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S. E. Gilchrist’s Darkon Warriors a Great Addition to Erotic SciFi Romance

8 Jun

Awakening the Warriors by S. E. Gilchrist (Escape Publishing, May 1, 2013)

I love scifi romance (the hotter, the better) but it’s often of variable quality. The good news is that it appears that there is a growing market for it, particularly in e-book form, so I’m seeing more and more out there. When I received the NetGalley short story, Awakening the Warriors, I confess I was so intrigued with the premise and the author’s voice that I went out and purchased the author’s full-length novel and other short and devoured all of them!

First off, I need to be upfront and mention that the author, S. E. Gilchrist, doesn’t have an actual name for this series so, to make it easy on myself, I’m just calling it the Darkon Warriors series since that’s the obvious binding factor. Maybe she didn’t want to imply that there was an order to the books since they technically could be read independently with little confusion, but I think it helps the reader to have the books clearly labeled in an order, so I’d encourage her to at least add that information to her Goodreads account. ūüôā

The Darkons are a dying species who used to rule a large amount of territory but now are fighting the Elite Forces, a military controlled by a dictator who would enjoy seeing the Darkons completely extinguished from the galaxy. It may happen without his interference; the Darkons lost all of their women and children six years ago to a horrible virus and have been, um, “unawakened” ever since despite exposure to the females of other races.

Legend Beyond the Stars by S. E. Gilchrist (Escape Publishing, January 1, 2013).

I think it’s to a reader’s advantage to begin with the full-length novel, Legend Beyond the Stars, to get a sense of the world and the Darkon backstory. Captain Alana Knight awakens from her space stasis to more than just the requisite stomach cramping. It’s quickly apparent to her and the other female colonists supposedly bound for a new world that something is wrong. They’re no longer with the other colonists – no older women or men – leaving only women in their late teens to thirties in the spaceship transporting them to an unknown system.

Alana takes charge, finding the other leaders among the women and beginning to pump the aliens caring for them for more information. They discover that the space traders transporting them are not just providing a travel service but rather trade in flesh, a situation brought home when a group of extremely large alien males, clad in black armor and wearing helmets obscuring their features, inform the women that they have been purchased and are now Darkon slaves.

All the women take tremendous exception at this, with Alana shoving to the forefront and informing the leader, identified as one Commander Tarak El Rajan, that he is sadly mistaken if he thinks they will be slaves to anyone considering that they’ve been duped. The hard feelings lessen a little after they are taken on board the more comfortable Darkon ship, The Ark, and the men take their armor off. That they are all gorgeous provides at least a distraction from the women’s fear, which is further lessened when it’s made clear that, in Darkon culture, no man would ever take an unwilling woman.

Much to her dismay, Alana finds she’s not unwilling, and that there is a powerful connection between her and Tarak. He doesn’t understand why she’s not elated to be his slave and is baffled by her information that, in her culture, women are equals who fight alongside men. Before they all died, Darkon culture sequestered their women who were quiet and caring. But Tarak finds, along with his men, that human women, unlike any they have previously found, are capable of “awakening” Darkon men, and it’s not long before all but the youngest (Elise is only seventeen or eighteen) are “claimed” by the men. Alana’s spunky sidekick Jess is actually tied to two hot warriors and she’s not letting it worry her too much (who would?).

milky-way-67504_640The relationship between Tarak and Alana is obviously the focus, even as the political and social piece unfolds. Tarak is an uber-Alpha, so if you don’t like a man who finds it hard to let go of the “you’re my slave” piece, you probably won’t enjoy this book. His redeeming characteristics come in the form of his POV which reveals that while he’s saying that over and over, in actuality he is experiencing a tremendous amount of attraction and affection for this woman who frustrates him with her insistence on being treated as an equal. Alana naturally vacillates between her overwhelming attraction for Tarak, who can really burn up the sheets, and her knowledge that nothing can come of a relationship between too people so unequal. It’s that inequality which leads to much of the mistrust on her part, compounded by the fact that Tarak is the heir to the Darkon throne, and she doesn’t buy into a fairy tale ending.

Great world-building and compelling characters can be found in this novel. Aside from the mention of Jess’s menage relationship, I actually thought this book could have easily been labeled “scorcher” as much as “erotic” with the level of explicitness and language choice for it’s smoking hot sex scenes. All of the sex was very appropriate to the storyline and the characters’ relationship, making it always steamy and often a little heartbreaking as these two people struggled to express their love for one another.

Gilchrist did an excellent job at seeding conflict beyond the interpersonal throughout the book as well. There is a lot of evil in this world between the forces opposing the Darkons as well as their own brand of villain (who will make you shudder at how horrible they are). I loved that the only unmated Darkon warrior was Tarak’s slightly older second-in-command who was clearly attracted to Elise, but too much of a gentleman to make a move on someone so young. I’m hoping a future book will be their story set a few years in the future!

