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Denise Rossetti

REVIEW: Strongman by Denise Rossetti

REVIEW: Strongman by Denise Rossetti

Dear Ms. Rossetti:

strongman_smThis book recently won a Passionate Plume Award from Passionate Ink, the erotic SIG for RWA. I’ve long been intrigued by the blurb on EC, so thought I’d check it out. I’m very glad I did. It’s part of a series, but completely stands alone-’I haven’t read the rest of the series, after all, and although I could tell I was missing things here and there, and the external plot was obviously part of something much bigger, the core romance was more than enough to make Strongman worth reading by itself.

Strongman is set in an alternate world (or maybe a far future Earth, technologically diminished?), something I’m usually not interested in reading because world building bores me. But here it’s done so smoothly, so organically, that I hardly noticed I was learning about the world as I was reading. I loved the very short Encyclopedia entries beginning each chapter, explaining parts of the world just as they became important to the story. New species and situations were introduced and explained seamlessly, with no info-dumping, no “As you know, Bob” moments. Perfect.

Griff is a tumbler, part of a circus act. Fortitude "Fort" McLaren has just signed on as a roustabout and general muscle for the circus. It’s instant attraction for both of them, but Griff’s much more comfortable with that than Fort is, whose background as a child in the Straight Church, where homosexuality is a sin punishable by death, still affects him, no matter how much he tries to claim it doesn’t. I especially liked the unexpected spirituality of the story and its effects on the characters. Fort has converted to a matriarchal religion with a strong emphasis on the joy sex provides, but still finds himself running up against his Straight Church background in unavoidable ways. But Griff pushes and pushes and pushes, until it’s more work for Fort to deny him than to accept their attraction.

Although the story is set in the circus, most of the progress of the romance takes place outside the circus, as Fort and then Griff are on a scouting journey that’s part of an obviously larger narrative. The romance is most beautifully perfectly done. Each step in their relationship reveals more about the individuals, where they come from, who they are, why their partner attracts them, and what they’re going to do about it. The focus of the story is mainly Fort’s journey and I just fell in love with him as he fell in love with Griff but had to push himself to accept it:

Today was all Fort had, all he could allow himself. Because he couldn’t live his life like this, not every, ordinary day after day and still be Fort McLaren, still be the man he knew. This was a time out of time, a dark, shining secret graven on his soul. Precious. But he couldn’t prevent the sly thought that it wouldn’t be difficult to persuade Griff to come away with him again, somewhere like this. He looked around. Yes, somewhere exactly like this.

Griff took another nibble, on the shoulder this time, and Fort closed his eyes, telling the thought to go to hell. The tumbler deserved better and he- No. Think about the moment, only the moment. He couldn’t risk the other man’s life to satisfy his own crooked lusts. Tomorrow he’d escort Griff back to the Valaressa road and send him on his way.

Something small and sad and stupid whimpered deep in his chest, but he told it to shut up. He got Griff out of the water and over to the tents so quickly it felt like levitation.

I usually don’t like illness or injury as a way to force the denouement of the romance, but you do it so very well here, with such deep emotion, and such stripping away of all Fort’s defenses, that I very happily went along with it.

The sex, by the way, was amazing. Fort is the title’s “Strongman,” but Griff is a tumbler and can give as good as he gets. Evenly matched, each sexual encounter is a fight for dominance and it’s hot and fascinating and each scene is integral to both plot and character development.

The only niggle I had was that, although the story was obviously part of a larger plot so characters from a previous book in the series were necessary to that larger plot and rather seamlessly integrated, it still felt like a revisiting of old characters as a reward for long-time readers. Then again, I wouldn’t mind revisiting Fort and Griff in future books of yours, and I’ll probably go back and read the previous books in the series.

Thank you for a fun, hot, sexy read.

Grade: B+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased at Ellora’s Cave.

REVIEW:  The Flame and the Shadow by Denise Rossetti

REVIEW: The Flame and the Shadow by Denise Rossetti

Dear Ms. Rossetti,

I picked up this book on the strength of a cover quote from Shana Abe and the vague idea that said quote meant that The Flame and the Shadow would bear some resemblance to Abe’s Drakon series, which I’m quite fond of. About one-third of the way through, I was ruing my decision – remembering that cover quotes from authors one enjoys are no guarantee that one will actually like the recommended book. It wasn’t that I actually didn’t like the book so far, mind you – I was just having some definite issues with it at that point in the story, and felt that perhaps it wasn’t for me.

