review contains mild spoilers but
no important ones, and it can be argued that there are no spoilers in
the book anywhere, since it's the first book of a trilogy and merely
sets up the plot.
I'm beginning to sense a trend here. I've reviewed other books by male writers in the erotic romance genre and found them notably deficient in the romance department, and this one is no exception. In fact there is one book I reviewed at the author's request that was so scathing on the topic of the lack of romance that I ran it by the author and offered not to run it because it was a fairly savage put-down of the book, and the author did ask me not to run it.. This is not going to be a problem with "Slave Girl of Akkadis" because the plotting is really strong here and the world building is topnotch, though the characterization is relatively weak. So there's more balance.
The book is the story of two groups of women who get enslaved in a galactic empire known simply as the Empire. The Empire was formed after a successful revolt against an alien race that gave humanity interstellar flight. Unfortunately, the leaders of that rebellion set up galactic hereditary empire (sigh) and their descendents have grown weak and foolish. The result: a barbaric human culture at the fringes of the Empire known as the Atkoi has become powerful enough to become a severe annoyance to the Emperor, weakening the Empire's control at the fringes of the Empire and forcing him to treat with them diplomatically.
Because of this weakness, piracy is growing even in Empire space. The bulk of the women
characters in the book are passengers on an interstellar passenger
ship carrying 4000 people that is attacked by pirates. The pirates
mass murder the bulk of the passengers. They save only a few dozen
young, beautiful women whom they rape repeatedly and use as sex toys
before taking them to the planet Akkadis, a neutral planet known for
its brothels full of enslaved beauties, to be sold to some of those
brothels. (There are also a few women caught up on the wrong side of
political struggles on Akkadis who get enslaved as well in a very
"Brazil" sort of way.)
The pirates are all, without exception, evil thuggish scumbags ... some are just worse than others. Same with the government police on Akkadis.
The description of the ordeals of the women on the ship are hard to read. There is no human relationship between any of the women and any of the pirates, or between them and any of the people in the slave houses and brothels they encounter. It's all rape and brutality and they are the helpless victims, period. And the female characters are described in such a way that we are clearly supposed to ENJOY their rapes -- here's an example: "Krull pointed his pistol at Daisy and said, “You come with me.” Daisy was rooted to the spot. She was an attractive young woman of twenty-one with dark hair, slender figure, long legs and firm round breasts. Krull could see this because Daisy was wearing only a diaphanous deep red silky top and matching panties. The skimpy panties were fastened with a bow on each side. The top was held together by a bow above Daisy’s breasts. The whole ensemble did little to preserve Daisy’s modesty."
Despite eroticization of the women, you get NO sense that the women enjoy the sex slavery, they're constantly begging not to be raped and brutalized, and they seem to spend most of their time when they're NOT being raped and brutalized crying and huddling in fear. I didn't enjoy any of the sex slavery scenes at ALL for that reason. Well also for the reason that none of the women seemed to like being sex slaves, there was no hint of a dark sexuality within them that responded to their treatment, or of any sexuality at all, really, it was all fear and terror and nothing else. And given the relentless brutality and evil of their captors, totally understandable.
This might in fact be a reasonable description of what it is like to be captured and repeatedly raped by pirates, but this is an erotic romance. There should be at least a LITTLE romance. So you might say, OK, a guy wrote it, it's porn. But it's not all that PORNY either. The descriptions of the sex acts are not all that explicit or dwelt upon. Think John Norman's "used her richly and muchly" and you're pretty much on track. By FAR the most explicit scene in the book is a caning scene in a brothel where a new brothel slave (a former pirate victim) is stripped and strapped over a caning stool, and then caned in front of an audience for their entertainment. No sex was involved.
There's also a graphic description of a woman beaten to death by an alien pirate, not for sexual reasons, just as an example to the other women. If you're into that sort of thing.
Worst of all, there is not a lot of bondage. Oher than the caning scene previously described, a branding scene, and a few scenes where the slaves are transported while hooded, bound and gagged there is .. none. In my opinion sexual bondage and slavegirl themes work together very well, but I guess if you are not into bondage you don't tend to "get" that very well, though on the evidence, there's a storng correlation between slavegirl themes and bondage themes ... I mean, there's a reason why enslaved people are said to be "in bondage" ... isn't there?
Though SOME of the female characters are
stronger than others in how they respond, their generic helpless victimhood just
overwhelms their individual backgrounds and makes for poor
characterization. You tend to care about them as victims, and to hate
their oppressors, but it's very shallow stuff as the characters are so shallow. Some of the victims
come from families that owned slaves, offering some great
possibilities for rich irony, some strong comeuppance themes, or at
least more depth in the characterizations ... opportunities which are
Look guys, if you want a goodly chunk of those 70 million readers who bought 'Fifty Shades of Grey" to buy YOUR books ... and I assume that IS the reason you label them as "erotic romances" ... then you need to get some romance in your books. You have to have two characters who care for one another. there has to be somenthing going on besides brutality. It's as simple as that.
Thing is, Sparrowhawk is a fine writer, there is NOTHING wrong with his prose, he knows how to develop an interesting plot and get it moving along. His world building is excellent, the universe in which the Atkoi wars exist is believable and well developed, it's not a superficial jerry-rigged thing where you can see the author's unpainted plywood sheets and two-by-fours where there should be a convincing world -- as is the case with many, many erotic romances written by women. Sparrowhawk might just be the one to grab all those "Fifty Shade of Gray" readers who are hungry for more if he can figure out that romance thingy ... I'd suggest he read a few of the better erotic romances written by women. There is not a HUGE gap between Sparrowhawk and Tanya Korval, for example.
As this is Book One it MAY be that Book Two and/or Three of the series contain stronger characterizations and more interesting human relationships, but there is NO evidence in Book One to support that theory. I'm STILL kind of interested in book two purely because of the well developed plot and the great world building, especially since there are hints that some of the slave girls may be directly involved in the conflict. I'd kind of like to know how things shake out between the Empire and the Atkoi and how the slavegirls are affected. But the prospect of reading more unrelenting brutality with no good characterization or romances leaves me feeling kinda "meh" on that topic.
"I fear we do not have a sufficiently well established a romantic relationship ... but keep it coming!" Image courtesy of Sex and Submission.
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