REVIEW: Tribute by Lisa Henry

When the fearsome warlord Brasius chooses Kynon as his tribute, Kynon tells himself it’s the price of peace, and that he can endure anything. If his slavery will save his father’s kingdom, then he will be a slave and submit to every indignity the warlord and the senate of Segasa require of him. He can live with the shame; it’s the mind-blowing pleasure that frightens him. But the warlord wants more than a tribute who will respond eagerly to whips and bondage. The warlord might just want the man underneath: the prince, the soldier and the tribute, if Kynon can figure out who that is. On an enforced journey of self-discovery, Kynon learns that being the warlord’s tribute isn’t just about submission. And, to be the tribute that Brasius wants him to be, Kynon will have to defy all the traditions of Segasa and risk the wrath of the senate that really holds his chains.

Warnings: noncon, violence

Category: M/M, F/M, M/F

Tribute is a slavefic novel with a whole lot of noncon BDSM. Although it’s set in a quasi historical setting, the language and flow of the prose and scenes is fairly modernized, and it skews quite explicit. More porn than plot, and covering a fairly wide range of kinks and scenarios, it’s a creative BDSM fest that is sure to titillate and excite, with a side order of soft D/s romance thrown into the mix.

The story is a bit of a melodrama, covering the developing relationship between Kynon and Brasius, and Kynon’s gradual self exploration when thrust into the world of being a tribute. It plays out a little like a dungeon porn video, complete with what can admittedly be somewhat wooden dialogue at times, but still quite fun. The story of Kynon coming into himself under Brasius’s care is actually a rather sweet one, despite all of the sexual violence in the narrative, and I liked that the story was more or less one hundred percent concerning this. The book does falter a little in trying to incorporate some political story here as well, that is honestly so loosely touched on that it might as well not have been there. But all in all it’s a good story for being a kinky romance. and the prose is well written.

I struggled emotionally with this novel, because I feel like the characterizations in it were a little all over the place and lacking in consistency. Kynon is a very passive character, scared and crying for most of the book, which made it very odd that characters kept talking about his behavior as though he is rebellious and headstrong. The cruelty he is subjected to felt odd in conjecture with this, as he was basically the most well behaved character I’ve ever seen be put in this kind of position. True, Brasius does seem to think he’s not rebellious enough, but his cruelty never actually seems like it makes sense for his own motives either. Most of it seems geared towards breaking him further, rather than urging him to anger. The moments that he expresses frustration with Kynon for not having a spine are undercut by his moments of telling him he forced him through some cruelty because he needed to learn his place. And meanwhile Kynon’s few moments of snapping felt out of character with his usual passive and terrified self. Altogether the characterization just didn’t feel like it came together, and it felt like the author wanted both a hardcore and violent “breaking” story without providing a character that actually needed breaking. (Though admittedly my emotional response may simply be that with these kinds of scenarios I have a pretty big praise kink, and seeing a character try so hard to be “good” and never be rewarded for it was painful to me)

Aside from that, Kynon’s actual emotions, thoughts and motivations weren’t very well explored, and while the scenes between him and Brasius were indeed quite beautiful and engaging, there were too few of them to really bring their dynamic to be fully fleshed out. I wanted to get more of their relationship, and didn’t feel like the final culmination was well earned.

The wordbuilding in this book shows us two countries in this setting; Caralis which is the conquered kingdom, and the bigger, sprawling world power Segasa. Caralis is, apparently, a bit of a backwater compared to the bigger, and more modern and cutting edge Segasa. What was a little weird and uncomfortable, however, was the way that the political plot presents Segasa as the more enlightened of the two nations; they have done away with nobility and restructure the more stuck in the past Caralis to give freedoms to serfs. But it’s odd to have Segasa presented as the progressive bastion of freedoms that Tribute seems to want us to see it as when… it’s also the country that has an entire system of raping and enslaving people from the countries they conquer.

The book wants to present the tribute system like it’s consensual BDSM, but it is rather explicitly not. I like noncon fantasy, but when it’s presented as if it’s not noncon it can actually be quite squicky. All of the dismissal of Kynon’s traumas at the hands of this system as though he just needs to get over being raped and will be happier for it, were seriously alarming to me and it’s hard to buy the setting as what the book is selling. There were some moments, too, where Brasius waxes about the trust inherent in a D/s relationship which just didn’t really seem to make sense with the noncon scenario (nor did I ever really feel like trust had actually developed between them)

The smut in this book is it’s drawing feature, I believe, and it covers a pretty good range of kink content. It’s very heavy on humiliation and objectification kink, and I really loved some of the tender hand feeding scenes. The tributes spend a good portion of the story drugged into compliance which is also very fun, and I really do enjoy how this author writes sex. There’s a very primal, and euphoric quality to the smut scenes and I think that the author does a fantastic job with them. That said, there was a lot in this book that I personally found a bit squicky; I didn’t enjoy Kynon being made to fuck people who had been his friends previously, and the dominatrix procurator character was a layer of withheld intimacy between him and his Master Brasius which wasn’t really my thing. I also wished that his childhood sweetheart Alysia hadn’t been involved. These aspects were uncomfortable to me, and not in a fun way, but they’re just my own personal squicks, and that does’t reflect on the quality. As I said, it covers a lot of kink territory, including noncon, humiliation/degradation, objectification, flogging and impact play, femdom, fisting, and more. Personally though I prefer hard content like this to befall characters with more backbone, and softer praise and encouragement oriented kink for softer characters like Kynon, and that made it feel frustrating to me.

I really wanted to love this book. It covers a whole host of my own kinks, and it has a scenario that I really love, and am always looking for more to read of. Unfortunately, kink can always be a roll of the dice, and the combination of not very well fleshed out characterization plus the inclusion of a lot of my squicks made the reading experience for me not a very enjoyable one even if there were quite a few very enjoyable moments. It’s going to be hit and miss for any book of this nature if you’ll like it; I read a reviewer who was boggled that other reviewers didn’t like it, saying that it didn’t even seem all that pornographic or hardcore to them at all. They stated that, paraphrased, “with the exception of one traumatic experience, they weren’t especially cruel to Kynon” and it actually took me a bit to realize that they were likely referring to the violent flogging scene at the end and not the scene where Kynon realizes he’s been fucked by his best friend which had been what squicked me the most viscerally, while I was fine with the flogging. So, it does go to show that everyone has their own kinks and squicks, and just because I didn’t love this book doesn’t mean I don’t recommend it: It’s probably going to be very enjoyable for you if you like noncon and public humiliation, and don’t have squicks surrounding threesomes and subs being forced to play with people other than their masters like I do.

Have you read Tribute? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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