REVIEW: Demoted by Alicia Cameron

In a world where intellect and achievement are valued above all else, a young man risks everything to save his brother from a life of slavery. Thrown into a harsh, unyielding world where slaves are treated as less than animals, Sascha struggles to come to terms with everything he knows being ripped away from him, but a life of success could never prepare him for his life as one of the Demoted. Sinking lower and lower, Sascha begins to lose hope, but the whim of a mysterious, wealthy man has the potential to change all that.

Cashiel has a dark history that he guards carefully. Between family and business and politics, he rarely has time for a slave, much less a lover. But when he sees a young man who reminds him of the very history he is trying to escape, he makes an impulse decision that he’s not sure whether to regret or not. The slave could expose everything, or he could be the most valuable asset that Cashiel has ever acquired.

Warnings: rape/noncon, slavery, sexual torture, violence, piss play, forced sterilization

Category: M/M

Demoted is a dystopic slavefic trilogy heavy on hurt/comfort and toxic relationships. While it has a lot of very good aspects, it is a trilogy that I had high hopes for in the first book, but was thoroughly disappointed in by the third. The author writes well; unfortunately that does not mean that the author knows how to handle the disturbing subject matter that this story works with in a sensitive way. The books follow Sascha and his master Cashiel, a slavery reformist out to change the system that has so abused those like Sascha, and the relationship that slowly unfolds between them. I didn’t like it, so let’s delve into why.

WRITING
The writing here is very engaging. The prose flows well, and gives us chapters both from Sascha and Cashiel’s perspectives, which keeps it moving well with multiple viewpoints. It’s a drama, and utilizes a lot of soap opera tropes like miscommunications and assumptions, issues that only arise because the two of them don’t talk openly enough. If you’re into a slow burn romance, this has plenty in that vein, and it is fun to read. Unfortunately it’s structure is rather sloppy and feels like the author was just making things up as they went along rather than having any real idea of where the story was going. Things that are foreshadowed early on are never touched on again, plot threads are left well by the wayside, and the third book has a brand new POV character introduced to make their relationship a thrupple, which felt far too late in the story to introduce such an element. The ending is a disappointment, on several levels, and I really wish that the author had had a clearer idea of what kind of story they wanted to tell.

EMOTIONAL ENGAGEMENT
The character investment in this series is quite good; you really come to feel for the characters, Sascha especially. But the amount of investment we get into the characters here only serves to make it’s flaws worse.

This books biggest, glaring flaw, is in it’s handling of the slavery concept. I have read a lot of books in this genre, and this was the first time I’ve felt like the text was actively approving of slavery. Cashiel is working to improve the Demoted system which had previously been cruel and torturous. His research leads him to discover that (surprise of all surprises) people actually work better and are more efficient if they aren’t being tortured on the regular. But he is not an abolitionist, and this comes up several times in the book. Sascha is at first disappointed and angry to learn that the man he is becoming closer with, who he is coming to trust more and more, still thinks that there is no moral problem with slavery. It is a full on plot point that early research showing that slaves and free people are not actually intellectually different at all is leaked in an effort to de-legitimize his “reform the system” project, and he is interviewed and asked if he is an abolitionist. He covers up this research to reassure everyone that he is a good reformist. He consistently never comes around to seeing the inherent evil in the Demoted system despite several conversations about it, insisting that Demoting and enslaving a portion of the population is good for society, and instead Sascha is the one who comes around to settling for reform and better treatment over freedom.

In the first book, this story had potential. The seeds were there early on for Cashiel to have an actual growth arc coming to realize that he is wrong, but it never does amount to anything and I have to say with dismay and horror that this book reads as a pro-slavery centrist ideology. Now, I have no idea the author’s intent; this is likely an accidental byproduct of the sloppiness in the narrative structure and the lack of follow through with early foreshadowed character growth in favour of sex scenes and drama, but the end result is the same. I have never felt more unsettlingly like a book wanted me to think slavery was okay, and that killed every other possible point of enjoyment. Slavefic is fantasy, but when you bring real political discussions into the narrative and your lead slaveowner character is not a villain, it feels really really off.

WORLDBUILDING
The world of Demoted is a really interesting futuristic dystopia. In a future where overpopulation has become a major crisis, the government imposes a strict Assessment test on it’s population at adolescence to determine their intelligence levels. Those who fail the test are Demoted: forcibly sterilized and enslaved to those of the population who passed. The world is oppressive, and unbearably harsh for the Demoted, and chillingly realistic in how it is backed by those in power with pseudoscience and bad faith arguments about the benefits to society of subjugating a large portion of it’s population. The political and corporate arenas are very well fleshed out. It’s just a shame, then, that the horrific nature of it’s setting is never actually confronted. It’s upsetting to see so much creativity be placed into not only weaving such a believable oppressive setting, but in excusing it’s oppression.

STEAMINESS
Probably the best aspect of these books is the tender and beautifully written D/s smut scenes. They are very well portrayed depictions of how empowering consensual BDSM play can be for trauma survivors, complete with negotiation of desired activities, limits and safewords. I liked these scenes and thought that the books were at their best during them. Unfortunately, it’s hard to divorce them from the larger context of the books. The author may be presenting the D/s as a separate thing from their out of the bedroom Master/slave relationship (an inversion of real world BDSM, where the power exchange is often practised in the bedroom only and not in the relationship dynamics) but it’s hard to really take it without the other. Cashiel being softer, and more caring during sex than he is in his ideology kind of killed the vibe for me. I’d actually have preferred it if his attitudes during sex had been more consistent with his attitudes elsewhere, but for what it’s worth I thought that the sex scenes where very well written, and outside of the slavery context were very good depictions of consensual BDSM play. The third book even gives us a third character, Syrus, who also has his own flavour as a Dom. It’s nice to see the rarer Dom/Dom/sub threesome configuration (more common of course is Dom/sub/sub), and I appreciated that addition on a sexual level even if he didn’t make sense on a narrative one.

Unfortunately I cannot recommend this series at all. I really held out hope through books one and two that Cashiel would come around but he never did, and no amount of good writing or hot smut is enough to make up for what amounts to a pro-slavery ending. I am not accusing the author of being pro-slavery; of course what a character thinks or feels is not indicative of what the author thinks or feels. But for whatever reason the book, regardless of intent, felt far too pro-slavery to me to enjoy.

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

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