A moving and well-written romance that just misses excellence because of a really annoying Deux Ex Machina.
Six months after freeing his slave Roman and his thrall Aron, Wulfgar finds himself bored with the choices of bed partners in his lands. Thus while on a twice-yearly trip to Londinium to replenish supplies, Wulfgar visits the local slave auction in hopes of finding something to pique his interest. His eye is caught by Kintaro, a beautiful, feminine slave boy from the Far East.
Enthralled, Wulfgar doesn’t care how much Kintaro costs; he’s got to have him. But Kintaro is a very different sort of slave from Roman. He loves his duties, is proud of his skills, and as the former prized slave of an official of his homeland, is used to being spoiled and pampered in return for his efforts.
Though oblivious to matters of the heart, Wulfgar is enamored of Kintaro, but his son Gaeric is furious that this new slave feeds his father’s unnatural desires. Wulfgar’s passion, Kintaro’s pride, and Gaeric’s temper will clash as a ritual from the past and a dream of the future come to fruition… and Wulfgar’s heart is finally fulfilled.
Those of you who read my review of Bee Among the Clover will know how much I was looking forward to its indirect sequel, and although this novel does stand alone, I still recommend reading Bee Among the Clover first, because having that prior knowledge of the characters definitely enriched the experience. However, I found Lotus in the Wild such a different book to the earlier one that it was unfair to try to compare them. Despite being about the rough-and-tumble Wulfgar this is a much gentler and more conventional romance.
The story starts off with a bang, as Wulfgar (the sometimes harsh, sometimes kind master of Aron and Roman/Marcus from the last book) lays eyes on the exotic Japanese slave Kintaro, buys him and screws him into a contented puddle within about fifteen pages. From there on the story shows us the two getting used to life with one another. It’s not always easy. Kintaro, despite being born a slave, is a spoiled, vain and sex-obsessed creature. Wulfgar is as brash as ever (though perhaps a little more mellow) and just as used to being obeyed without question.
As time goes on the pair become more and more fond of each other. Wulfgar has never been with a man who loves sex as much as Kintaro, but it’s more than that – Kintaro cares about his master, considers himself responsible for Wulfgar’s happiness and well-being, and really wants to be with him. For Kintaro, he becomes enraptured when he realises that he has found a master who can truly stand up to him for the first time. Soon their feelings have clearly surpassed the bonds of master and slave, and everyone around them can see it, including the jealous Gaeric, Wulfgar’s son.
This entirely new depth of feeling bewilders and sometimes even scares Wulfgar, but luckily he seems to have learned a lesson from the results of his cruel treatment of his previous bed-slaves, and he resists the temptation to take his worried emotions out on Kintaro. Kintaro, for his part, is a rather uncomplicated soul (he had to be, really, as Wulfgar is so clueless that he crushes anyone with more complex emotions) and merely basks in the happiness of loving his master, determined to make himself indispensible. Gaeric’s attempts to get between the two merely seem to bring them closer together, despite what could have been a catastrophic misunderstanding.
So far, so good. The story is engaging and humourous and the misunderstanding above, along with hints of possible trouble from Wulfgar’s son, have got me hooked. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Then the Deux Ex Machina from the last book reappears. Cate the Fae woman pokes her nose in to check on happenings at the Hall, and for some reason decides that the contented couple described above need some interference. Drastic interference.
During Wulfgar’s absence on a visit to the King, she uses Gaeric’s jealousy to separate the pair, taking Kintaro all the way to Rome in a quest to show them both that they love each other. Or something. Now if this abduction had been real – if Kintaro had really been taken by slavers and dragged away from Wulfgar to an unknown and probably unpleasant fate – this would have been a heart-stopping last third of the novel. But since we know from the beginning that the slaver buying Kintaro from Gaeric is Cate, that no harm of any kind is going to befall Kintaro, and that Cate’s ultimate aim is to reunite the couple, any suspense or conflict is pretty much dead.
We’re then treated to scenes of the lovers suffering horribly through being apart, to the extent that Cate is forced to let Kintaro visit Wulfgar in dreams so the two of them can make love (a canny move on the authors’ parts, since the sex is hot and steamy enough to keep you reading though this difficult section). At this point I’m wishing I could give Cate a really good slap for being such an unfeeling twit. So is Kintaro. Wulfgar would be too, if he had the faintest idea what was going on. But Cate’s still ploughing ahead with her plan.
After a short intermission (which allows Wulgfar to make peace with his former bedslaves – though frankly if I were Marcus I’d have been a lot less forgiving) Kintaro and Wulfgar are finally reunited and I was cheering them on. The outstanding quality of the writing and characterisation ensured that I cared about them and believed in their love despite Cate’s shenanigans, and is the reason this book got four stars instead of three.
But at the end of the story I was still left wondering why, if there had to be a dramatic kidnapping, it couldn’t have taken place without Cate’s influence. Kintaro – and Wulfgar – wouldn’t have escaped such an ordeal unscathed, but it would have been much more satisfying that way.
If you don’t mind faery goddesses randomly popping up to wreak havoc on a story and then fixing everything with a wave of their hand, you may very well love this book. Even if you do mind, you’ll probably still enjoy Lotus in the Wild; I did. I’m just sorry that the too convenient conclusion kept the book from being as brilliant as I’m sure it could otherwise have been.