Alyssia, the witch who threatened to take the Realm from the fae in Blood & Ash, is still on the loose. Skye is determined to hunt her down and stop her, but he has an additional problem: his brother Ash. Namely, Ash's relationship with Azrael. Not only is it not ideal for the person second-in-line to the throne to be gay, there is apparently also a fae law against homosexuality. Ash's father is even less approving of Ash's relationship with Azrael than Skye is.
Upset, Ash runs away with Azrael, although he at least stays in the Realm. It is then that he learns what the law means for common fae: gay men are killed, and lesbians are taken away, never to be seen by their friends and families again. Ash is horrified and becomes consumed with a need to change the law, something everyone tells him cannot be done.
Meanwhile, Fenton has heard rumors of Alyssia's location, and Skye decides that he and Fenton should go and investigate. Fenton has confessed his love for Skye, and Skye is flattered...and soon those feelings turn into something more. If they're a couple but not actually having sex, then they're not breaking the law, right? Fenton, who is asexual, is perfectly happy to cuddle Skye and sleep in the same bed with him without having sex. Skye figures he'll be okay with that, too, except he soon finds himself needing more.
That's it, I'm done with this series. I have no plans to buy Storm & Strike, the book after this one. I bought the first three works all at once because they were cheap and because the second two were tagged “asexual,” which intrigued me. Unfortunately, this was one of those times where taking a risk did not work out for me. I had some of the same problems with Fire & Ice that I had with the first two works in the series.
I disliked Ash at least as much in this story as I did in Blood & Ash. He was childish, selfish, immature, and never thought things through. The only reason I could think of to explain why Azrael continued to stay with him was the sex, and I couldn't believe that their relationship would last very long.
I also came to dislike Skye. He started off all right, at least until he fell in love with Fenton. Then, suddenly, he morphed into a great big ball of lust. He knew from the start that Fenton was asexual – Fenton loved Skye but would never be interested in having sex with him. When Skye began feeling sexually attracted to Fenton, Fenton offered to help out with that (heh) but continued to be uninterested in being on the receiving end of any sexual activities. This drove Skye practically crazy because a big part of him couldn't believe in love unless that love was displayed in a sexual way by both parties. His all-consuming lustful feelings culminated in an OMG ending that made me feel bad for Fenton in so many ways.
Ash and Skye were so focused on their relationships that I often had a hard time remembering the overarching storyline. The Realm was in danger of being invaded and taken over by witches. All its people faced the possibility of being evicted from a land they'd lived in for generations. However, since Ash was selfish and didn't personally care about the fate of the Realm, he was far more interested in devoting all his time and energy to changing his people's anti-homosexuality law. Yes, both things were important, but this was like someone realizing that their house was on fire and that poison had been pumped into their garden for months and choosing to focus all their attention on dealing with the poison. What good is saving the garden if you don't have a house anymore? Or worse, what if the fire gets your garden, too? What if the witches took over the Realm, decided they weren't satisfied with just evicting the fae, and killed them all instead?
Skye was a little more focused than Ash, but like I said earlier, his relationship with Fenton turned him into a giant ball of lust. Thinking about anything other than what was going on in his pants took some effort. And he wasn't always successful at it.
I did not always like what this book (or at least the characters in this book) had to say about relationships. For example, when a Were pack assumes that he and Fenton are sleeping together, Skye has this thought:
“People look at you differently when you’re in a relationship: it’s like you’ve passed some secret test, validated yourself as a person. Everyone understands love and respects it. To have it is to inspire good feeling in others.” (40.5%)Which is stupid, because it assumes that all relationships are given equal weight. We already know that Skye's own people don't view homosexual relationships as being on the same level as heterosexual ones, because people in homosexual relationships are put to death. Also, it's just plain insulting when you consider that 1) not everyone is in a relationship, 2) some people choose not be in relationships, and 3) some relationships are abusive and are therefore not good. And yet Skye is all, “Hurray, I have the super-special badge of honor! I feel great, because everyone can see it.”
Then there's the issue of relationships and sex. Remember, I started this series primarily because I was interested in seeing how it would deal with an asexual relationship. Okay, so Skye and Fenton's relationship was a bit rocky. Balancing a sexual person's needs with an asexual person's needs isn't necessarily easy, especially if one half of the couple (Skye) refuses to sit down and talk about his needs so that problems can be worked out. What bothered me, though, was a discussion Azrael and Ash had about the place of sex in relationships, which, in my opinion, spat on the idea of asexual relationships.
Azrael and Ash are arguing because they haven't been having sex or even touching each other much lately: Ash feels too guilty. He can be with his lover while so many others are killed for the same thing. At one point, Azrael says:
"'We have more than sex binding us—much more—but without sex, our relationship loses everything that makes it special to us.'So, in Azrael's words, without sex all you have is friendship. What does that say about Fenton's feelings? This is just part of the reason why I would not recommend this book or what I've read of this series so far to anyone looking for positively-presented asexual romantic relationships.
'So you don't want me if you can't sleep with me?' Ash asked coldly.
'Of course I do. I want you too much to not sleep with you. I don't want you as a friend—I have dozens of those. I want you as my lover; my only lover.'" (65.5%)
I'll end with this: the world-building. The law against homosexuality made absolutely no sense to me, no matter how many characters tried to explain it. The population of fae women was shrinking rapidly, because nearly every fae woman died after giving birth to only one child. Ash's mother was a rare exception. The ratio of men to women must have been huge. I suppose I could have understood a law against lesbian couples (although even this assumes that sex can only happen between couples), but why outlaw gay couples?
All in all, this book and this series as a whole did not work for me. The bones of the story were relatively interesting, but they were obscured by Ash and Skye's relationship-related freakouts. Aaron's attempt to include an asexual relationship was nice but ultimately fell flat for me. I enjoyed the scene in which a frazzled Fenton tried to shop for Skye, his first living house-guest since he was turned into a vampire – it was adorable and funny – but that was pretty much it.
- 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 are open to f/f romance, you might give this a try. I've written about 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.
- The Heart of Aces (anthology) - Although it's poorly edited and the quality of the stories varies considerably, those intrigued by the idea of asexual romantic relationships may want to give this anthology a shot. I particularly liked the last story, "Good PR." I've written about this book.
- Magic's Pawn (book) by Mercedes Lackey - Those who'd like another "it seems like the world is against us" m/m fantasy might want to give this a try. It's the first in a trilogy. I absolutely loved it when I was younger and should probably see about doing a reread.