Counterpoint (Song of the Fallen, #1) by Rachel Haimowitz

Title: Counterpoint (Song of the Fallen, #1)
Author: Rachel Haimowitz
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: High Fantasy M/M
Length: Novel / 400 pgs
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

A guest review by Kassa
THE BLURB:

It is the twilight of mankind. Depleted by generations of war with a dark race, the human kingdoms and their ancient alliance stand on the brink of extinction. The outlands are soaked with the blood of the fallen. The midlands are rotting with decadence and despair.

Elfkind, estranged by past crimes, watches and waits for nature to run its course.

And then the two collide.

Ayden’s life has long been guided by two emotions: love for his sister, and hatred of all things human. When he’s captured in battle, he must for his sister’s sake swallow his pride and endure slavery in the service of a human prince. To his dismay, this close-up view of his enemy is nothing like he expected. Now curiosity and contempt make a battlefield of his soul, even as he struggles to pick up the pieces of his shattered worldview.

Freyrik Farr, Crown Prince of Farr Province, finds his new elven prisoner puzzling. He’s always known elves to be beautiful and dangerous, but never has one affected him as deeply as Ayden. Can his life of service to his people leave room for this attraction? Dancing on a dagger’s edge between duty and high treason, Freyrik discovers that some choices can change a life, and some an entire world.

Between prejudice, politics, pride, and survival, Ayden and Freyrik must carve a new path, no matter how daunting. For nothing less than the fate of both their peoples rests on the power of their perseverance — and their love.

Song of the Fallen Series

THE REVIEW:

Counterpoint is book one of a two book epic story. The ending of this story is a cliffhanger with a few unresolved issues and definitely no happy ending in sight. This is perhaps why I had such a tough time with the story. On the one hand, the fantasy world is lovingly crafted with an eye for detail. On the other, I didn’t particularly enjoy the story’s focus on moderate violence, manipulation, humiliation, and hatred. This is a darker fantasy story that plays on the classic push/pull dynamic of different races that instinctively hate each other. The main romantic relationship is a very familiar King/slave one and so the slave ends up sacrificing time and again. I was honestly tired of all the violence when the story ended and needed a break, which left me with a negative feeling towards the book but it’s highly subjective and another reader may not feel that way at all.

The summary gives a good indication of the story which is about an elven soldier, Ayden, who is captured while saving his sister from her predictable foolishness. To keep his sister safe and ignorant, Ayden agrees to do anything Prince Freyrik wants and the prince wants Ayden sexually. Freyrik however is willing to let Ayden come to him. The first part of the story deals with Ayden as he struggles to reconcile his feelings of capture, slavery, and growing respect for Freyrik, while the second finds the two in love but no happy ending. Freyrik treats Ayden as well as he can by keeping Ayden locked in his rooms, fed, and out of sight. Whenever Ayden does have to leave the rooms, he’s shackled, usually beaten, forced to kneel and subjugate himself repeatedly, which of course does nothing for Ayden’s massive pride, bruised ego, and welling hatred for humans.

The push/pull dynamic between the two is interesting and creates a good backdrop to show the intricacies of royal life. Here the setting is classic fantasy or historical with the acting King Freyrik, temporarily ruling in his brother’s place, subject to the whims and laws of his people. Humans were taught to hate and fear elves, thus they loathe and fear Ayden. Freyrik often feels badly about Ayden’s treatment and does what he can to mitigate it but Freyrik is perhaps even more helpless than Ayden. This theme of helplessness becomes more and more pronounced as the story progresses and is one of the key sources of frustration I had as a reader.

Neither Freyrik nor Ayden can effectively control their present or future. Freyrik is bound not only by his royal duties but his desire for Ayden. He often betrays his promises to Ayden by circumstance, but it’s a repeated betrayal and eventually I couldn’t feel badly for Freyrik’s emotions against Ayden’s physical pain. Instead I became more and more invested in Ayden and his struggle to reconcile his feelings. When Ayden helps Freyrik overcome an animal attack and they fall in love, the romance is there but the underpinning of doom can’t be ignored. Ayden does everything he can to really help and he’s repaid by suspicion, scorn, pain, violence, and betrayal.

On the one hand, the story is fitting to the manipulations of court, the classic evil sister in law, innocently fey sister, and other characters that are seen in almost every fantasy novel. There’s nothing especially new offered, though this story has some very nice magical touches. The world building is competent and thorough, woven into the story in numerous ways. So fantasy fans, especially those who prefer darker fantasy stories, likely won’t blink at this offering. It fits well with the genre and the writing has energy and life to keep you engaged and absorbed from the beginning. The characters are one dimensional though outside of the main couple but the focus is on Ayden and Freyrik, who definitely stretch through their association.

