Prince of Ice, by Emma Holly

>> Friday, December 01, 2006

My blogging will probably be a bit erratic in the next few weeks, and my posts shorter, as I'm involved in a certain project that's taking up a lot of my free time. I don't want to jinx it, but I'll just say I'm working on my application for something. Wish me luck! :-)

Anyway, back to books: even though most of Emma Holly's upyr books have been disappointing so far, her erotica and her alternate realities are still on my autobuy list. Oh, who am I kidding; I'd buy even a new upyr book, hoping it's as good as the rest of the stuff she's writing! Her latest is Prince of Ice (excerpt).

Humans like to call them demons, but the Yama are an old and civilized race, far too civilized to fraternize with lesser beings. It is only through subterfuge that a quarterhuman infant, one Xishi Huon, is raised side by side with the Midarri heir, whose own peculiarities make her his soulmate-at least until the whispers of their unnatural fondness get her banished to an orphanage.

Coming of age as a courtesan, Xishi excels in the erotic arts. But when Corum Midarri becomes her new owner, the relationship will test the limits of her gifts. Corum is the Prince of Ice now and not the sensitive boy she knew. If he succumbs to the temptations of her human touch, their love will defy every convention his kind holds dear. If he doesn't, his uncontrollable sexual needs might drive both insane.
That ending! I had been loving POI until then, an A kind of loving, but after a certain point, the action derails, and this lowered my grade to a B+.

Now, let's see, how to write a summary of the plot? There's just so much here that if I were to go into details about everything, I'd leave you all hopelessly confused. I'll try to keep things as simple as possible, but be warned that I'm going to be glossing over a lot.

But first, this is what Holly herself says in her author note:

For those who are new to my demon stories, the race humans term demons call themselves yama. Up until their recent discovery by human explorers, the yama lived in scrupulous isolation. Now the races share an alternate Victorian Earth, but the yama are far more technologically advanced. Thanks to genetic tinkering, they are also stronger, more attractive, smarter, and longer lived. Their culture values emotional control above all else.

Naturally, yama view humans as inferior, though many can’t help being fascinated by human passions. Complicating matters is the fact that human energy, or chi, is easily absorbed by yamishkind. The transfer produces a relaxed euphoria that is sweeter than any drug—and potentially addictive. Worst of all, human emotion accompanies the imbibing of human chi. As a result, the practice is frowned upon.
Prince of Ice is set in the same world as Holly's The Demon's Daughter, but it stands alone. In fact, they don't have much to do with each other. TDD is steampunk romance, set in an alternate version of Victorian London. We do find out a lot about the yama in TDD, but the story is about two humans, despite their yama connections. POI, on the other hand, takes place completely in the Yama civilization, and reads like plain fantasy.

Xishi Xuon's whole existence is part of a plan by her mother to get their family reinstated in their rightful place among yama nobility. Using some very underhanded tricks to get around the physical peculiarities of yama noblemen, which usually ensure that the men's seed can only impregnate the one woman that's "right" for them, always another noblewoman, Xoushou manages to seduce the emperor and get pregnant. Then she uses more tricks to get a job at the Midarris', another noble household, one with a young son.

Her plan is that spending so much time, and from such an early age, with a girl who's got the appropriate bloodlines to be his chosen wife, will make the Midarri heir develop the physical changes that signal that he's found the one woman for him. Unfortunately, Xoushou dies soon thereafter, victim of her plotting, and her daughter is left without her protection.

Corum Midarri's wouldn't ordinarily have even been born. When still in the womb, doctors found a genetic anomaly in him, one that would make it difficult for him to suppress his feelings. His mother wouldn't hear of aborting him, though, and kept this a secret. For a while it was touch and go, as baby Corum wasn't as well-behaved and quiet as other yama children. But being in the company of the maid's daughter, Xishi, seems to help, and so these two young children spend their early years together and become the best of friends.

In fact, they become too good friends, in the eyes of Corum's mother, and Xishi is sent to an orphanage. When she reaches her majority, Xishi decides to accept a contract to be a pillow girl, a kind of geisha-like courtesan trained especially to cater to yama noblemen. And when her training ends, her contract is bought by none other than Corum, who's at the sale under pressure from his parents, who hope being with a pillow girl will awake his still-dormant sexual impulses.

So yes, this is superficially a story about a man and his sex slave, but believe me when I say it's not at all as icky as that sounds. It takes no time at all for Xishi and Corum to recognize the other as their beloved childhood friend, and so their relationship is never fully that of master and slave. Corum does try to keep it that way, as a kind of defense mechanism against the intensity of how Xishi makes him feel, but it doesn't take long at all for him to fall completely in love with her.

This is an tremendously sexy book, much more so that TDD. In fact, the sexual content is almost closer to Holly's erotica than to her more mainstream books, especially the early sections, when Xishi's training is described. But it's Corum and Xishi's relationship that is the hottest (and I should mention that when these two get together, there's no one else for them, so don't worry about what I said about Holly's erotica).

Sensuality is threaded throughout the whole book, and Holly succeeds in showing us the development of Corum and Xishi's love almost entirely through their sexual interactions, which makes them all the hotter. I especially liked the vibe I got from them. For all the explicitness of the sex and Xishi's extensive training, there is a sense of innocence and wonder and delighted discovery here, from both of them. I also liked the element of the forbidden here, not just in Corum's developing feelings for Xishi, but in that he has feelings at all.

I was thinking keeper, keeper, keeper until very near the end, when the plot switches abruptly. Boom! Secrets come out that threaten to destroy Xishi, and Boom! The solution to this problem drops out as if from the sky, completely unrelated to everything that had been going on among Xishi and Corum, and they get their HEA. And then there's the final scene, which is very, very tacky sequel-baiting. Very disappointing.

But still, what comes before this is so good that POI gets a very good grade from me.

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