The Portal by S. E. Gilchrist (Escape Publishing, March 1, 2013)

Technically, the next book in the series is the short story (only 31 pages or so) The Portal, and people have expressed a lot of dissatisfaction about this one. It’s actually a very sweet tale of a Darkon warrior who had a brief interlude with a young salvager months before and has been looking for her since. I think that much of the complaining is due to its length (readers always want more) and the fact that it does jump back and forth in time. I wished for more heat, as the sex scene that bonded the two together was extremely brief. A little more of a tie-in to her having “awakened” him would have also helped, particularly if it had been made clearer that his experience was the cause of his pursuit.

The short story, Awakening the Warriors, has none of those problems, and even though its a mere 46 pages it packs quite a bit of heat between its e-covers. Fran is a geologist who signed on with a corporation to travel to a new world when her transport was intercepted by the Elite Forces. She’s being held in a cell with a group of other women of various species and they are becoming more horrified by the minute. Some of the females were taken away a few days ago and the remaining prisoners are beginning to think that it’s for experimentation. Word has gone out that a group of human women have succeeded in awakening the fierce Darkon race and clearly there is one government who would like to see them die out. The fact that their are Darkons in the next cell can’t be a coincidence.

prison-58320_640Because the only other human female is a sickly girl of 15, the other prisoners tell Fran it’s up to her to sneak into the nearby cell of the Darkons, who are regularly whipped and beaten, and use her sexual wiles to “awaken” them. Talk about pressure! By the time she breaks into their cell, she can tell one of the men is already dead and the other two are covered in blood. She washes away the blood and tends their wounds, all the while wondering at their beauty. While their encounter is out of necessity, Fran is astonished at the heat and tenderness with which they treat her. She’s attracted to both of them equally and it quickly becomes clear that Jerrell and Quain have no trouble with the idea of her being with both of them. Yet Fran knows that she plans on leaving for home at the first opportunity since there’s no future with two men with whom sex was a means of helping them literally break their chains and escape. Or is there?

This is a very tasteful and tender menage that is further understood after reading Legend Beyond the Stars. I would have liked to see a stronger tie to the overall story arc, namely with explaining why the warriors were being beaten – combined with the missing female prisoners, were the Elite Forces attempting to discover more about how or why the rumored Darkons were awakened?

Speaking of tiny¬†discrepancies, in Awakening the Warriors, the point of Fran stealing into the adjoining cell with the Darkons is that if she “awakens” their lust, they will possess increased strength and fighting ability, enough to overcome their injuries and help the imprisoned. In Legend Beyond the Stars, while there was a LOT of awakening going on, this added piece was unaddressed. The warriors were certainly loyal and focused on the women with whom they bonded, but no one made reference to enhanced abilities. Hmmm.

Nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed this author’s style and the world-building in which she engaged in all her works. I would say that anyone who loved Evangeline Anderson’s erotic Brides of the Kindred series might also find fun in the pages of Gilchrist’s science fiction romance (although keep in mind the men are waaayyyy more alpha than Anderson’s Kindred men!).

Should All Menage Be Novellas? Sharing Hailey by Samantha Ann King

8 Jul

Sharing Hailey by Samantha Ann King (Carina Press, July 9, 2012)

I don’t want anyone to think this isn’t an incredibly well-written book. It is. I can understand why Samantha Ann King won the Passionate Plume award in the Contemporary category for it. I honestly wish I could give half stars on Goodreads because this book would have been a 3.5 star book for me, rather than the three I rated it (which, for me, means a well-written book that any reader should enjoy). Solid characters, genuine emotion between the three people in the relationship, and a compelling conflict regarding an abusive ex-boyfriend make for a work that hits all major points for a good romance.

So why do I feel emotionally dissatisfied when I know it was a good book intellectually?

A big part of it is the cover. LOVE the cover…if it was your usual menage book. But really a huge portion of this book is given over to what I would honestly term a romantic suspense plot or more of a psychological angle and I don’t get any of the anxiety I felt for 65% of my reading minutes in looking at this beautiful, sensual portrait.

The book starts off with a menage trope that is familiar to readers. Hailey is a capable, professional woman who just broke up with her manipulative and abusive boyfriend, Daniel. Daniel had gone from being verbally and emotionally abusive to threatening real physical violence and some pretty scaring shoving. Hailey is scared, but hopeful that he’ll get over things since she’s heading out to Hawaii to meet her brother and his wife for the family’s annual vacation on the island.

She flying out with her two good friends (and her brother’s best friends) Mark and Tony. They’ve all known each other since they were little and she can’t imagine two better men. Unfortunately she can imagine them…in all different sexual positions. She has had a crush on them for years and they feature prominently in her sexual fantasies, but knowing what amazing men they are, she respects and truly loves them, believing they see her as Jake’s little sister.

Mark and Tony know they are in love with Hailey and have had conversations about this dilemma. While they are not attracted to one another sexually, they realize that they both want to be with her and that, while unconventional, a menage relationship is the solution that actually works best. If they force Hailey to choose between them, she would potentially be hurt and their friendship would ultimately dissolve with each other and Hailey’s brother.

How I always envision tourists in Hawaii – lucky people!!

