Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday? This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
This is a real treat for me. I read a lot of romance and erotica for this blog, and I rarely get to talk about lesbians. Although technically, if they’re not from the Greek island of Lesbos, the proper term is “sparkling gays.” The Princess’s Pet is a love story by J. K. Jeffrey that asks the question “What if Christian Gray was a feudal lord at Vampire Hogwarts, and also a chick?”
Eighteen year old Persephone, Percy to her friends, loves gardening behind a seaside cottage with her happy family. I agree; it’s a miracle this girl is even still alive. The whole gardening thing is a lot easier when you’re half witch. And the other half is something called “beast shifter,” or rather three eighths beast shifter and one eighth vampire (it’s quite a pie chart). But not the good kind of vampire like the ruling family. Oh, speak of the devil, a Princess shows up to take Percy away. So, OK. So, in this world, everyone gets mandatory blood screening to see if they’re soul mates with anyone in the royal family, and guess what? Percy is now the personal property of Princess Selene Borealis, a gigantic vampire meanie face who we are told in various non-committal ways is super hot. Not too this, not too that. Just fill in what you like, I guess.
Selene takes Percy to vampire college, aka “Sanguis Academy,” where everybody dresses like they’re about to play a spirited game of whiff-whaff. Percy has to escort her mistress to some boring prat classes where we learn about some prat feuds and prat wars that J. K. Jeffrey spent too much time working out to just not mention in the book. Percy has her own classes on servitude, and makes some new servant dude friends, which makes Selene jealous. Nobody bothers to ask Percy her orientation, but I’m guessing this is one of those romance universes where everyone is bi by default. I’m not complaining, but Princess Gold Star is not about to let her new slave have any other romantic connections, or any external support network. That would make her harder to abuse.
Just as there is no aspect of traditional masculinity so undesirable that it can’t be incorporated it into the “girl boss” trope, there is no toxic heteronormative power dynamic that is not gleefully reproduced in glitter by the authors of gay erotica. The verbal and physical abuse starts from day one, culminating in Selene restraining her servant and drinking her blood (Capitalism, amirite ladies?). This is all very erotic, because of course it is; this is what you came here for. Percy is clearly into it as well, given her heightened state of arousal any time Selene is kicking the shit out of her. She starts to fall for her overlord, using her witch powers to create gift baskets or something, and learns to love being treated like a carton of milk that answers to a name.
Eventually a sort of mutual care and respect develops between them. Selene defends Percy from the obligatory Malfoys that want to pass the new girls around, and even manages to comply with basic consent. This is a great victory of will, since, as Selene puts it, Percy “smells appetizing” to the point that the princess can hardly hold herself back. Heck, you know they’re in love when Selene puts balm on the fang-holes in Percy’s neck. Why is dressing wounds such an erotic experience in fantasy novels? Actually, it kind of makes sense. People had a lot of babies in ye olden times, and they were constantly having to lance a seeping boil or suture a rabid weasel bite. Their deadly, disgusting world was basically a never-ending tease.
Speaking of setting, I never quite got a handle on the time period, but it seems to be part of the classic Early Modern fantasy setting. Military dorks call it “pike and shot” times; the rest of us know it as the golden age of the quick-release bodice. It’s great for authors, since you don’t have to worry about technology when your book takes place in that one moment of history where people thought it was totally fine to bring a halberd to a musket fight, or take a steam train to the jousting match. But from a reader’s perspective, it deprives the setting of any tangible character it might otherwise have. It creates a blank canvas that the author has to fill with their own ideas, and Jeffrey mostly leaves it empty. This is a common problem with Pigpimples Legally Distinct Escuela de Magic type books, where presumably you’re just supposed to fill in all the blanks with your favorite Harold Jim Potter fan art. See, for example, the very first book I reviewed on this blog, The Soul’s Aspect. But I’ve never enjoyed that as a reading experience. Maybe because I’m not nostalgic for Hank Potter in the first place, or maybe because the only character in those books I ever related to was Kreacher. The problem is me; I’m more than willing to admit that fact.
Otherwise I didn’t hate The Princess’s Pet. It’s all about deriving pleasure from behavior that would lead to an amber alert in the real world, but that’s the point of dark romance. The big strength of The P’s P is that it understands the romantic, pre-sexual side of a story like this. I had to wait a few chapters to even get a kiss, let alone anything more, and in the meantime Jeffrey built up the tension and relationship between the leads. That alone puts this book on a higher shelf than the “Orc Bosoms” subgenre that frequently makes its way into my fantasy romance TBRs. It’s five dollars and eighty seven cents on Kindle, a baffling amount that probably gives us a very specific insight into the author’s level of debt (update: it has dropped to five fifty four!). That’s a little steep, but I guess it’s the price we pay to queer our dark fantasy erotica.
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