Other Reviewers: Goodreads
My Quickie Reviews are designed for those books in which it would be unfair to rate on my full-novel scales. James L. Wolf’s Chaining Flame then, fits this category perfectly. At 16,230 words, this is a novella, and I would consider it more of an erotic novella as opposed to a gay romance. I wrote a piece on my opinion of the difference between romance and erotica last year.
So what does this mean? Well, there is not a lot of time to spend on developing characters or relationships, so the author usually chooses to advance the relationships through sex. In my opinion, that does not automatically lessen or improve my enjoyment of the book, but rather I leave that up to the author to keep me compelled with their writing.
Full Disclosure: This book was given to me by the author for a fair review. My opinions are always mine, and I strive for a honest review.
Ilamaych is a war spoil turned slave, and is now on the road to the market. While traveling with fellow slaves and slavers, he is bought by a seemingly innocuous farmer, Earen. Ilamaych knows very little of the people here or of his new Master Earen, other than that Earen is attracted to him. But while Ilamaych strives to understand his new role, he is torn away from Earen only to discover yet another destiny. With these new changes, comes another potential lover, Ficus. Will Ilamaych’s life ever be the same?
I see this novella written into three parts (Ilamaych’s perspective, Earen’s perspective, and Ficus’s perspective). As we see through each character’s eyes, we begin to understand their backstories and the world around them. Because this is an erotic novella, I expected most of the development to be sexual, and while that was true, I found it more sexy and intriguing than smutty.
Ilamaych’s view is from what I would consider the reader’s viewpoint. We are not from this world; it is scary and new. We understand Ilamaych’s sadness, despair, and fear. Wolf does an excellent job of pulling us into the story immediately:
His leathers were filthy beyond anything Ilamaych would have ever tolerated given a choice. He was embarrassed by the smell and nudged them into an abject pile with his feet. The man sat in a rough-hewn chair and watched, stroking his scruffy beard. He did not comment. Ilamaych bore his gaze uneasily.
So, we get that feeling of non-consensual sex and slavery. As the story unfolds, including very sexy scenes, are we aroused? Do we feel disgusted? What does this mean? Are all three of these characters going to get their “happy every after”? Are they worth it?
For me, Earen was pretty assholian in the beginning of the book, but by the end he has the farthest character development. We are encouraged not to give up on him:
Earen wished he could touch Ilamaych’s hand or shoulder; some form of physical contact. After being alone for so long it had been astonishingly easy to draw someone into his little world.
I feel by the conclusion of the novella Earen deserves love and a second chance at life. We do not see enough of Ficus’ storyline, and Ilamaych is more of a “typical submissive” character. I could say more about the characters, but I do not want to spoil some of the story and surprises.
- The Sex Scenes: These scenes are certainly erotic and graphic. While I would not call it “BDSM”, I would say that triggers and themes you would find in a BDSM novel can be found here. I would absolutely say that if you do not like BDSM type novels you would find the sex and relationships uncomfortable in Chaining Flame. Also note this is poly relationship, so if you are only after monogamy and churches this might not be for you.
- The World Building: Right from the beginning of the novella, I was pulled into this world. The author impressively drew me into the backstory and concerned for Ilamaych’s wellbeing. How did he get to where he was? What would happen to him? It opens so mysteriously that you are compelled to keep reading.
What Could be Better:
- Too Short: By definition, novella’s are short; which means that it is up to the author to give us as much information, plot, and development as he can before the end. I actually thought this book was well paced. Wolf spent enough time at the beginning to develop the world, Ilamaych, and Earen. The middle and ending sections we have Earen’s character development and the beginning of external conflict. While I think the addition of Ficus was important for the ending plot, he addition felt rushed. We knew little about him and did we truly care about his part of the relationship? A full length novel would have given us the chance to build his character.
Before reading Chaining Flame, I knew nothing about James. L. Wolf as a writer, so I jumped at the chance to read someone new. I was pleasantly surprised (the cover had that typical low-press composite feel that would have repelled me on the shelf). The book was well written with a robust world for the length of novel. I finished this book probably in less than 2 hours because I was that enthralled with the read.
That being said, there was room for improvement. If this had been a full length novel, I would have given it as 3 star because of the lack of development of the relationship and Ficus. But, this is a novella, which is designed to give us more of a “snippet” and power packed story, which was delivered. I will say that this has aroused my curiosity about Mr. Wolf’s writing and I will check out his other novels. If you want a hot, quick, BDSM-style fantasy read, give this one a shot!