Khouri Lucifin lived a pampered life beneath the earth in the Duskriven. He had a noble-born lover who tended to his every need, and a place to belong in a city that wasn’t kind to half-Drow. But, a bird in a gilded cage is still a bird in a cage, and when he saw the opportunity to escape before him, he grasped it with eager hands.
From humans who want to kill him to Sorin, the gruff, surly bounty hunter he hired to protect him, Khouri finds that navigating the pitfalls of surface life isn’t as easy as he had hoped it to be. Sorin is just plain rude, but he has his charms and good moments, and when he agrees to train Khouri in the art of bounty hunting, their travels turn more heated than Sorin ever intended them to become. But when Khouri realizes that Navidae, his Drow lover from the Duskriven, has placed a bounty on his head in hopes of bringing him back to their bed one way or another, Khouri is met with the challenge of balancing his old lover with his newfound partner, and all that may yet lie unspoken between himself and Sorin.
Warnings: Love triangle, jealousy and angst, light bondage
Epithymy is a high fantasy polyamorous romance novel about a pampered, rather naive kept-lover of a nobleman, who is on the run with a rough and gruff bounty hunter, and the relationships he juggles between the two men in his life. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into it, but it is a fair bit more vanilla than I supposed, despite incorporating some light D/s undercurrents. It’s heavy on the angst and drama though, and reads almost like a fantasy-world soap opera.
The writing is fun and easy to read. It’s not a difficult book, and the style of the prose lends itself to a rather typical high fantasy world type of adventure. From taverns to campsites, this could easily be a DnD campaign, which can be very enjoyable. Where the writing falters a little, however, is in its refusal to commit to its glimpses of darkness. There’s a lot of hand-waving around the nature of the characters relationships that end up excusing rather toxic behaviours. I found myself wishing that the story would make up it’s mind if it wanted to be a serious drama, or a flirty rom-com; why include themes of racism, danger, or abusive relationships (Khouri practically has a PTSD reaction when he first sees Navidae again?) if you’re just going to casually wave it aside like it’s no big deal? Oh, sure, Navidae kept Khouri held captive in his mansion against Khouri’s will, but that’s not grounds to break up with him apparently, it’s only grounds to have a bit of a lovers spat? Too much of the drama revolves around miscommunications that could have been easily avoided, or outright frightening behaviour being shrugged off as minor offences by jilted lovers.
I have two major problems with the character portrayals. The first is that Khouri is an incredibly childish character, that acts on whims without any thought to the consequences of his actions, or the ways his action might effect the people around him. This might be fine, if that were a part of his character arc; if he were to grow and mature over the course of the story. Unfortunately, he does not. He spends the entire story blissfully unaware that he has done anything wrong in his life, ever. Even when he has small moments of realization that he has hurt someone with his actions, he doesn’t actually allow that to help him grow, or change his behaviours. He’s the definition of entitled; spoiled rotten, and not even self aware enough to know that his conduct can be very cruel. Beyond just his treatment of others, I find it difficult to buy the narrative’s insistence that he’s a shrewd, street-wise thief that can survive on his own in the most cutthroat of environments. He doesn’t even have the good sense not to try to go into a town where the entire populace would apparently want to murder him on sight for crying out loud.
The second thing I had a hard time with in this book is, admittedly, more of a personal preference than an outright criticism; and that is the portrayal of polyamory. Khouri is poly, but only really in the sense that he doesn’t seem to understand or realize that anyone else isn’t. He flits between lovers on his whims, and is confused when he finds that talking about how great Navidae is while he’s fucking Sorin makes Sorin upset. The plot’s strong focus on jealousy as a driving angst factor was uncomfortable to me, and I found myself wishing that someone would have a long sit down talk with Khouri about respect and relational responsibility. Quite frankly, Sorin deserved better than to be Khouri’s side-fuck and constantly reminded that he’s not as good as Khouri’s actual lover and I kind of wish he’d just dumped him. Poly can be a beautiful thing… when everyone is actually into it. But both Navidae and Sorin were just being strung along by the selfish Khouri, who didn’t seem to care how they felt about it.
I wish that we had seen more of the world this is set in, because it does look like it could be quite an interesting one! It’s very obviously DnD based; there are humans, and elves, and dwarves, and gnomes all milling about on the surface, and drow living underground. Nobody likes the drow and the drow don’t like anybody else. Pretty standard. But the descriptions of the Duskriven were really quite intriguing, there were some mentions of war between the drow and the elves, and of course mystery surrounding Khouri’s heritage (He’s only half drow; what’s his other heritage, and how did his parents meet?) I would have liked it if the world featured more prominently rather than just acting as a backdrop; the author could have gotten a little more creative than simply taking our characters from Tavern to Tavern, but it was enough for what it was.
I did actually really, really enjoy the sex scenes! They were very tender, emotionally portrayed, and had that spark of intimacy that I love most in erotic prose. Khouri is a bit of a masochist, and there’s a light D/s vibe going on with his relationship with Navidae that is interesting; ironically I found myself wishing that the book was just about how he and Navidae met instead, and as it turns out, the next book in the series is exactly that. Sorin, despite being pretty vanilla himself, manages to put the bratty Khouri in his place as well. There’s one especially lovely sex scene that approaches the “how do you punish a masochist?” question with real creative gusto. Props to the author here, they clearly well know how to handle a very steamy sex scene and their writing positively glows when the characters are on their backs. (I would have liked a threesome scene though, just saying 😉 )
Epithymy was, all in all, not super my speed but it may be yours. Its an angst and drama heavy soap opera that allows it’s main character to have his cake and eat it too, which I can totally see as an appealing fantasy. I’m personally not a fan of jealousy driven love triangle stories, so it was difficult for me to get through it without screaming into my pillow, but it’s a fun DnD styled adventure and the smut is really, really good.