I gotta admit that out of Emma Holly’s yama books, this is the first one I’ve been able to finish. For some reason, I could never get into that world. I have no trouble reading her contemporary work, but her Victorian steampunk stuff always kind of bored me. I couldn’t get past the first few chapters of The Demon’s Daughter and the Midnight books just never did it for me. I wasn’t expecting much when I picked up this book, so imagine my surprise when I found myself devouring it from the very first page. I really enjoyed that the two romantic leads had loved each other as babies and how it develops into an adult love that is breathtakingly sensual. I was impressed by how intelligent and resourceful the heroine is, but at the same time, I was touched by the hero’s vulnerabilities and his struggle to deal with them. The world-building is also phenomenal. It had this old world Far Eastern feel to it complete with emperors, concubines, martial arts, court intrigue, cherry blossoms, and Asian eroticism. The rich, sensual descriptions of everything from the physical aspect of the characters to the colors surrounding them as well as the smells in the air, just added to the trippy, erotic atmosphere. I seriously dug it. Until the last fifty pages, that is. At that point, everything just completely fell apart. The deus ex machina ending, the conventional way the hero saves the heroine, previously unknown folks being brought into the fold so late in the game… it just really killed it all for me. It just didn’t jibe with the tone that Emma Holly had established so early in the book. Disappointed? You bet I was.
At the beginning of the book, we are introduced to Xoushou Huon, a descendant of the once illustrious House of Huon, but is now a mere servant to the emperor. Xoushou’s mother, Xasha, once cheated on her husband with a human lover, a treasonous offense in the yama world. What’s worse is that she was impregnated by this union and decided to give birth to the child. This is the ultimate no-no for the yama because they believe the humans to be far beneath them, so interbreeding with them is strictly forbidden. It is the yama’s aim to preserve their bloodline by breeding one royal house with the other, so what Xasha did was unforgiveable. As punishment, she is banished to some far-off land and the House of Huon is no more. In an effort to regain their family’s good standing and get their revenge on the emperor, Xasha and Xoushou plot to get Xoushou impregnated by the emperor’s seed, so that the offspring would be royal. After that, they will sneak the child into the House of Midarri, a very powerful family, so that their little girl will mate with their little boy, and the House of Huon will regain the family honor.
The little girl, Xishi, grows up in the House of Midarri as a constant companion to Corum, the sole heir of the Midarri fortune. Corum was born with a genetic defect in that he is unable to control his emotions and the yama see it as a disability, since they pride themselves on being above such petty human things as feelings. As a baby, the only one who could calm Corum down was Xishi. The two of them would sleep together in the same crib and grow up together with only each other as friends. When Corum turns eight, his mother Corryana notices that Corum had become unnaturally dependent on Xishi, who is a non-royal nobody, and resolves to banish Xishi from the household by sending her to an orphanage. In his grief, Corum vows never to forgive his mother ever again and as a result of his sorrow, the locks of hair closest to his face turns white. From that day on, Corum becomes known as the Prince of Ice (we’ve got a title!) because of his refusal to show any emotion of any kind. Good one, Mom! Xishi, on the other hand, grows up in an orphanage where everyone is told about her “strangeness,” so nobody adopts her. When she turns seventeen, a madame from a famous courtesan school called The Purple Crane, comes by the orphanage and buys her.
At the Purple Crane, Xishi learns how to be a “pillow girl,” which is a sex slave to a royal. The other “pillow” students become her friends, except for a totally creepy jerk named Jehol, and for once Xishi has found acceptance with people who like her. She practices the skills she learned on Prince Pahndir (possibly sequel bait), a disgraced royal owned by the Purple Crane and serves as the practice dummy for the students. She and Pahndir become friends, but Jehol seems to revel in torturing him just to annoy Xishi. Xishi goes to the madame to complain, so the madame decides to separate her and Jehol for once and for all by selling Xishi. Meanwhile, at the House of Midarri, Corum’s parents are worried because Corum has absolutely no interest in sex and they’re afraid that the Midarri line will die with him. Corum’s parents persuade him into buying a “pillow girl” and he agrees if only they would leave him alone. Guess who he ends up buying. Unfortunately for Xishi, Corum is not the boy she once loved because he’s Mr. Freeze now and it would take all of her talents to thaw him out and get him to become the guy he used to be. Corum is determined not to be sexually ensnared by Xishi, but whenever they’re apart, he feels like he’s going to go fucking crazy. Eventually Corum gives in to his desires for Xishi, but unbeknownst to them, there are plots and schemes and all sorts of crazy ass conspiracies to keep the two of them away from each other because the yama are totally assholes.
