Sunday, January 26, 2014

Slave of Passion: Bad BDSM

Slave of Passion (The Harishtu Saga)


Every so often I come across a bad book. When you read almost 30 books a year, it’s bound to happen sooner or later. In the past, I had a policy about not posting reviews for books I didn’t like. Now, I find that policy feels more than a little dishonest. This review is a first for The King’s Crier blog. The book for today is Slave of Passion (The Harishtu Saga) by Brian Warren. This is Mr. Warren’s first book and I commend him for making the effort to publish this book. Unfortunately I find myself unable to like the book for numerous reasons.
First among them was the formatting of the e-book, specifically the font size. I use a Kindle Fire for the majority of my readings. When I opened Slave of Passion after downloading it from Amazon, the font on a normal setting was so large that a “page” was little more than a paragraph. I bought the book from Smashword as well to see if it was just my copy. The Smashword copy had the same formatting problem. This is not a good first impression for a first novel. Format errors show a lack of quality control that should be completed long before submitting for publication, even self-publishing.

The story, such as it is, is too convoluted and not very well-thought out. There isn’t much of a story at all to this book. The lead character is an unnamed man who is magically changed into a woman (no explanation is ever provided for how, why, or by whom) and receives dreams of an astoundingly beautiful woman, starting a vision quest that concludes within the first chapter. The book starts in media res (in the midst of things), which wouldn’t be an issue if there was a sense of where the story was taking place. The confusion over where and when this story takes place shows a lack of structure that plagues the remaining chapters of the book. From there the reader is whisked away to a hellish alternate dimension/world where vampires rule and humans are slaves or food. The novel is written from the first-person perspective of the man/woman lead.
Which brings me to the characters. The lead character is barely two-dimensional and unrealistic in both speech and thought processes. At no point did I feel I was reading a character. Instead I was reading the writer wearing a flimsy cardboard mask. The lead character, Harishtu, oscillates so rapidly between emotional states that any emotional depth and complexity are cast aside in the whiplash. Books like American Psycho and The Dresden Files use first-person to reveal character and move the action forward in a personalized way. For example, there are chapters in American Psycho where Patrick Bateman spends time discussing the merits of musicians like Huey Lewis and the News. They have nothing to do with the main story but everything to do with Bret Easton Ellis using the chapter to show how vapid and falsely intellectual Bateman is. Harishtu has no such clarity. He/she is barely capable of understanding if she loves or hates her love interest from one page to the next.
Speaking of the love interest, Sekhem is the devastatingly beautiful demon-vampire (the reader is told this but not really shown this fact) and she is also a troublesome character. Like Harishtu, she barely qualifies as a two-dimensional character. Within the first pages of her introduction the character cackles evil clich├ęs like a Z-movie villain. It also doesn’t help that she’s irredeemably evil, despite the author’s attempts late in the novel to humanize her. By that point, it’s too late. The love interest for the main character is a sadist without moral restraints and it’s never made clear why Harishtu would have visions of such a despicable creature.
This leads into the writing style of the book, which is deeply overwrought. Far too often the reader is told about things rather than shown things in the story. At times excessive, superfluous details fill the page but these passages do nothing to establish mood or tension in the story. Sentences in a novel serve as a vehicle for one of two purposes: character development or moving the story forward. The middle section of the book drags because of this lack of structure. Harishtu spends much of the novel stuck in a room being pampered and being taught language while awaiting another sexual encounter (I’ll get to the sex later). The interesting things that could drive the story are happening outside of Harishtu’s point of view, which is one of the pitfalls of first-person storytelling. First-person requires the lead character be in the center of the action. Harishtu is almost entirely ornamental. By the time a shift in perspective is done, three-quarters of the book has been completed. Changes in point-of-view should be established from the outset to let the reader know what to expect.
There’s also sex in this novel. I’ve been reading erotica for years and have reviewed several pieces on this blog. Male authors have been able to write lesbian scenes well from the things I’ve encountered. Sex scenes should be filled with kinetic energy. In this book, the scenes are listless descriptions. And then there’s the rape scene. I’m not against rape being used in a narrative (if it serves a purpose). But the aftereffects of Sekhem’s mental and physical violation of Harishtu are short-lived and completely unrealistic. The fact that Harishtu’s body responds to physical stimulation does invalidate the violation, yet within a few pages Harishtu is back to being hopelessly devoted to her sadistic master. Rape is rape, unless the author is writing a consensual non-consent scene. The scene I’m referring to has no element of consent to it. The relationship between the two lead characters is unhealthy, even under BDSM considerations. This is an abusive relationship on display, which is not something to be lauded or shown in even a remotely romantic light.
I commend Mr. Warren for his tenacity to finish a novel. I also encourage him to continue writing because it will hopefully make him better. Writing, like most trades, requires long hours and practice to become better. It also requires honest criticism. None of my vitriol is aimed at Mr. Warren personally, only at the product he produced. Take this review with a grain of salt and make up your own mind. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend Slave of Passion (The Harishtu Saga) due to bad relationship dynamics, bad story, and barely-there characters. 

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