A brief kiss from Mark on the plane has Hailey’s mind (and nether regions) in a whirl and she confronts them when they arrive at the rental villa. In the private guesthouse that Mark and Tony are sharing, they put forth their proposal for a relationship, a real one, not just vacation sex. Hailey is stunned but incredibly gratified. She’s worried what her family will think but agrees to begin to be intimate with these two men she loves so much. The sex scenes are not only hot but clearly indicate the wealth of emotion these characters bring to the table (or couch..or bed…or shower).

But then the poop hits the fan when Hailey’s brother finds out and goes ballistic. As the threesome leaves, hurt and dismayed by his reaction, the brother reconsiders his rash response when he is confronted by the psycho ex-boyfriend. His good friends are looking pretty awesome even if there are two of them. Everyone disbands from the vacation and heads home in an effort to handle the crazy boyfriend and keep Hailey safe.

Back at home, Hailey is staying with the guys because of evil Daniel who becomes a very threatening menace. Samantha Ann King has done a lot of very thorough research about both the legalities of domestic disturbances as well as the many psychological reactions victims of domestic abuse can experience, and her research comes out skillfully, not in some awkward info dump, but in the midst of what Hailey is feeling.

But the tension is relentless, and I guess that’s what I mean by it feeling more like romantic suspense. I was literally physically exhausted from holding myself so tightly, particularly when characters got hurt. Adding to the tension was the very realistic decision on Hailey’s part to back off from the intensity of their relationship after things got resolved and live her own life, fitting the guys into it and letting their feelings unfold in a more natural setting. Was that the healthy and mature thing to do? Absolutely. Did I like it as a reader? No.

And here’s why. When I read a menage story, I don’t expect it to be realistic, because this type of relationship is rare and therefore not the norm. I’m not saying don’t have challenges or deal with the usual judgment conflict from others about a threesome, but all the legalities, psychological stuff, and aftermath felt like a lot to slog through to see these deserving people get to happily ever after. The kiss between Mark and Tony which was discussed in Hawaii also sort of felt like it went nowhere to me. Why introduce it if there wasn’t going to be more development in the physicality between the two men? This felt like a loose end (the only one, in my opinion).

Perhaps because of this being her first book (and I have to reiterate again how impressed I am at the level of skill and complexity Samantha Ann King brings to this debut novel), it was hard to find the author online. A Google seach did not immediately reveal any book cover (also the case on Amazon) a month prior to publication. I found Samantha Ann King first on Twitter, then used its link to find her Facebook account, which led me to her author website. Her Goodreads page lacked all of these links and didn’t have the pretty portrait that her Facebook account sports. I can only keep my fingers crossed that as we get closer to the book’s official launch date that all these online sources will be interlinked for readers who wish to know more about her.

My final conclusion is really more of a personal one. Not needing the level of realism or accuracy that was so well-depicted in this novel, I have had the personal realization that I am better off sticking to menage fiction that is more along the lines of novella or shorter book length. This work being more the size of a traditional romance novel (and therefore a great value to readers interested in the plot points detailed above) makes it a great value for the money, but I think for me, I prefer my menage groups to have fewer pages devoted to them since I ask for very little realism.

From a writing standpoint, I will be keeping an eye out for more from Samantha Ann King since her debut novel shows a definite understanding of craft and a distinct talent.

Putting the Spicy in Spicy Short: Lord Atwood’s Lovers by Eva Clancy

19 May

Lord Atwood’s Lovers by Eva Clancy (Harlequin Spice Briefs, June 1, 2012)

I rarely support purchasing a true short story (not a novella) for anything above $.99, but in the case of the 35 page menage short story,¬†Lord Atwood’s Lovers¬†by¬†Eva Clancy, I’ll make an exception. In fact, after I read a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review, I went and bought¬†the actual copy from¬†for it’s full $2.99 price, because I wanted the author and publisher to benefit from my enjoyment of the story!

A publication of the¬†Harlequin Spice Briefs¬†line (digital short stories 5,000 to 15,000 words of a highly erotic nature), this story lived up to the author’s tagline of writing “sexy, romantic, emotional fiction.”

Lord Charles Atwood didn’t expect to fall for the woman he would take as a wife, but Imogen’s combination of an open heart and wanton body brought him to his knees. Knowing her heartache from her previous husband, this widow recognizes that her husband harbors some dark hurt in his past.

When his estranged friend, Alexander Lambert, returns to town, she begins to realize that here is what is bothering her husband. But the closer she looks, the more she realizes that the feelings of these two men go beyond friendship and that whatever emotion they possess for each other is still there. Luckily for Imogen, she is just as attracted to Alex as her husband, and more than happy to welcome him into their marriage bed, providing she can convince the two of them to take the next step.

It’s hard not to be impressed when an author is able to suss out three very different characters, establish a strong sense of a historical time period, and infuse a story (particularly a menage story) with a tremendous amount of love and emotion, but Eva Clancy manages to do just that. Your heart aches for these three damaged people, who all share love for one another and together can manage to be a stronger whole.

If there was any complaint I could make about reading this, it’s that the author platform didn’t offer me any insight into her or her work. Her¬†Goodreads account has virtually no information¬†and there don’t seem to be any upcoming works. Start writing, Eva Clancy – I want to read more of your work!

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