REVIEW: Minotaur: Blooded by Naomi Lucas

Aldora lived in a bordertown on the edge of the maze. A labyrinth that spanned an eternity filled with creatures that howled through the night. She was a daughter to farmers that worked the fields and endured a quiet life as a peasant, away from the capital and its nihilistic celebrations; away from all that would look at her and discern her worth. Because to be chosen as a sacrifice was to be chosen to die. Until one night, while at the labyrinth wall, she heard a husky voice in the darkness.

Vedikus Bathyr. He prowled the overgrown passages at the farthest edges where the true, intelligent beasts roamed. They were all there for the same reasons: to kill each other and capture the humans that entered the labyrinth. On one fated night a human girl called out to him. A girl with a voice that quickened his blood. But he wasn’t the only one to hear her call…

Warnings: dubcon, pregnancy, captive/captor narratives, brief self harm

Category: M/F

Minotaur: Blooded is the first in a series of dark romance novels set in a fantastical world where a cursed labyrinth is spreading across the lands, engulfing all in it’s path. It is a very dubcon narrative, where virginal maidens are thrown as sacrifices to monsters residing within the labyrinth to keep it at bay, and are subsequently fought over by the monsters and captured for breeding purposes. It is a genre most geared towards wild barbarian fantasy and rippling masculinity, dubcon seduction and ravishment.

WRITING
The writing is quite good, and does a lot to keep the reader embedded in the thoughts and experiences of it’s characters. The story switches between the POVs of Aldora and Vedikus, and follows their journey through the labyrinth after Aldora is thrown in as a sacrifice to the curse. Since the mists of the labyrinth have a sickness-like effect on humans, slowly and gradually robbing them of their senses until they are mindless zombies, the plot is mostly concerned with getting Aldora to where she can be cured of this illness. There are little snippets littered throughout the book about the state of the world and the curse of the labyrinth which I hope will become larger plot points later on in the series, but this particular installment isn’t overly concerned with them. Thus there is potential for this to become a big sweeping epic further into the series, but this book is much smaller in scope. I feel that the focus on a smaller story does it well, in fact, as it isn’t overly convoluted and it reads well with a satisfying conclusion that still feels like there is more still to explore.

EMOTIONAL ENGAGEMENT
Minotaur: Blooded is a barbarian masculinity fantasy piece. The characters aren’t especially engaging as individuals so much as archetypes, they are embodied collections of tropes and ideas that are, within the confines of that fantasy, incredibly appealing. There isn’t a whole lot to say about Aldora; she is a female author/reader insert character through and through, a blank slate for us to project onto. Feisty enough to not feel like a pushover, but demure enough to succumb to the throws of passion. Vedikus is much more interesting however, as he is a wish fulfillment fantasy character. He is the fantasy of the barbarian warrior who does little else but fight, eat, and fuck. It is a fascinating kind of fictional fantasy of “toxic masculinity, but it’s hot” which is a recurring premise in these sorts of books. It’s either going to be your speed or it isn’t.

There is something deeply satisfying about imagining a character that would go out to kill his enemies and then come home and throw his captive woman down in the furs and ravish her, and imagining it to be sexy and alluring rather than terrifying and oppressive. Which is, to me, sort of the point of fantasies like this; taking sexual agency over something otherwise horrific. Still, I would give a word of caution; these sorts of stories can be empowering to some but triggering to others so just know what you’re getting into going in. I found Vedikus to be an incredibly beastly asshole but I loved that about him and getting in his POV and seeing what made him tick were the highlights of the book to me, personally.

WORLDBUILDING
I am really enchanted by the worldbuilding present in this narrative. It shows us what looks, from what little we saw of it, to be a very standard medieval-european fantasy realm setting, and then plays with our expectations of the setting by veering almost immediately into a cursed labyrinth filled with poison mist and all manner of monsters. It plays a lot with Greek mythology in it’s design, from it’s once place in the centre of a vast kingdom, to it’s original occupants the minotaurs. There is a lot of lore explored in the story, and the dismally bleak scenery is compelling for a dark fantasy novel. The author has created a harsh and cruel world within the walls of the labyrinth, and explores various people that live in it’s mists and under it’s curse, as well was giving some interesting concepts for how humanity interacts with the monstrous. In the labyrinth it is the mundane that is powerful and sought after, there is magic in human blood, and the monsters are all driven by a frenzied need for the blood that staves off the curse of their environment. It’s really lovely in it’s concepts and has a dark foreboding atmosphere to it, like a more mature, grown-up’s rendition of films like The Dark Crystal and of course, Labyrinth. It left me wanting to see the curse explored more, to see a world where it might be lifted, instead of swallowing up every kingdom one by one in it’s mist filled gloom and darkness. There’s also a hardness to the characters that reside in the labyrinth that is very clearly products of their environment, and altogether it was very well fleshed out, lending the narrative a haunted beauty.

STEAMINESS
This is a monsterfuck book. As such, I came for monsterfuck content. And it delivers… a little bit. There are only a couple of sex scenes, and they are very primal and bestial in nature. Huge props to the author for making the minotaur actually a minotaur and not just a dude with horns, the actually monstrous nature of him is perfect (though we could have done with some descriptions of the dick, just saying) The only real issue with the sexiness of the smut is a slight lack of variety. It’s mostly just PiV fucking, though it’s described with a lot of emotional and raw carnality which does make it very fun to read. But I could have gone for oral scenes, bondage scenes, spanking scenes, etc, and it doesn’t really deliver any of that. What is there is quite sexy though, and I really enjoyed the cat and mouse nature of the chase between them and the power exchange inherent in Vedikus slowly whittling down Aldora’s resistance prior to any actual sex happening was very tantalizing. I probably enjoyed that aspect the most in terms of things I found sexy. (I also kind of wanted her to be gangbanged by the centaurs, oops.)

I do want to note that there is a very strange little interlude in which Vedikus delivers a bit of a diatribe about consent, and how the reason he prefers to have Aldora on top during sex is because it goes against the nature of a beast, and is symbolic of how their union is consensual. Sounds very pretty, but unfortunately following on the heels of him throwing her down and fucking her anyways when she hesitates to mount him the first time, not to mention all our looks into his POV with thoughts about how she “doesn’t have any choice” but to be with him, it ends up making very little sense. Out of character for him, as well as for his culture, as though the author were trying to shove consent concepts into the narrative when she was well aware the narrative had none. This actually made the dubcon more uncomfortable to me rather than less because while I enjoy dubcon and am well versed in the nature of transgressive fantasy, I don’t need a dubcon novel to suddenly try to pretend it isn’t dubcon.

All in all I really enjoyed the ride that Minotaur: Blooded presented and I want to see more of it’s world and story unfold, but I would like it if the author committed a bit more strongly to the themes that she is working with, rather than trying to convince us that there’s no lack of consent happening here at all. I’m down for reading about a brutally harsh world where barbaric men bed their women on the battlefield among the blood of their enemies without any thought to whether or not the women want it because in fact the women always want the strongest, best warrior men as a given. It’s not a realistic world, it’s not a healthy world, but it is a fantasy that has deep resonance for many people for many reasons. If the author can flesh that out more and give me more of that gothic, haunted world where the people are hard and the sex is harder, I will happily keep reading.

Have you read Minotaur: Blooded? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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