REVIEW: Aquiver by TD Cloud

Dealing with Drow nobility had never been Khouri Lucifin’s strong suit. Strange, entitled, overwhelming, untrustworthy– There was no end to their unsavory habits, and when one was a street dwelling, half-Drow thief, dealing with them was a risk that didn’t need to be taken.

But when Khouri is contacted by a noble wishing to hire him for a mysterious job, he finds the promise of wealth untold too enticing to refuse. There’s just one catch. The job in question doesn’t call for the skills of a thief, but those of an assassin, and the target isn’t just any Drow, but a noble by the name of Lord Navidae Marrowick. Risk follows Khouri when he accepts. Marrowick, he finds, is far harder to kill than first expected, and far more pervasive than his employer had led him to believe.

Warnings: light bondage, d/s undertones

Category: M/M

Aquiver is the prequel to Epithymy, and book 2 in the Duskriven Chronicles series. I was rather charmed to discover that the second book in this series was the story I kept wishing to read while I was reading Epithymy, so I went ahead and picked up the second, and dove right back into the world of the Duskriven. If you’re like me and not such a fan of love triangles, you may, like me, enjoy this book quite a bit more. This one focuses solely on the beginnings of the relationship between Khouri and Navidae, and is a wonderful little romp through the magical, sexual, and political world of the drow.

The author’s writing is quite consistent from the previous book. It’s still fun, it’s still fast paced and enjoyable… But I still found that there was a lack of commitment to the darker themes the author clearly has an interest in playing with. Navidae’s house is apparently all bone themed, for instance, and there’s insistences here and there that Navidae can be quite merciless and ruthless, but little to no actual exploration of Navidae’s sadism when dealing with his enemies. I wanted to see Navidae wreck someone, to really showcase his macabre nature, but not very much was done with it. The text tells us that Navidae is a force to be feared, but we never actually got to see him as one. Apart from that, characters do still tend to have very poor decision making skills; hiring an assassin over loosing a game of cards, setting out to do an assassination without taking any time to prepare or scope out the mark, or somehow not thinking it worth worrying about that someone apparently has it out for you enough to hire an assassin for your life, are all objectively really, really stupid and inexplicable choices for these characters to make. It certainly warranted the occasional eye roll, but overall the story was still fun enough that it didn’t detract too badly.

I found this book to be a much easier book to become emotionally invested in than the previous one, mostly because of the lack of a love triangle. There was discussion of poly dynamics towards the end of the book that suited me far, far better than the lack of discussion and subsequent stringing along Khouri does with Sorin in Epithymy. Khouri also is a much more enjoyable character when you’re in his POV more of the time, and his experiences were very fun to read. I was also helplessly in love with Navidae; he is a fantasy figure through and through. Powerful, rich, seductive, generous, and just possessive enough to be everything you could hope for from a romance protagonist.

However, there wasn’t really, in my opinion, enough exploration of why Navidae was immediately so smitten with Khouri; certainly he’s beautiful, we know that much. And sure, it’s intriguing that he’s got skills and panache enough to dare to try to kill Navidae in his own bed, especially since it’s apparent that Navidae has a bit of a danger kink. But why that would make Navidae want to invite this street urchin would-be assassin who’s already killed one of his staff members into his home to live with him within moments of seeing him…. beauty and mystery go a long way, but perhaps not that long, and I’d have liked to see a bit more of a reason for Navidae to be so into Khouri.

This book shows us the political landscape of the Duskriven, and it was a real treat! I loved getting to know the workings of the underground city of the drow, and the petty dealings of the lords and ladies, and Khouri’s life on the streets. It was all very nicely put together, and getting some of that background insight into who Khouri is and where he came from was fantastic. It’s a fantasy world story, of course, and it still has that DnD Adventure feel to it, so it’s not overly complex or innovative. But, it works well and it’s super fun and not very much high fantasy tries to set itself in the world of the underground and with some of the lesser known races, so it was unique for that already.

Where this author absolutely shines in is in the sex scenes. They are some of the most beautifully written, intimate sex scenes I’ve ever read. Although I was, personally, hoping for kinkier fare (perhaps some impact play? Flogging? Cutting?) the author is very, very good at writing seduction, and I couldn’t put it down. Navidae’s careful guidance of the inexperienced Khouri was a delight, and Khouri’s sexual awakening and slowly growing appetites were absolutely breathtaking. Navidae seems a wonderful lover, and the undertone of D/s through their relationship was fantastic. Probably my favourite scenes were the piercing scenes, there was so much powerful connection and trust between the characters that really spoke to the intimacy of D/s dynamics. Even if it’s softer fare than I had been hoping for, the scenes were gorgeous and mesmerizing and I couldn’t get enough of them.

I really like how this author writes. Especially when it comes to smut, they are extremely skilled, and they are worth reading for that quality alone. Their weakness is in thinking through character choices and traits that make sense, (for instance, you cannot tell me that a rogue of the caliber that we are meant to understand Khouri is, would not know the names and crests of the houses of the lords in his own city; street-wise thieves and rogues live and die by information) but they still manage to put together incredibly fun stories. If you don’t have as much of an issue with love triangles as I do, you’ll probably get more out of this series than me; as it is I enjoyed Aquiver far more than Epithymy.

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