Demon's Fire, by Emma Holly

>> Saturday, April 16, 2016

TITLE: Demon's Fire
AUTHOR: Emma Holly

PAGES: 336

SETTING: Alternate reality
TYPE: Erotic romance
SERIES: Part of the Tales of the Demon World series

The thrilling new erotic paranormal romance from the USA Today bestselling author

Fleeing the routine life her family wanted for her, Beth joins an archaeological dig spearheaded by her cousin Charles. For such an adventurer, the desert city of Bhamjran is perfect for making unusual discoveries-especially when it comes to forbidden appetites. Like his own unnatural desire for a Yama demon. And as he and Beth are about to learn, some Yama find humans equally irresistible...
This was this month's random pick from my TBR, and it was a random pick that made me happy when I saw what book it was. I like Emma Holly and most of her books have really worked for me, so I'm not too sure why it's been almost 10 years since I've read one.

This is part of Holly's series about the Yama. The earlier books were set in Ohram, which is basically an alternate version of Victorian England, where a race of very advanced beings who live underground have been discovered a few decades previously. The Yama (called "demons" by humans, due to markings on their tongues that make them look like they're forked) have all sorts of technology, which gives this world a quite steampunk feel. Queen Victoria quickly realised the potential benefits of access to their tech and allowed them to settle in her empire, but people are still really wary of them. Part of this is because of their physical appearance, but part of it is because of their penchant for feeding off humans' energy, an act that, although harmful to the human if uncontrolled, can be extremely pleasurable and sensual for both sides.

This particular book is set in what seems to be an alternate version of India, a country recently conquered by the Ohramese. This alternate India is matriarchal and people (particularly women) are a lot freer about their sexuality than in Ohram.

And in keeping with that attitude, what we have here is a ménage book. On one angle of the triangle we've got Prince Pahndir, who was a character in the previous book in the series, Prince of Ice (which I must confess I barely remember). Pahndir is a prince of the Yama, who lost his beloved soulmate when she killed himself. Since Yama get only one chance at a soulmate (and for royalty it's even worse, since they can't really have proper orgasms without this person), Pahndir fell to pieces at her death, which felt to him as a huge betrayal. His family, horrified at his lack of control, faked his death and sent him away, selling him to a brothel. He lived there for years, being used to train the prostitutes (this was where we met him in the previous book, where he was the heroine's friend). At the start of this book we see his rescue, and we see him again when he's running his own brothel (where everyone is wonderfully treated, of course).

Then we've got Charles, a young Ohramese working for an expedition that's excavating an ancient tomb close to the city. Charles's background has some things in common with Pahndir. He's not royal; in fact, he's far from it: his mother was a street prostitute. When she died he ended up in a brothel himself, but he carried with him her fear of the Yama, who had just started to get settled in Ohram, and although he was terribly intrigued and tempted by the concept of their feeding off his energy, he never allowed that particular act. He is still obsessed with this by the start of this book, and when he comes in contact with Pahndir, who makes it clear his kink can be easily accomodated, the temptation becomes too strong for him.

And then there's Beth. Beth is a sheltered young Ohramese woman working in the same expedition as Charles. She's the sister of the heroine of the first book in this series, and she doesn't have any horrible things in her past. She's just adventurous and fancies Charles madly. Turns out she also becomes fascinated by Pahndir.

For the first two thirds of the book, I mostly really liked this. I loved the main relationship. Pahndir is a vulnerable, lonely character, having almost accepted that there's no one out there for him. Charles is tortured by what he sees as his kinks and has to be dragged almost kicking and screaming into his relationship with both Pahndir and Beth. Beth... well, Beth is just horny. She might be a virgin, but she has absolutely no problem accepting her somewhat unorthodox desires and just going for it with Charles, with Pahndir, with both at the same time. She's up for pretty much anything, and I thought that was great.

But there was so much here that was problematic! There were some things in the first two thirds, but then things started getting really gross and horrible, and I ended up giving up about 75% in.

At the start of the book we've got a scene where Charles goes into Beth's room while she's sleeping and they do all sorts of sexual things while she sleeps. Definitely non-consensual, but fine, I was ok to go with this in this fantastical setting.

There's also a subplot about the ancient queen whose tomb Beth and Charles' expedition is excavating. The idea is that this queen, who was extremely powerful, was highly sexed, and by being in the tomb Beth has somehow been influenced by her and sort of absorbed her insatiable appetites and her powers. She has vivid dreams about the queen's life, and we get treated to the detail of one of them, in a long dream sequence. That dreams was clearly intended to be super hot, but it wasn't to me.  The queen has a harem of men, slaves sent in as tributes by all the many tribes she's conquered, and she chooses 5 each night. They're all desperate to serve her in that way. I was icked out by this. I know it's meant to be complete fantasy and I'm being humourless and earnest here, but the concept of having sex with slaves and this being portrayed as erotic is hugely problematic to me. I didn't really find that scene erotic in the least. Actually, I probably wouldn't have even if the men involved had not been slaves... this scene involved the queen being fucked by dozens of her slaves in one night.. all I could think was "gross" and "ouch!".

But since I could kind of ignore this and it didn't really affect the real protagonists' relationship, I kept going and mostly enjoying the book. What made me delete this angrily from my kindle was what happened when the suspense subplot got going. Basically, his family have found out that Pahndir has escaped the brothel, and fear he might try to come back. They have him kidnapped by a desert tribe of female assassins. And this casually leads to horrific sexual assault that is portrayed in a way that I thought was exploitative and titillating. There's loads of this, and even the rescue scene by Beth and Charles is horrendous (they decide that since they are outnumbered they need to pretend to be people sent by the villain to properly break their captive). I just could not stomach this crap, so gave up.

No. Just, no.



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