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Thursday, July 8, 2010

An Uncommon Whore by Belinda McBride



An Uncommon Whore by Belinda McBride
Publisher: Loose Id
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (122 pgs)
Other: M/M, anal sex
Rating: 4 cherries
Reviewed by Phlox

Pasha is a slave, whoring for travelers at the most dangerous bar on Warlan. He has no memory, no future of his own, yet deep inside Pasha knows that that he is meant for better things. The day that Pasha spots the dangerous pirate in the bar, he knows that he mustn't let the stranger slip away, regardless of what he must do to attract his attention.

Captain Griffin Hawke spent the greater part of a decade searching for his lost king, only to find Helios Dayspring crouched between his knees, swathed in the robes and shackles of a whore. Though he is appalled by the downfall of his king, the hardened officer finds himself falling for the allure of the sensual creature who has taken his place. Returning Helios to his position on the throne is the only right thing to do, yet Griffin knows that in doing so, he risks losing his lover forever.

How much of an identity is actually recoverable when someone has been stripped of memory, power, dignity and all that he loves? For Helios, finding out who he truly is after living as a sex slave is only the beginning. It’s his slow, almost archeological uncovering of his identity that makes this book a fascinating read.

Not that there aren’t other things to enjoy here. Pasha/Helios, despite repeated mind wipes and brutal slave training, never quite submits to his life of captivity. He knows, though he has no inkling why, that he’s meant to be somewhere else. Always thinking, constantly assessing his surroundings, he has retained the core of his resourceful, stubborn personality enough to know that when the right opportunity arises, he has to be ready to seize it. He does what he must but the reader has to admire his inability to give into despair and his ability to adapt.

Though we’re held a little at a distance by Helios’ first person narrative, his opposite number, Griffin, is no less likeable. Tough as nails on the outside, inwardly tortured, he is quickly revealed as fiercely loyal, a man struggling to reweave what he sees as his tattered honor and holding desperately onto the hope of recovering a love he thought lost forever.

In an SF novel, though, I would have liked to have seen a bit more in the way of world-building. There are hints and tidbits about Arash and its inhabitants, but only glimpses. We never know what the significance is of the Sun Priests, never really have a good feel for this lost world, never really see the character of its people beyond the fact that they weren’t well-prepared for invasion. One also expects a bit more in the way of political machination, especially at the end. (There are obviously traitors among Helios’ subjects – except for his cousin, we never find out who.) I believe there might be more coming from the tone of the ending, but it did seem a bit abrupt. These items and the fact that there are perhaps more than a few odd coincidences (Griffin just happens to be in the right bar, at the right moment. Carlotta just happens to be guarding a buyer at the right time, etc.) driving parts of the plot are the only things keeping this from being a perfect story.

Helios’ voice is sardonic and full of biting wit even as he is self-deprecating and often uncertain, lending an endearing poignancy to his sarcastic internal remarks. It is his personality and his journey of discovery, after all, which give the story its greatest strength. Space opera, yes, but I say that in the fondest sense since the growth of individual and of relationship are so well done. The reader wishes Helios all the best, of course, but we would like an excuse to see him and his Griffin again.

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