REVIEW: The Emperor’s Wolf by JC Owens

Jaden, a soldier sold into slavery when his country fell, survives day to day, his only wish to find his little sister and save her from the same fate. The war might be over, but the scars of those who underwent Tranaden’s conquest still linger. But when he is given as tribute to the very man who conquered his country—Dersai, known as the Wolf, an emperor feared and loathed beyond Tranaden’s borders—Jaden sees his last hope fading away. It is whispered that the emperor is mad, possessed, without the faintest shred of mercy. Yet, Jaden finds that the man is someone quite different among his own people, in the safety of his own world. Old hatreds die hard, but Jaden finds himself fascinated by the complex, mysterious man beneath the warrior shell. There is a darkness in Dersai, but also a chance to set things right at last.

Dersai cannot afford the luxury of mercy in any form. His country, his people come first, and he will do anything to defend his borders and drive back those who seek to possess the lush beauty of Tranaden. His ancestor made a pact with a demon, and ever since, each emperor must endure the possession of the demon bound to protect Tranaden at any cost. As with those before him, Dersai will eventually fall into madness, his own people forced to annihilate him, and the next emperor forced to bear the burden again. He’d never held any hope…until he met Jaden and began to believe the old prophecies might finally come true. That a mate for the wolf would come and break the cycle forever…

Warnings: dubcon, mentions of noncon, violence

Category: M/M, F/M

The Emperor’s Wolf is a hurt/comfort slavefic novella that takes place in a sci-fi world filled with mechas and gun battles. Jaden is a captive solider from a defeated country, and Dersai is the Emperor of the ruling country, come to take Jaden as a tribute to his crown. Despite his fears of the hated Emperor, Jaden finds that Dersai is actually much kinder than his expected, and their romance blooms as a fated love affair, destined to bring healing to both of them. It’s a pretty fluffy story for being a slavefic, and it’s got a major focus on the aftermaths of trauma, and moving forward into new beginings.

WRITING
The story makes use of a lot of melodrama and soap opera style tropes. It’s very much a hurt/comfort with a side order of bad communication for drama and angst, and while the plot is fairly interesting, it’s written at such a clipped pace that the plot points feel a little breezed through. Skipping past large spans of time with short paragraphs about them rather than fully exploring the experiences in the moment can make the story feel a little rushed, and I think that the author could have easily expanded this quite a bit to a much longer novel rather than a short and sweet novella. That said, it is a very entertaining story and very cinematic in nature; I could picture this easily as a very gripping film, and it has a lot of great moments if you’re into drama tropes. It’s plot focuses primarily on interpersonal relations and angst, and can feel a tad over the top but sometimes you just want something cheesy, and this delivers angst followed by fluff in spades.

EMOTIONAL ENGAGEMENT
Unfortunately, due to it’s length, it’s characters never quite come alive like I would like them to. The author didn’t seem to have a good idea of where they wanted Jaden’s personality to go. Is Jaden a damaged but sweet and innocent boy? Or is he a rebellious, angry and bitter man ready to fight for his freedom? He’s an inconsistent character, and although his experiences are fun to see through his eyes, it felt hard to connect to his emotional states. The relationship with Dersai, likewise, didn’t really seem to develop gradually so much as spring up out of nowhere. This could all have been fixed with a longer length, and some slower build and exploration of feelings in both of these characters rather than speeding through the plot points. I can tell what the author wanted their characters and their relationship to come through as, but it just didn’t quite land as well as I’d have liked it to.

WORLDBUILDING
The world presented in The Emperor’s Wolf is very engaging and serves it’s plot and premise quite well. There are political upheavals between countries and a demonic entity possessing Dersai’s family line, all of which is interesting and fun to immerse yourself in. At the risk of being a broken record, it would be much better fleshed out if the book were longer and had really taken it’s time in exploring it’s various concepts and ideas, but for the length that the book is it does manage to get the reader quite interested in it’s world and the world’s peoples and places. Jaden’s home country’s relations with Dersai’s is very thought provoking, and there are some neat plot twists concerning reality versus what Jaden believes or was told about them. I really enjoyed the setting and thought it was done fairly well. There were even mechas and some great action that helped to flesh it out as it’s own world, which was a refreshing change from most of these book’s “generic high fantasy world” settings.

STEAMINESS
The sex in this book was, all in all, a bit too fluffy for me personally. It’s very emotional, well described, and if you enjoy that kind of romanticism in these sorts of books then I think it will be very enjoyable; personally I prefer harder, kinkier fare. The initial sex scene when the two men finally come together was very steamy, and I enjoyed their subsequent interactions as Master and slave, but as the two of them came to develop feelings and their relationship lost it’s Master/slave dynamics I grew less interested in the smut. It makes for a cute story, but for my personal taste, not really sexy smut content. Once the dubcon became vanilla I found myself caring less for the smut. But if you’re into very emotional, fluffy, and indeed healing sexual content, you will probably very much enjoy it as it is quite well written.

Altogether, this is a very enjoyable, if short and sweet, little novella that will be entertaining if not especially groundbreaking. If you like drama and depictions of healing from trauma, you will likely enjoy this very much! It’s fun, it’s light reading, and it’s pretty good at hitting exactly the notes it wants to hit. My only real gripe is it’s length which hinders it’s ability to truly flesh itself out to my satisfaction, but for what it is it was a fun read.

Have you read The Emperor’s Wolf? Let me know what you thought by leaving me a comment!

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