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review 2013-07-11 21:44
Fire & Ice by Kate Aaron
Fire & Ice - Kate Aaron

That's it, I'm done with this series. I have no plans to buy Storm & Strike, the book after this one. I bought the first three works all at once because they were cheap and because the second two were tagged “asexual,” which intrigued me. Unfortunately, this was one of those times where taking a risk did not work out for me. I had some of the same problems with Fire & Ice that I had with the first two works in the series.

I disliked Ash at least as much in this story as I did in Blood & Ash. He was childish, selfish, immature, and never thought things through. The only reason I could think of to explain why Azrael continued to stay with him was the sex, and I couldn't believe that their relationship would last very long.

I also came to dislike Skye. He started off all right, at least until he fell in love with Fenton. Then, suddenly, he morphed into a great big ball of lust. He knew from the start that Fenton was asexual – Fenton loved Skye but would never be interested in having sex with him. When Skye began feeling sexually attracted to Fenton, Fenton offered to help out with that (heh) but continued to be uninterested in being on the receiving end of any sexual activities. This drove Skye practically crazy because a big part of him couldn't believe in love unless that love was displayed in a sexual way by both parties. His all-consuming lustful feelings culminated in an OMG ending that made me feel bad for Fenton in so many ways.

Ash and Skye were so focused on their relationships that I often had a hard time remembering the overarching storyline. The Realm was in danger of being invaded and taken over by witches. All its people faced the possibility of being evicted from a land they'd lived in for generations. However, since Ash was selfish and didn't personally care about the fate of the Realm, he was far more interested in devoting all his time and energy to changing his people's anti-homosexuality law. Yes, both things were important, but this was like someone realizing that their house was on fire and that poison had been pumped into their garden for months and choosing to focus all their attention on dealing with the poison. What good is saving the garden if you don't have a house anymore? Or worse, what if the fire gets your garden, too? What if the witches took over the Realm, decided they weren't satisfied with just evicting the fae, and killed them all instead?

Skye was a little more focused than Ash, but like I said earlier, his relationship with Fenton turned him into a giant ball of lust. Thinking about anything other than what was going on in his pants took some effort. And he wasn't always successful at it.

I did not always like what this book (or at least the characters in this book) had to say about relationships. For example, when a Were pack assumes that he and Fenton are sleeping together, Skye has this thought:

-----

“People look at you differently when you’re in a relationship: it’s like you’ve passed some secret test, validated yourself as a person. Everyone understands love and respects it. To have it is to inspire good feeling in others.” (40.5%)
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Which is stupid, because it assumes that all relationships are given equal weight. We already know that Skye's own people don't view homosexual relationships as being on the same level as heterosexual ones, because people in homosexual relationships are put to death. Also, it's just plain insulting when you consider that 1) not everyone is in a relationship, 2) some people choose not be in relationships, and 3) some relationships are abusive and are therefore not good. And yet Skye is all, “Hurray, I have the super-special badge of honor! I feel great, because everyone can see it.”

Then there's the issue of relationships and sex. Remember, I started this series primarily because I was interested in seeing how it would deal with an asexual relationship. Okay, so Skye and Fenton's relationship was a bit rocky. Balancing a sexual person's needs with an asexual person's needs isn't necessarily easy, especially if one half of the couple (Skye) refuses to sit down and talk about his needs so that problems can be worked out. What bothered me, though, was a discussion Azrael and Ash had about the place of sex in relationships, which, in my opinion, spat on the idea of asexual relationships.

Azrael and Ash are arguing because they haven't been having sex or even touching each other much lately: Ash feels too guilty. He can be with his lover while so many others are killed for the same thing. At one point, Azrael says:

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"'We have more than sex binding us—much more—but without sex, our relationship loses everything that makes it special to us.' 

'So you don't want me if you can't sleep with me?' Ash asked coldly.

 'Of course I do. I want you too much to not sleep with you. I don't want you as a friend—I have dozens of those. I want you as my lover; my only lover.'" (65.5%) 
-----

So, in Azrael's words, without sex all you have is friendship. What does that say about Fenton's feelings? This is just part of the reason why I would not recommend this book or what I've read of this series so far to anyone looking for positively-presented asexual romantic relationships.

I'll end with this: the world-building. The law against homosexuality made absolutely no sense to me, no matter how many characters tried to explain it. The population of fae women was shrinking rapidly, because nearly every fae woman died after giving birth to only one child. Ash's mother was a rare exception. The ratio of men to women must have been huge. I suppose I could have understood a law against lesbian couples (although even this assumes that sex can only happen between couples), but why outlaw gay couples?

All in all, this book and this series as a whole did not work for me. The bones of the story were relatively interesting, but they were obscured by Ash and Skye's relationship-related freakouts. Aaron's attempt to include an asexual relationship was nice but ultimately fell flat for me. I enjoyed the scene in which a frazzled Fenton tried to shop for Skye, his first living house-guest since he was turned into a vampire – it was adorable and funny – but that was pretty much it.

 

(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2012-12-03 00:00
Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire by Kate Aaron
Fenton: the Loneliest Vampire - Kate Aaron

When I saw that this story and the next work in the series, Fire & Ice, were tagged “asexual,” I decided to give them a shot. I wanted to see how an asexual character would be handled. Since I hate reading series out of order, I bought the first work, Blood & Ash, as well. If you've been keeping track of my recent reviews, you already know I was disappointed by Blood & Ash. Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire (hereafter, FTLV) wasn't an improvement.

