Title: At His Throat, A Promise
Author: Lilith Grey
Cover Artist: Trace Edward Zaber
Publisher: Amber Allure
Buy Link: Buy Link At His Throat, A Promise
Genre: M/M/M fantasy BDSM romance
Length: 153,000 words, 414 pages
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
Summary Review: A complex master/slave BDSM novel which grabbed me from the first page.
In the slave city of Spire, Ellis has been discarded. His former master, a man who was supposed to teach him and take care of him, passed away, leaving Ellis alone and in danger of being taken to the Facility. Ellis is desperate to avoid that fate. He seeks a master to take him on, guiding him into adulthood as well as a profession. Ellis has had desire stolen from him—he’s been trained to blush, to submit, to give in. He doesn’t know how to cope with William, a man who wants the real Ellis.
William is a Master, a man born in a neighbour city that does not deal in slavery. He has had bad experiences with slaves in the past, but all that changes when he rescues Harte, a young slave whose abusive master had all but destroyed him. Together, they are content in their mutual roles, not looking for anything more. But when Ellis catches the eye of Harte, and by extension, William, their relationship changes in ways for which they are unprepared.
Harte is a born submissive, a young man who lives for his role. He’s bratty but genuine. William, his master, is his entire life. Harte never expected to have room in his heart for another, but Ellis is beautiful and different and fills a place in his life that he hadn’t known was empty.
If only Ellis could learn to ask for what he desired, what he needed, then maybe William and Harte could help him. But Ellis is trapped inside himself, insecure and afraid. To stay with William, he only has to ask…but that’s the one thing Ellis cannot do…
Those of you who follow my reviews here and elsewhere will know that I have a fondness for master/slave romance books. I love the dynamic, especially when we can really get inside the head of the slave to see what drives him to fall in love with his master. At first the length of this book was a little daunting (it shows up as about 571 pages on my book reader), but I was quickly drawn into the story, and in particular the character of Ellis. So much so that the pages flew by and I finished it in a couple of days.
The story is set in the fictional city of Spire where there is a system of slavery. Children who show intellectual promise are bound as slaves between the ages of 16-20 and taken on by a Master/Mistress who in return for complete obedience and sexual favours will train a slave/s in their job – in the case of this book William is a prosecuting lawyer. After 20, the slave is free to be employed in that career and as they mature they can have their own slave to train. It’s a system that works on the whole, except for those occasions where the master is abusive or when the slave is unable to conform to the submission. As the book begins we meet Ellis who is 17. His master has recently died and failed to provide any security for Ellis. He’s in danger of being sent to the Facility where unclaimed slaves are held, so he attends an exclusive club in the hope that a master will claim him. It’s there he meets another slave, Harte, who convinces his master to ‘sponsor’ Ellis until another master can be found for him. The three work well together and Ellis would like nothing more than to stay with William and Harte. However, he also longs for a master of his own.
What I’ve described above barely touches the surface of this complex novel. Ellis is an absolutely fascinating character. He’s a submissive who likes being dominated, but he’s also got a dominant streak. He’s a perfectionist whose previous training makes him want to be the perfect sub – something which eventually causes Ellis a lot of problems. He sees the forbidden love between Harte and William (forbidden because Masters and slaves are not supposed to form emotional connections) and wants what they have, but can’t allow himself to open up to them. Ellis is our narrator and I liked him almost from the start. That didn’t mean he wasn’t frustrating at times, because he definitely was, but he had my sympathy throughout. Ellis was the reason I could barely put this book down.
I also thought the three way relationship Ellis has with Harte and William worked very well. You could tell that they were perfect for each other – balanced in their relationship – and I read eagerly on to find that point when all three could be together. The story is made up of a lot of sex scenes between these characters and with others. Usually this isn’t something I like, but each sex scene was constructed in a way that it showed us something about the characters, their relationship and how their roles are defined within the household and so I never got bored of the sex, finding it informative as well as very hot.
Although the main thrust of the story involves the romance between Ellis, Harte and William, there is a strong sub-plot involving the abuse of slaves. There are several secondary characters who are used to show how the system is skewered in favour of the masters and how helpless slaves really are when they are chosen by the wrong person. Ellis and Harte too are victims of poor judgments in the system and the way that this affects Ellis is a poignant part of the book. I liked that the author hadn’t shown the slavery system to be all fun and games and this serious side to the book added some bite to the story. It also meant that there are scenes showing physical and sexual abuse which some readers may find upsetting. The warning on the publisher’s page is not to be taken lightly.
This was almost a five star read for me but for a couple of things that bothered me a little. Firstly, whilst I could get behind a system where 16 year olds are taken into sexual slavery, the suggestion (and actualisation later) that some slaves are taken on as young as 14 or younger left a sour taste in my mouth. We meet one character who is a few weeks shy of his 14th birthday and even though I’m fairly broad minded that was too young for me. I would also have liked to have known a little more about this fantasy world created by the author. It’s almost like an Alternative Universe, with lots similar to our world, but the fact that the story is so tightly focused on the three main characters meant that the book was missing out on some of the world building. We are still fed information about the society – and in particular how the slavery side of things work – but I would have liked more.
The complexity of this story and the range of emotional content means that I feel like I’ve not managed to do it justice in this review. It contains a strong romance in the setting of a master/slave relationship, yes, but it also effectively reveals the thoughts of a sometimes confused Ellis who craves and needs physical and emotional comfort. Despite the niggles I had, I really enjoyed this book and I’m likely to read it again in the future. For those who like master/slave books and don’t mind non-con and dub-con sex, then this is a book I can highly recommend.