cultures.
The peculiar interest and challenge of Duke Thomar’s rule is that he is (1) a teenager still, and (2) the Duke of Aylian, a planet that is directly below a recently opened portal between Virasana and another dimension. The young duke must negotiate the violent and complicated politics of a war-torn planet while capitalizing on the wealth potential of a whole new universe of demons hungry for Virasana’s culture, goods and services.
We get something of a deep dive into the Quetzal family, the most badass of all the great noble families in Virasana, whose emperor (the Good Emperor) is himself a Quetzal. And, of course, Sir Yaden of the Lotus Knights is a Quetzal. We have, however, been repeatedly told unpleasant things about the Quetzal nobles, including their inclination to sadistic sex and use of assassination as a political tool (the way you and I use the ‘delete’ button on our computers). In this book, we learn exactly how true all these terrible things are; but we also get very close to Thomar Quetzal, who both embodies and defies everything we have been told about his family.
Honestly, I think Beryll and Osiris Brackhaus purposely design their plot points to make me squirm. They’re really good at it.
Robert – who never has a surname – is an ageing ‘pet,’ which is the Virasana Empire’s euphemism for ‘sex slave.’ The teenaged Duke Thomar Quetzal purchases him through a cheap mail-order catalogue – because Robert is forty years old and has been sold and resold more times than he can remember since he himself was a pretty teenaged boy. We don’t quite understand why Thomar purchases Robert in the first place – and the gradual discovery of Thomar’s reasons becomes one of the subtexts of the entire, outrageous, episodic narrative of Robert’s life as Thomar’s pet.
Americans know all about slavery and its consequences (or should), but in this archaic-futuristic world slavery is a business like luxury fashion, and such a deeply-rooted custom that it is no more questioned than is the existence of the arrogant, selfish nobles who have all the power and most of the wealth in the empire.
Darios in the first book is a failed gladiator, and is purchased for the child Yaden by his parents when they discover he has huge superpowers – and think having a slave to teach and care for him will help. Robert is a very specific kind of slave, and a second strong subtext in the story is the sex life of Virasana nobles. It is fascinating and, I repeat, disturbing by turns. What saves this book from being a total creep-fest for me is the fact that Thomar is different in critical ways from other nobles in Virasana, something that Robert himself, as narrator, reveals to the reader as he discovers it for himself.
The authors warn the readers at the start of the book that the values of the people of the Virasana Empire are not like our values here and now (although I wonder these days). In particular, Robert’s attitude about his own status is never based on the idea that someday he’ll be free. After talking to a young pet belonging to another noble, and remembering himself as a young slave, he makes the sad comment: “there was no such thing as hope for a pet, there was only dull acceptance of whatever fate dealt to you.”
The romantic ending that the Brackhauses promise us is there – but it’s not quite what we might expect, and by the time you’ve read this book, you’ll understand exactly why and appreciate it all the more.