A big part of the problem was that FTLV was not actually a story, but rather a series of events connected by lots of summarizing. It began with Fenton's birth, and it wasn't until halfway through that he became a vampire. The last half of FTLV spanned several centuries and ended not long before the start of Blood & Ash. I think FTLV would have been much stronger if Aaron had focused on one particular event, such as Fenton's time with Kali. All that summarizing really weakened the story, and the portion focusing on Fenton's time as a human felt unnecessarily long.

When I first started planning out this review, I thought I would at least be able to say I liked Fenton better than Ash, but that wasn't really the case. True, Fenton didn't annoy me the way Ash did, and I found him to be more interesting. However, it was the idea of him that interested me more than anything. I loved the idea of an asexual main character who still wanted love, but wasn't interested in or comfortable with expressing that love via sex. It was too bad that "asexual and lonely" seemed to be all Fenton was.

Part of me is looking forward to seeing the development of an asexual relationship between Fenton and Skye, which reviews tell me will be happening in at least part of Fire & Ice. Unfortunately, I have little faith that Aaron will be able to make the characters and their relationship as complex and interesting as they should be.

Additional Comments:

The bit at the end, about Azrael's torture at the hands of some witches, only emphasizes how surface-level the characters in this series are. In Blood & Ash, Azrael is captured by witches again while trying to save Ash. Was there any mention of his previous capture and torture? No. I didn't even know about it until I read FTLV. There should have been some mention, maybe even some residual emotional effects.

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2012-12-01 00:00
Blood & Ash by Kate Aaron
Blood & Ash (Lost Realm #1) - Kate Aaron

I wanted to like this, I really did. I bought it because the other two works in the series, Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire and Fire & Ice, had aspects in their descriptions/tagging that appealed to me, and I hate reading series out of order. Taking a chance, I bought all three. Now I wish I hadn't. I can only hope that Aaron's writing improves as the series progresses.

It's hard to know where to start, but I guess I'll start with the characters. I couldn't connect with them at all. They didn't feel like people to me, and they didn't always react in ways that made sense. The only character I could work up any kind of emotion for was Ash, and that emotion was annoyance and dislike. He'd spent his whole life coddled and sheltered, never allowed to leave the palace. He acted spoiled and childish, and yet I was supposed to believe that his people loved him. I couldn't understand why Azrael fell instantly in love with him, and I laughed when Azrael later told him “You're not a child” (p. 33 on my Nook), because I couldn't recall Ash ever demonstrating much maturity. Ash, supposedly 17 years old, tended to come across to me as being maybe 15, which made his attempts to throw himself at Azrael and Azrael's half-hearted attempts to resist a little discomfiting to read.

There was almost zero sense of place. Events happened in various locations, but those locations were rarely, if ever, described. The world-building had similar issues. I got a few details here and there, but none of it came together to form a cohesive picture. The world of the story included humans (who were only spoken of as fearing that which was not human), weres (only briefly mentioned), shifters (only briefly mentioned), druids (only briefly mentioned), vampires, and witches. Vampires needed blood and sometimes their victims' death. They could drink from each other to gain extra strength. They were unconscious during the day, and silver burned them. Witches could do magic. The rules of this magic, if there were any, were never explained. The fae were long-lived, and some of them could do magic. For some reason, fae women always died after giving birth. The only recent exception was Ash's mother, who gave birth to his older brother Skye and then died after giving birth to him.

Most of this was basic, cliched stuff, meaning that the world of Blood & Ash was no more interesting to me than its characters. The one thing that made me go “WTF??” was the bit about fae women. From the sounds of things, the fae had way more to worry about than a bunch of witches who wanted to drive them out of their Realm. Wouldn't their entire female population die out in only a handful of generations?

As far as the writing goes, one of the first things I noticed was that Aaron didn't always communicate the passage of time well. When a bored, antsy Ash rang for a servant, he was able to hear the bell ring in the servants' quarters, but the sound was faint. It should have taken a servant some time, at least a few seconds, to arrive at Ash's room. Instead, there seemed to be no passage of time at all – a servant was just suddenly there, bowing in front of Ash. This wasn't the only time that happened.

The flashbacks to Azrael's past with Tariq were equally jarring and took up more of the page count than I think they should have. I would have preferred it if those flashbacks had been left out, or at least shortened considerably, and Azrael and Ash's present fleshed out more. I was left with the impression that the Tariq flashbacks were a related short story that had been shoehorned into Blood & Ash.

One last thing that really bugged me: the paragraph formatting. There were a few typos, but those were fairly easy to ignore in comparison. Sometimes one paragraph was broken in two, in the middle of a sentence, when it shouldn't have been. More often, however, paragraphs that should have been separate were smooshed together. I'd be reading one character's dialogue, and then, within the same paragraph, another character would start speaking. This happened a lot.

All in all, I was really disappointed in this novella. I'm currently debating whether I should read the rest of the series now, to get it over with as quickly as possible, or read something else. I've been reading a lot of less-than-stellar stuff lately, and I'm a little worried that my desire to read is being killed off, so a reread of an old favorite might be in order.

[EDIT, 12/9/12 - The author contacted me about the paragraph breaking and smooshing issues I mentioned in my review. I sent her some examples and she confirmed that they were indeed formatting issues. I let her know that I purchased my EPUB file from All Romance Ebooks, and she said she'd she'd make sure to get it fixed. She also said she'd do the same for the other works in the series, just in case, since they were all uploaded at the same time. Very nice, and I'll be sure to redownload Fire & Ice once I'm ready to read it.]

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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