|Only a few authors can successfully blend storytelling, romance and eroticism into one satisfying whole – and Emma Holly is definitely one of them.
This story is set in the isolated land of the demon yama – a technologically advanced race that isolates itself from the Victorian-era humans they consider inferior. Some yama are fascinated by humans, particularly since human energy – or chi – is like a drug to them, both pleasurable and addictive. But the yama pride themselves on their strict emotional control, and human emotions are transferred along with the energy, so personal interaction with humans is strictly forbidden.
This taboo is, however, occasionally broken and Xoushou, a half-human, half-yama girl whose birth caused her noble family to be disgraced and reduced to servant rank, dreams of restoring her clan’s status. She seduces the yama emperor, hides her pregnancy, then plots to match her infant daughter, Xishi, with the baby son of her new mistress.
Little Corum Midarri was also born against the odds. Although he was diagnosed in utero with a rare genetic disorder that would make it difficult for him to control his emotions, his mother – who had great difficulty conceiving an heir – refuses to terminate the pregnancy. She hides the child’s condition and vows to teach him everything he needs to know in order to function in yama society.
It appears Xoushou’s plan is working. Xishi and Cor are raised side by side until his mother becomes concerned at his dependence on a mere servant and she is sent away. Xishi eventually finds herself in a training school for concubines – or “pillow girls” – and it is here that Cor finds her again and buys her for himself.
Both the situation and the world that Emma Holly has created here are highly complex, but she does a nice job of explaining both. I’m not sure why the book was set in the Victorian era – it really has no bearing – but perhaps it will be germane to future books.
Cor, Xishi, and in fact everyone in this book are well-drawn individuals, and Ms. Holly’s gift for creating characters helps give the book its energy and immediacy. The story focuses on their relationship, but the action of the book is driven by the ongoing personal and political ramifications that drove Xoushou’s desire for revenge and ultimately led to her death. It doesn’t have as much action as a romantic suspense novel, but it becomes increasingly clear that Cor and Xishi are in real danger and cannot be sure whom to trust.
And speaking of trust, Ms. Holly has also set the hero and heroine a particularly nice conundrum that adds tension to the story: how can Cor be sure of what Xishi feels when she has been trained to please men and he has purchased her for that precise purpose? How can Xishi convince Cor that her responses to him are genuine, and not a courtesan’s artifice? Their attempts to solve this dilemma add a lot of the romantic atmosphere to the author’s highly erotic style.
And there is lots of steamy sex here, for your reading pleasure. It’s explicit, it’s hot, and it’s even romantic, thanks to the powerful emotional connection between the two main characters.
If I have a reservation about this book it is that, no matter how well the author describes the complicated world she’s created, it actually seemed a little over-realized to me. The trick with world-building in the context of romance (in my opinion) is to tell us just enough to set the scene without overwhelming us with detail. I sincerely admire the scope of Ms. Holly’s imagination, but felt this story would have been a lot stronger if it had been a little simpler.
All in all, however, fans of erotic romance will find it difficult to do better than a book by Emma Holly, and this one is no exception.
-- Judi McKee