Saturday, December 1, 2012

Blood & Ash (e-novella) by Kate Aaron

Blood & Ash a self-published erotic m/m fantasy novella, the first in Aaron's Lost Realm series. It's 34,000 words long, which came out to 115 pages on my Nook.

My synopsis is a little spoiler-y, but there isn't really all that much story to spoil.

Synopsis:

The fae are at war with a group of powerful witches that wants to have the fae Realm for their own use. While the King of the Fae and Prince Skye are off fighting the witches, Skye has left Azrael, a vampire, to protect his younger brother, Ash. Ash is instantly attracted to Azrael, and confused by that attraction - he's never heard of men being interested in other men before. Azrael comes on to Ash but then backs off, worried that his feelings for Ash might cause him to succumb to bloodlust.

When Ash is captured by the witches, Azrael frantically searches for him. Although they finally give into their feelings for each other, can their relationship last in the face of Ash's status as the prince of a people that distrusts vampires and that historically has only ever been heterosexual? (This question is not answered in Blood & Ash, by the way.)

Review:

I wanted to like this, I really did. I bought it because the other two works in the series, Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire and Fire & Ice, had aspects in their descriptions/tagging that appealed to me, and I hate reading series out of order. Taking a chance, I bought all three. Now I wish I hadn't. I can only hope that Aaron's writing improves as the series progresses.

It's hard to know where to start, but I guess I'll start with the characters. I couldn't connect with them at all. They didn't feel like people to me, and they didn't always react in ways that made sense. The only character I could work up any kind of emotion for was Ash, and that emotion was annoyance and dislike. He'd spent his whole life coddled and sheltered, never allowed to leave the palace. He acted spoiled and childish, and yet I was supposed to believe that his people loved him. I couldn't understand why Azrael fell instantly in love with him, and I laughed when Azrael later told him “You're not a child” (p. 33 on my Nook), because I couldn't recall Ash ever demonstrating much maturity. Ash, supposedly 17 years old, tended to come across to me as being maybe 15, which made his attempts to throw himself at Azrael and Azrael's half-hearted attempts to resist a little discomfiting to read.

There was almost zero sense of place. Events happened in various locations, but those locations were rarely, if ever, described. The world-building had similar issues. I got a few details here and there, but none of it came together to form a cohesive picture. The world of the story included humans (who were only spoken of as fearing that which was not human), weres (only briefly mentioned), shifters (only briefly mentioned), druids (only briefly mentioned), vampires, and witches. Vampires needed blood and sometimes their victims' death. They could drink from each other to gain extra strength. They were unconscious during the day, and silver burned them. Witches could do magic. The rules of this magic, if there were any, were never explained. The fae were long-lived, and some of them could do magic. For some reason, fae women always died after giving birth. The only recent exception was Ash's mother, who gave birth to his older brother Skye and then died after giving birth to him.

Most of this was basic, cliched stuff, meaning that the world of Blood & Ash was no more interesting to me than its characters. The one thing that made me go “WTF??” was the bit about fae women. From the sounds of things, the fae had way more to worry about than a bunch of witches who wanted to drive them out of their Realm. Wouldn't their entire female population die out in only a handful of generations?

As far as the writing goes, one of the first things I noticed was that Aaron didn't always communicate the passage of time well. When a bored, antsy Ash rang for a servant, he was able to hear the bell ring in the servants' quarters, but the sound was faint. It should have taken a servant some time, at least a few seconds, to arrive at Ash's room. Instead, there seemed to be no passage of time at all – a servant was just suddenly there, bowing in front of Ash. This wasn't the only time that happened.

The flashbacks to Azrael's past with Tariq were equally jarring and took up more of the page count than I think they should have. I would have preferred it if those flashbacks had been left out, or at least shortened considerably, and Azrael and Ash's present fleshed out more. I was left with the impression that the Tariq flashbacks were a related short story that had been shoehorned into Blood & Ash.

One last thing that really bugged me: the paragraph formatting. There were a few typos, but those were fairly easy to ignore in comparison. Sometimes one paragraph was broken in two, in the middle of a sentence, when it shouldn't have been. More often, however, paragraphs that should have been separate were smooshed together. I'd be reading one character's dialogue, and then, within the same paragraph, another character would start speaking. This happened a lot.

All in all, I was really disappointed in this novella. I'm currently debating whether I should read the rest of the series now, to get it over with as quickly as possible, or read something else. I've been reading a lot of less-than-stellar stuff lately, and I'm a little worried that my desire to read is being killed off, so a reread of an old favorite might be in order.

[EDIT, 12/9/12 - The author contacted me about the paragraph breaking and smooshing issues I mentioned in my review. I sent her some examples and she confirmed that they were indeed formatting issues. I let her know that I purchased my EPUB file from All Romance Ebooks, and she said she'd she'd make sure to get it fixed. She also said she'd do the same for the other works in the series, just in case, since they were all uploaded at the same time. Very nice, and I'll be sure to redownload Fire & Ice once I'm ready to read it.]

Read-alikes:
  • Sword of the Guardian (e-book) by Merry Shannon - Ash reminded me a lot of Shasta, one of the main characters in this book. If you'd like to try another fantasy and don't mind f/f romance, you might give this a try. I've written about it.
  • Some Kind of Magic (e-book) by R. Cooper - If you'd like more m/m romance starring an eager fae and another more resistant character, you might want to try this. It's a fairly lightweight mystery starring a werewolf police detective and the fairy he's secretly been in love with for ages. I haven't written about this yet, but I've read it.
  • Alliance in the Blood (e-book) by Ariel Tachna - I haven't read this yet, although I own it and have read another one of Tachna's works. Those who'd like another m/m paranormal romance involving a supernatural war might want to give this a try. The main characters are a wizard and a vampire.

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