Counterpoint (Song of the Fallen, 1) by Rachel Haimowitz
Humans and elves are at war and have a mutual species hatred for each other. The humans think the elves (there’s no confirmation, however, that the elves did this) released the ferals–roided up wild animals–onto human lands. The ferals have one purpose: to kill all humans (Bender would be proud). The story begins with Ayden, an elf ranger, cheering on the ferals from a distance while they harass some humans. However, Ayden’s sister, Ella, goes to see a human friend, Ayden follows, and they both get captured. Upon capture, they’re brought to the prince, Freyrik, and he takes more than a little bit of a liking to Ayden, who becomes his slave.
In many ways, this book is very simple: it’s a BDSM romance between a king and his reluctant slave. In other ways, I found myself surprised with how much care is taken to build that relationship into something that wasn’t creepy. There’s a lot of back and forth between Ayden, and the slowing down of the main plot (the imminent attack of the feral surge) gives Ayden and Freyriks’ relationship time to grow into something more mutual and less coercive. Yes, there is a lot of erotica here, maybe more than some readers want, but there’s enough other plot that the story shows as much restraint as Freyrik in focusing on the more sexual aspects of the relationship. (That said, it’s an M/M adult romance; expect dicks.)
Taking the time to build into the main relationship allowed both Ayden and Freyrik to develop characters of their own. While they mostly interacted with each other, the best parts of the book were when they came into conflict with other characters. Unusual for high fantasy, there weren’t that many characters of note in this book. The three that stuck out, besides Ayden and Freyrik, were Ella, Kona, and Lord Lini, who didn’t seem to have much of a personality anyway. The ferals were the main antagonistic force, but the story kind of suffered for that because the personal stakes for Ayden and Freyrik’s relationship center around Ayden’s acceptance in the human court, where he’s forced to sit in chains at Freyrik’s feet. Yes, it’s really that heavy on the BDSM elements.
Kona’s character provided a much needed human antagonist; she forces herself on Ayden and is the only person who seems capable of throwing Freyrik off his mental game. Ayden and Freyrik’s characters worked best for me when they had to interact and confront other people, not just deal with their own internal relationship problems. The ferals provided a solid action set piece, but there should’ve been more court intrigue in this story. I suspect that that’s being saved for the next installment, but that personal antagonist threat was really lacking outside of the middle part of the book where Ayden and Freyrik are both challenged by Kona’s appearance.
At times, I found the story slow. This ultimately works to build the relationship between Ayden and Freyrik, but I couldn’t help feeling that Haimowitz was holding something back for the next book. The plot just needed a little more in it. This could’ve been achieved by fleshing out or giving more book time to some of the side characters, but it didn’t feel that Ayden or Freyrik had many meaningful relationships beyond each other, save Ayden with Ella. That’s something that ultimately ended up confusing me because the two characters are so passionate with each other, and interacting with other characters should’ve deepened who they were for me.
- The cover is super ridiculous. Kind of pretty, but very smutty. You know what you’re getting.
- This is definitely a BDSM adult romance.
- I didn’t like Kona as a person, but the story desperately needed her.
- The world building didn’t feel overwhelming, but then, it kind of felt non-existent. I ultimately preferred this to info dumping.
Read If: You want high fantasy with more erotica in it. It’s basically an elf/human version of Loris/Renly fanfic.
Beware If: You want your high fantasy with more court intrigue and less penis.
Rating: 3 stars.