What I liked about Xishi is how resourceful she is. She doesn’t get defeated. No matter what shitty thing that fate throws her way, she just rolls with the punches. She is smart, doesn’t indulge in self-pity, and is always looking to turn the situation to her advantage. I really liked her. She knows exactly how to manipulate Corum, doesn’t rush headlong into danger like a dumbass, and for once, when Corum tells her to run for cover because he is being chased by assassins, she totally does. Honestly, I’ve never read a heroine who doesn’t run after the hero himself and gets her dumbass shot out of some delusional notion that she’s being helpful. She also doesn’t spend half of the book wondering if Corum loves her or if she truly loves Corum or some other second-guessing bullshit like that. She knows what she wants from the get-go and won’t hesitate to go for it. Corum, on the other hand, is a tough nut to crack at first, but once he decides he is truly in love with Xishi, he will stop at nothing to make sure that the two of them get together. He is not freakishly alpha, although he can be a little stubborn at times, and I do like the way Emma Holly displays his vulnerabilities in such subtle ways. He’s sensitive, you guys, but he’s not a total wimp. He and Xishi become two halves of each other and it’s totally believable. I really enjoyed the way Holly develops their childhood crush on each other to true love. It’s sweet, sensual, and the sex is hot shit.
The world-building behind the scenes is phenomenal. I got totally caught up in everything. Holly includes so much intricate details about this world, yet none of it is overwhelming. I really liked the Victorian-steampunk-erotic romance hybrid that she creates here. The background stuff is immensely detailed and the secondary characters are just woven so well into the main storyline that even though there’s a lot to take in here, you don’t really mind it. The lady’s got talent, y’all. I was just blown away by the mythology and canon that Holly created for this book. I was also really impressed with the human interactions here: the quiet moments that Xishi has with her fellow Purple Crane students, the scenes where Corum hangs out with his martial arts master, the dialogue between Corum and his parents… it’s all just really wonderfully written.
Which is why I was so majorly disappointed when it came to the last fifty pages of this thing. On top of a really awesome world, she created two intelligent people who should have been able to save their own asses, but for some reason, they are not given that chance. When it all comes down to it, I think we can partially blame the excellent set-up of this book. There is so much history and background stuff in the beginning that perhaps Holly felt compelled to use it all to wrap up the book in a nice big red bow. The problem is she wraps up everything too neatly by utilizing a deux ex machina ending that ensures everything will get settled nice and proper. Because of it, the last fifty or so pages of this book carries a different tone from the rest of the story. It was as though the slow build-up and courtship between Xishi and Corum is suddenly thrown into some contrived action-drama where everything has to be resolved in the last twenty minutes of the movie or something. As if that’s not enough, it is all marred by secondary characters monologuing all over the place and explaining shit to our lead characters to catch them up with the audience. At that point, I just wanted to beg Holly to get on with it, so Corum and Xishi can be together again and have some hot, hot sexin’.
Dude, this book could have been a keeper. I loved the Xishi and Corum moments, but I really also enjoyed Xishi and Corum as individual characters. The secondary characters, the world-building, the dialogue, the sensual narrative, the atmosphere… it was all so lush and beautiful. There wasn’t a page before the last fifty pages where I wasn’t in sighing in pleasure and just marveling at Holly’s exquisite prose. I was going to give this book an A- but I felt so cheated and betrayed by the ending that I feel like I have no choice but to demote it to a B. Do I recommend this book? Absolutely. If you’re looking for a kickass, intelligent heroine and a deliciously sexy hero, you gotta check this baby out. You may find yourself liking the ending a lot more than I did (I mean, it’s not that horrible), but I just don’t like it when my books are wrapped up too neatly. I mean, it’s my pet peeve. I gotta say, though, I will definitely be on the look-out for the next book of the Demon World series.
Last 5 posts by bam
- Review: A Bad Boy for Christmas - November 30th, 2015
- Review: Marriage Meltdown by Emma Darcy - November 25th, 2015
- Review: Abduction - November 20th, 2015
- Review: Castelli's Virgin Widow - November 19th, 2015
- Where Everybody Knows Your Name - November 19th, 2015