Puppet/Master (ParisDude’s Review)

Title: Puppet/Master (The Vale Chronicles Book 1)
Author: Joel Abernathy
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: February 7, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy
Page Count: 319
Reviewed by: ParisDude
Heat Level: 4 flames out of 5
Rating: 4 stars out of 5


Can an assassin who exists only for one man accept his destiny as the treasured possession of four elite warriors?

The world of Teros is full of beautiful, twisted things. Elves who’ve traded their magical birthright for biogenetic enhancements. Shifters who transform into the beasts of legend. Vampires who feed on their human subjects with impunity and enforce their rule with servants honed into deadly creatures of destruction—and seduction. None is rarer than the chimera, a special class of human and a vessel of limitless power for any lover strong enough to tame them.

As the favored “Puppet” of the Master Vampire of Ark, Arden exists to enact his master’s will. When the Brotherhood of Aeon, an elite force from the subterranean realm of the Vale, turns the tables and kidnaps the rare creature, Arden is thrown into the world of the fae, where nothing is as it seems.

The Vale is a realm of old magic and exquisite beauty beyond imagination, ruled by Dusk, the Prince of the Fae. When Dusk strips Arden of his vampire nature and the purpose that has guided him from birth, his only focus is escape. But the Brotherhood insists that he’s more than just a Puppet. To them, he’s a being deserving of love and protection, and he must be guarded at all costs.

Puppet/Master is the first book in a serial gay harem romance story. It is a slow burn resulting in an eventual MMMMM romance with a HEA. This is a story with some darker themes and is not for the faint of heart.

Note to myself: thoroughly read the blurb—the whole blurb—before volunteering to read a book. In fact, when I received this one, I expected to find a nice fantasy and M/M romance novel. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there were more than two “M”s engaged in the romance-bit. And—duh! Says so in the blurb, doesn’t it? “Gay harem story” and “MMMMM romance” it says. Yep. Serves me right for not paying attention. The second surprise was that whole submission/domination-thing going on. Normally not something I dig. But you know what? I quickly fanned myself, read on… and rather enjoyed the book. Well, the domination- and harem-parts are still not my cup of tea. I’m sorry, that’s really something beyond my intellectual capacities. However, it must be like a religious belief—you’re not asked to get it, you’re asked to be into it. And as with religious beliefs, I’m not.

So. The story. We’re on Teros, a planet suspiciously similar to our good old earth, only with two moons. They have all the modern contraptions we’re used to, cars, trains, motorbikes, phones, all that stuff. But unlike our good old earth, they have additional inhabitants: vampires, elves, shifters, hermaphrodites, and fae. Humans, in fact, are little better off than cattle; elves and vampires alike keep them so they can feed off their blood. Yes, you quickly learn that, on the whole, these two species are not nice guys. The only fae could be considered less egotistical… and even then! There are some amongst them, if I read the hints correctly, who are not what they seem, either. Anyway, the fae live secluded in the Vale, a realm near the planet’s core, where they give shelter to escapees from the cruel upside world. They are also the species who has remained truest and nearest to the world’s immanent vital power or force, the Chrysalus, thus being able to use magic. Alas, to my regret, they never do in this book (beat me, I’m a sucker for magical tales where magic is actually used).

Oh, I almost forgot. There’s another species, extremely rare: the chimeras. They are the pure essence of Chrysalus. Or rather: they are its perfect vessels. But so seldom are they found that the Vampire Master of Ark, Eric (mean, mean, mean boy), has decided to artificially create them from humans. Those who fail to turn into chimeras become ghouls instead, that is, disfigured and soulless puppets that depend on their master’s will and whims. But some do turn into chimeras. They’re immediately twisted away from their true nature. The most powerful and accomplished amongst them is our main character, Arden, Eric’s craftiest and hardiest assassin. That’s where we stand when the Elves’ emperor (mean, mean, mean emperor, and kinky to boot) visits the capital of Ark. Eric plans to offer him his most precious chimera as a gift. But Arden is abducted by a group consisting of a human fighter, the fae crown-prince Dusk, and the “de-programmed” ghoul Vox, and is whisked away to the threshold of the faes’ realm. There, his twisted nature is righted, and he learns of the existence of the Brotherhood of Aeon, an inter-species group of “good ‘uns” fighting the “bad ‘uns”. And thus Arden’s (first) adventure proper begins.

The fictional world created by the author is complex, sometimes even complicated. But world-building is always a complex task, and we’re guided by a sure hand through all the intricacies, even though from time to time the writing leans a teensy bit too heavily on telling instead of showing. My only quibble would be that I created a certain picture in my mind, and suddenly, modern facilities popped up in the tale, which disgruntled me a bit. OK, it helps us relate to this strange world, but some references are just out of place. At one point, for instance, a place reminds Arden of a college dorm—I mean, HTF can this guy created in a laboratory know how a college dorm looks like? That’s such a specific US-thing… But I guess that was just a moment of inattention of the author. All in all, the story is well-paced and told from several POVs (mostly Arden’s, though). There’s drama. There’s suspense—I read the first chapters like a maniac, with bated breath, because I absolutely had to know what a chimera’s true nature could be… what a wicked tease you are, Mr. Abernathy! You get that whole good guys/bad guys-trope you’d expect from a fantasy novel. But the author is intelligent enough to always make you doubt; the mean ‘uns might just turn out to be the good ‘uns in the end, and vice versa. You get some kink, too. But there are also some sweet, romantic moments in the M/M sense, to my relief. Alright, Arden is sometimes so sickeningly submissive (he needs a master, it’s in his nature, see) that I shook my head uncomprehendingly. But as I said initially, I’m just not into it. Apart from that, I could perfectly relate to Arden and the other characters, whom I found rather endearing (well, except the meanies, of course). This is a series, so many issues are left unresolved, but you do get a strong sense of where we could be heading in the next installments. And, submissive parts or not, I’m looking forward to discovering them.

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Galley copy of Puppet/Master provided by the author in exchange of an honest review.


Dieter, born and raised in Austria, studied Political Sciences in Vienna in the early 90s. He's living in Paris, France, with his boyfriend and working as a graphic designer. In his spare time, he loves to write, read, cook, take photos, and travel as often as possible. He’s already published two short-story collections as well as four poetry collections. His first murder mystery novel “The Stuffed Coffin” featuring Damien Drechsler and the dashing Greek student Nikos has been released on Jan. 6, 2019, and is available in English, French, and German. By the way, the French version "Le cercueil farci" has won the prestigious Prix du roman gay 2019 in the category murder mystery. Dieter runs a gay book reviews site in French and is also writing reviews for Gay Book Reviews under the pseudonym of ParisDude.
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