First, the story: Cenda lives in an enclave of sorcerers and sorceresses (called Pures or Purists in this story) on a rather grubby little planet called Sybaris. Cenda is 41 years old, tall, thin and awkward, and consumed with grief over the recent death of her young daughter, Elke. Elke’s death has left Cenda with a sort of gift: she is now a Fire Witch, the only known one in the worlds these characters inhabit. The ability first manifests itself in an ability to withstand fire; small salamanders made of fire scuttle across her body and nestle themselves in her hair (the salamanders were a charming, eccentric feature throughout the story). As the plot progresses, Cenda’s powers grow and she learns to harness her abilities, which include being able to turn into a living flame and shoot fireballs at potential enemies.

Grayson of Concordia, also known as the Duke of Ombra (for reasons that were never quite clear to me; he’s not really a duke), is a harpist with the Unearthly Opera Company, a group of traveling players that roam from planet to planet performing at various venues. Grayson has a rather unique problem, one that drives him to agree to kidnap the Fire Witch: his shadow. Gray’s shadow is a sort of silent, faceless separate entity, corporeal and capable of movement independent of Gray’s – but not so independent that Gray can get rid of the shadow, whom he calls Shad. Shad has been with Gray forever, but was rather like a secret semi-invisible friend when they were children – Gray loved Shad and they were inseparable (literally). It is only when the intensely religious people of Gray’s home planet (they pray to a god they call "Judger God"; much less accessible and cheery than "Kitten God" or "Best Friend God", I would imagine) discovered Shad and label him an "abomination" that the young Gray renounced his friend, only to discover that Shad won’t – can’t – leave him. Gray flees home at 14, basically running for his life, and immediately falls into the hands of an abuser.

So, we have two very, very damaged people coming together, one of whom is going to betray the other. I am usually totally up for angst, but I was actually a bit depressed by all that Gray and Cenda had suffered. On the one hand, that indicates that the story came alive for me – the characters and their pain felt real. On the other hand, it made this a somewhat downbeat read at times.

As the story progressed, there developed aspects that I really liked and ones that I really disliked. I am not a science fiction fan. All of the "world-building" details – the plants and such with odd names – I tend to find those off-putting and even a bit self-conscious when I’m reading. The chief villain is the Technomage Primus of Sybaris; she wants Cenda for her powers, even though her devotion is to science and she disdains magic (she uses "science" as an epithet the way some people say "God", as in "science help us!", a detail I found annoying and unrealistic). The whole "science=bad" aspect seemed kind of heavy-handed to me.

What I came to like, more and more as the story progressed, was the genuine and complex emotions between Gray, Shad and Cenda. This will not be a "romance" for everyone – Shad’s presence, in addition to being just plain weird, adds both a definite ménage a trois aspect and a more subtle homoerotic aspect (which in itself had a slightly incestuous vibe, to make the whole thing even weirder) to the story. But ultimately, I found the relationship between Gray and Shad, and the one between Cenda and Shad, really quite poignant. The relationship between Gray and Cenda is perhaps inevitably more conventional; I wasn’t crazy about the man-slut/innocent heroine pairing (though Cenda had borne a child, it did not seem like she’d gotten around at all prior to her experience with Elke’s father, and she had tiresomely stereotypical issues with own femininity and attractiveness). Gray’s family background was rendered in a way that made him a sympathetic character even when he was behaving villainously. Curiously, Cenda’s history was a lot sketchier – it appeared that she had been raised in the magicians’ enclave, but if there was any mention of her parents, I missed it. About all we know about her past besides her one brief and unsatisfying romance and the birth and death of her daughter is that she was a bit of a bust as a witch before she gained her fire witch powers. I wouldn’t have minded Cenda’s character being filled out with a few more dimensions.

This book appears to be the first in a series, and despite my lack of enthusiasm for the sci-fi elements, I think I will pick up the next book in the series. I would imagine those readers who do like sci-fi, like emotional stories, and don’t mind unconventional elements in their romances might like this book even better than I did. I will give it a B.

Jennie

This book can be purchased in trade paperback from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.