Ayden as the surly pseudo-slave plays well against Freyrik as the compassionate ruler. The story does a commendable job developing their romance over time. The star crossed lovers theme struggling against fate has some moments of good emotion and romance. There are two mild sex scenes with the rest fade to black so the emotion and romance is not the focus; the story and fantasy world is. This is another reason that I just tired of all the continued manipulations when I got to the hanging ending. I honestly thought to myself “great, another 400 pages of violence, blood, betrayal, and pain to get to a happy ending.” This isn’t a fair assessment because there is humor, romance, love, hints of happiness, and moments of quiet connection. These additions were essential to keeping me reading and mostly enjoying the story, but the ending reminds me of considerable more pain and heartache to come before a happy ending can even be hinted at. Not all readers will have this reaction mind you.

This is a highly subjective review – it is after all only my opinion – so the elements that struck me and stayed with me may or may not even bother other readers. The fantasy world is a major focus and well crafted with a solid, tightly plotted story. The characterization suffers outside of the main characters but their vibrancy almost forgives the subsequently flat cast. There is a familiar, almost classic feel to the romance/couple depicted and that familiarity may play well with readers. The moderate violence is done quickly, although the continued talking about and extended tension leading to said violence bothered me just as much as the actual scenes but not all readers will have that experience. I think the payoff of a happy ending is too far away for me to feel comfortable with the emotional investment so far but I am likely to continue with book two after a break away from the story.

As always see for yourself if the story sounds like one you’d like to read. My reaction is highly personal on this particular story so be sure to read critically for elements that are more suited to your tastes.

18 comments

  • This one’s safe and sound on my laptop. With all the books I’ve saved up for vacation, I may never get to see the sights for reading. Time well spent, in my opinion.

  • This sounds interesting, but I don’t think I’d pick up a copy of my own until the second installment comes out. I’m not a huge fan of cliffhangers.

    • This is a pretty big cliffhanger. At the same time, it sets up the new situation for book two. I can see why the author choose this as a stopping point, it reminds me of tv shows that show someone creeking open the door before the final credits.

      Plus the first part is already 400 pages so there has to be break somewhere. Here’s to hoping the second book is better.

  • Fantastic review, Kassa. I love fantasy, and I have to admit I find the blurb attractive. The world building looks to be excellent and I like the captor/captured theme.

    Having said that some of the things you mention in your review, especially the sense of being trapped in a situation (both as a king and a captured slave) and the feeling of helplessness are themes that I find frustrating in a book, so I’m not sure I would enjoy this a great deal.

    • Thanks Jen. I’m glad my review helped. I didn’t realize the trapped theme would be so prominent in the situation and that really frustrated me when reading. If it’s not something you can overlook, you may find the 380 pgs of it a bit too much.

  • Kass
    Your usual excellent and detailed review.

    Darn it! I was so hoping that you would enjoy this book. So far, most of the long fantasies you review here are excellent stories. The relationship between Ayden and Freyrik sounds really complex and I’m not sure how I will react to the slave/master part.

    I hope you’ll be interested in reviewing part 2 so that we can all make a decision on whether or not to read both books. 🙂 I’m hoping for at least a “hopeful” ending.

    • Hi Wave, thanks for commenting!

      The relationship is pretty complex and the story has a lot of pieces to it. Not so much that you get lost but there’s a lot. I’ll probably read the second volume (if I’m still allowed to review it) as I’d like to see the characters get a happy ending.

      I just need a break before I can dig back into all the pain and violence prior to the (hopefully) happy ending.

    • I’d be interested in seeing your opinion on this. And I agree on the cover art… very nice.

    • yea exactly.. I can’t guarantee a happy ending of course but it makes sense. Now the degree of happiness, well that’s questionable : D

  • I am happy you reviewed this book. I have been reading alot of m/m fantasy lately and I have seen Counterpoint on several list so I have thought of it as a possible buy. I think though that I will wait until the second book is out and find if there is a happy ending. This sounds like a dark read and if I as a reader have to go through all that then I want to know there is some sort of light at the end.

    • I can’t imagine that the book won’t have a happy ending. There is enough romance to the story that I’m sure it will have one. I just don’t know 100% so it’s a guess, but a pretty good one I think.

      If you’re interested in the story, you should definitely get it. I’d be surprised if it didn’t end well.

  • I saw this one and there were two things that I liked immediately, it is a fantasy piece and the amount of pages.
    It is good to know that there will be a second book. I do like good endings 🙂

    • I agree, long fantasy novels are fun. Remember Hale’s masterpiece? This is definitely as long as that and I’m *guessing* at the happy ending but after all of this, there has to be one right?

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