This month’s book:ASSASSIN’S GAMBIT: The Hearts and Thrones Series, a paranormal romance by Amy Raby.
The World: The oppressive Kjallan Empire controls much of the known world, including the country of Riorca. The Riorcan Obsidian Circle is a revolutionary movement dedicating to changing that by any means necessary. The Kjallans are structured like Romans though the world is roughly 17th-century tech level (guns, for instance), with magic.
The Story: Vitala is an Obsidian Circle assassin, trained in both combat and magic. