Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Scorpion by Aleksandr Voinov

TITLE: Scorpion
AUTHOR: Aleksandr Voinov
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 71k)
GENRE: Fantasy gay erotic romance
COST: $5.99

Kendras knows two things. How to fight, and how to survive. When he is left for dead, his foot smashed and broken, he somehow finds the strength to get to Dalman, the city he was fighting for. There, a mysterious man with gray eyes offers to pay him for sex. With so few options and no money of his own, Kendras agrees, but one night turns into more when his benefactor finds him a medic and offers him a trade of services – time and a place to heal in exchange for Kendras’s abilities when the time comes. Kendras accepts, but only because he wants to heal and go off in search of the rest of his group – the infamous Scorpions, the deadliest mercenaries of them all…

Aleksandr Voinov is one of my finds this year, but this was the first solo title of his I’d picked up. I started it wondering how it would differ from the collaborative work I’d read. I finished it wondering how long I would have to wait before reading more of his solo attempts.

The story is a complex one. It takes place in a fantasy world where three cities vie for dominance – Dalman, Fetin, and Vededrin, each with their own internal politics as well. Kendras is a soldier of a group known as the Scorpions, an elite band of men led by one known only as the officer. At the top of the story, he has been badly injured, his foot crushed beneath a siege engine when he is left for dead. He has no money, no knowledge if his comrades are alive or dead, so when a gray-eyed man offers to pay him for sexual favors, he accepts. It’s the only way to live. The man, who introduces himself as a mercenary named Steel, takes Kendras under his wing, providing medical attention and offering a place to recuperate. In return, he’d like Kendras’s aid in a job once he’s better. Kendras agrees, as a measure of expediency, and thus starts his participation in a story of politics, fighting to the death, and Machiavellian intrigue.

It’s not an easy read, but it’s made compelling by the author’s visceral prose. Action leaps from the page in slashes of red and gray and black, and the pace is relentless. Even when the characters are at rest, there’s a sense of constant forward motion, made possible by the vibrant description and underlying energies of his cast. It’s the novel’s greatest strength, making it nearly futile to try putting the book down, even to regroup and try to assimilate all of the background information necessary to understand and fully appreciate the machinations of what’s going on.

The dense world-building is both a good and bad thing. While it provides a lot of substance for a reader to sink into, there’s so much of it that it took me a while to get everything straight, and even then, I wasn’t always sure I was reading something right. It’s not for the lack of explanation. There’s a lot of it in there. For me, I think that part of my slowness in fully comprehending what was going on politically stemmed from where those explanations were placed. For instance, much of chapter three is a flashback to when Kendras first joined up with the Scorpions. Near the end of his initiation (or betrothal as it’s called), the officer takes him up onto the mountain, presumably to be the last of the Scorpions Kendras spends time with. There, he lays a lot of the foundation of this fantasy world’s history. It’s clear and concise, but honestly, most of it went right past me. Why? Because Kendras wasn’t concerned about any of that. He’s wrapped up in all his strong feelings for the officer and anticipation of what’s to come. I was just as wrapped up in Kendras by this point, which meant the necessary exposition the officer was giving glanced off my awareness. I don’t know if this would be a problem for other readers (though honestly, I don’t consider it a problem for myself, it was just a stumbling block). When I’m that engaged with a story, I’m so immersed I find it difficult to dissociate. It’s a credit to the author that I could get that deep so quickly as much as it is anything else.

Along with the detailed world-building, there is a wide cast of rich characters to discover. Characterizations are generally strong. Kendras and Widow especially leap off the page, as well as minor characters such as Vistar and Kiran. I do have some reservations about two of the other primaries, though. Steel and the officer both have pivotal roles in the way things develop, and while the romance centers around Kendras and his hero worship of the officer, I never really believed Steel was such a bad option. As a reader, I met him first, in an act that if not altruistic was certainly merciful. He was also considerably flawed, which made him more interesting to me than the perfect officer, too. Toss in the fact that the officer’s characterization is colored by Kendras’s rose-colored glasses, and I found it harder to completely write off Steel.

Sex is plentiful and sometimes coarse, so readers who are sensitive to the hero having relations with anyone other than their love interest should probably be aware. It’s also much more heavily focused on the politics and intrigue rather than the romance. Neither of these were issues for me, and in fact, made the book more realistic and absorbing as a result. The author has shot up to one of my favorite finds this year, and I’m excited about what we’re going to get from him in the future.


9/10 – Addictive, visceral prose

Hero #1

8/10 – Driven and fascinating

Hero #2

6/10 – Slightly idealized for me, I kept wishing I could see more of him as an individual rather than this idol of hero worship

Entertainment value

9/10 – Utterly absorbing, I couldn’t put it down

World building

8/10 – In a world where religion plays such a heavy role, I needed more explanation than what I got



1 comment:

Amara Devonte said...

Great Review. :) This book I just loved. It stands as my favorite of his right now. Can't wait to see what else he does. :))