REVIEW: Counterpoint by Rachel Haimowitz

Ayden’s life has long been guided by two emotions: love for his sister, and hatred of all things human. When he’s captured in battle, he is enslaved in the service of a human prince, Freyrik Farr. Freyrik’s always known elves to be beautiful and dangerous, but never has one affected him as deeply as Ayden. Teetering on a dagger’s edge between duty and high treason, Freyrik discovers that some choices can change a life, and some an entire world. Between prejudice, politics, pride, and survival, Ayden and Freyrik must carve a new path, no matter how daunting. For nothing less than the fate of both their peoples rests on the power of their perseverance—and their love.

Warnings: depictions of racism and misogyny, graphic depictions of violence

Category: M/M

Counterpoint is a fantasy epic slavefic romance novel. It features a war between humans and mutant feral beasts, and political bad blood between humans and the neighbouring elves, who are enslaved by humans if they ever cross the forbidden border between their lands. It’s a very cheesy melodrama, utilizing romance tropes like pining, one-sided feelings, and enemies to lovers. It is Book 1 in the Song of the Fallen series.

WRITING
The story, for all it is a fantasy novel about war stratagems, is written a little like a soap opera. The story is mostly concerning the developing feelings between Adyen and Freyrik, and that is very well fleshed out and gradually developed. The larger plot in the backdrop, concerning the war with the beasts and the political upheaval between elves and humans, and the challenging of the slavery system the humans have in place, is a little more cheesy than seriously handled. Most of the events are really only there to serve drama; to that end the book works very well, but it isn’t a sprawling epic of serious proportions. That’s not exactly a terrible thing; this is a after all a romance first and foremost, and a fantasy soap opera is, if nothing else, very fun. The dialogue is very snappy and enjoyable as well, peppered liberally with words like ’tis and ’twas to denote the vaguely medieval setting which I found quite charming. It’s hard to pull that off without making it sound wooden, but the author utilized it very well.

EMOTIONAL ENGAGEMENT
I really adored the dynamic between Ayden and Freyrik. They have some absolutely wonderful verbal sparring matches (and some physical sparring matches to boot) that were engaging and fun to read. Ayden’s hot headedness paired with Freyrik’s gentle patience was a delight, even if Ayden’s childish petulance can go from charming to grating at times as well. There was a real playful quality to their exchanges, and their initial meeting is full of tensions that had the drama lover in me over the moon. I really enjoyed both of their personalities. The side characters are a little less interesting, unfortunately adding more to the scenery than to the emotional backbone of the story.

I do wish that the author hadn’t doubled down so hard on “humans are misogynists that treat women like chattel”, and had the only two female characters in the story be tired female character cliches. Ella is naive but kindhearted and caring, and Kona is dimwitted, vapid, and shrill which are two kinds of misogynistic archetypes, the “Good Woman” and the “Bad Woman”, respectively, and I didn’t really enjoy that aspect of the book.

WORLDBUILDING
Being that this is the first in a series, the entirety of the world isn’t as of yet explored. There’s a great many things ostensibly going on in the backdrop of this story, and questions that remain unanswered which hopefully the author will expand upon further into the series. The human race being on the decline, for one thing, is never really expanded upon or given evidence of. The mystery of the gone mad darker/feral beasts which are, according to the elves, the embodiment of Nature’s Wrath against humanity (bringing to mind Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke), is never settled, nor is the mystery of what exactly happened centuries past to create the blood feud between the elves and the humans. Hopefully we will get more information into all of that as the series goes on. But the feature of the worldbuilding that is incredibly well explored is the elven song magic, which was unique and fantastical, a lovely concept for a magic system and one I had not seen before. I really loved Ayden’s magic abilities and the utilization of them, and the song-aura that the elves in this setting possess was fascinating, as was his ability to read the thoughts and emotions of others.

There is a bit of inconsistencies (or perhaps just under explored reasonings) between the established culture of the humans and Freyrik’s attitudes. If he’s never considered elves to be equals before and has been raised his entire life to think of them as sub-humans deserving to be enslaved, why is he so against forcing himself on them or torturing them when nobody else is? Perhaps he’s just Better Than Most People, a Progressive Thinker, but that’s not especially well established or dug into. Does he have a reputation for radical politics amongst his people? I could have used more of that to explain his soft treatment of Ayden and Ella.

STEAMINESS
The smut content is very vanilla. This is not a noncon, or even a dubcon novel. It’s a slow burn of one sided pining on Freyrik’s part, as he struggles with his attraction to his slave but holds back from acting on it. Their relationship is not consummated until Ayden has come around to also wanting him, once their relationship has progressed into something of equals. The sex scenes are written very well, with a lot of emotion and euphoric exuberance, and if you like that kind of thing I’d say you’ll find this very hot. For myself, I prefer these kinds of novels to have harder content, and the sexiest scenes to me were the ones where Ayden was forced to sit on display at Freyrik’s feet in humbled servitude, as well as their initial interactions before they had really started to get to know each other. The interrogation scene at the beginning was my jam, but the sex later on in the book not so much.

Altogether if you are looking for a fun, easy reading slavefic drama novel with no noncon but lots of angst, a slow burn enemies to lovers romance and a fantastical magic setting, this is quite the fun little book. I devoured the whole thing in a day, and I think that most will find it an enjoyable read despite it’s minor inconsistencies. And since it kicks off a series, ending with a cliffhanger, it promises much in the way of continued entertainment.

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

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