Author: Grace R. Duncan
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Amazon,
Genre: historical, BDSM
Length: 380 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Shy
Review Summary: A book whose high word count is almost entirely spent on erotica, Choices nevertheless manages to have diverse characters, a gripping plot, and a satisfying conclusion.
Born and raised a gypsy in the late eleventh century, Teman values freedom over everything. He and his best friend, Jasim, are thieves for hire—until one night they’re caught and their precious freedom is revoked. Given the choice between the dungeons or palace pleasure slavery, they become slaves, but Teman vows to escape someday.
Bathasar doesn’t want the throne. He supports his brother instead, which suits their sadistic father, Mukesh. When Teman, the handsome slave Bathasar has secretly been watching, saves his life, Bathasar requests a slave for the first time. Before long, Bathasar and Teman fall in love. But all is not well. One day Mukesh brutalizes Teman before the court, angering the empress of a neighboring nation. To appease her, he then offers her Jasim as a gift, and Teman decides to stay with Bathasar for now—despite the abuse he may suffer.
The peace doesn’t last. Mukesh plans to invade Jasim’s new country, and Bathasar must find a way to stop the destruction. But if he succeeds, he’ll ascend to the throne and have the power to grant Teman his liberty. Then Teman will surely leave him. What other choice could a gypsy make?
Last week, in Wave’s “Poorly Written Books” post, Val Kovalin brought up an excellent point: that many books in the m/m genre suffer due to their smaller word count, which often stunts what might otherwise be a satisfying story. Choices is a prime example of a book that benefits from its longer length, which allowed for deeper characterization, more tension and buildup, and quite a few creative sex scenes.
There are pages upon pages of slave training, sex, and set-up before Teman and Bathasar even meet. The benefit of this is that you really get to know and enjoy the two characters. Before they interact even once, the author has provided the basis for a strong relationship between two strong characters who are clearly made for each other.
Despite this, the romance happens a little quickly. Once they meet, the build-up quickly comes to a conclusion. After a short talk and some beautifully written erotica, suddenly, Teman and Bathasar are in love. I was taken aback. Now, don’t get me wrong, the two are likeable, and they fit beautifully together. But I couldn’t believe it happened so quickly – especially with the author’s obvious enjoyment of excruciating d tease and denial. 😉
In my opinion, the author could have easily placed the romantic confession scene later, let them interact more first.
Teman is a fun character. He begins the book capable, intelligent, and dynamic. He steals; he kills; he fights to survive. He plans to escape. Even in the scenes where he’s a slave, helpless at the hands of his new master and his trainers, there’s this tension in him, this feeling that he’s in control, that he has power and strength and volition.
But then he meets Bathasar, and this inner strength vanishes. Suddenly, he begins to act not like a strong man forced into slavery, but a real slave, like someone whose entire being revolves around pleasing another.
This was an independent man at the start of the book – why doesn’t slavery chafe him anymore? I can understand his desire to serve, but his loss of self is positively chilling.
He’s given some absolutely perfect opportunities to escape. For example: at one point he’s in a gyspy camp, unrestrained and uncollared, surrounded by people who think slavery is wrong, and escape does not even cross his mind. I was baffled. I realize he’s in love with Bathasar, but…
Again, we’re back to the ‘loss of self’ thing. Teman, a law-breaking thief whose sole desire was once escape, now no longer even considers it, because escape would hurt Bathasar. And at the end, when he must choose between freedom and slavery, his choice is based entirely on Bathasar. I feel there should be more things he takes into consideration – his love of freedom versus his carnal enjoyment of slavery, his family outside versus his slave friends inside, his future as a free man versus his future as someone whose sole occupation is pleasure.
On a more positive note: Bathasar is an excellent master. He always takes time to please his slave, to articulate his wants and needs and ask for consent, to praise and pamper his beloved. He praises Teman both during and after their intense sex scenes, which I felt was a very realistic (and very romantic) touch, given how emotionally vulnerable someone with a submissive mindset can be during intense play. And Bathasar gives this care not only to Teman, but to any slave he involves himself with. There’s something just… so incredibly dreamy about a kind, attentive sadist. :blove2:
The loving, sensual relationships between Duncan’s characters (all her characters, in their various combinations) are really a treat. There’s a large cast of men in this novel, and most of them end up sleeping together at some point. Now, generally I don’t like it when a romance novel includes too much sleeping around – I prefer the focus to be on the two main characters – but the relationship boundaries are very well-defined in this book; its always clear which men are friends and which are in love, and the affection between the men who are friends is so genuine. It lacks any sort of petty jealousy you might normally expect.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of erotica. It’s beautifully written… and utterly depraved.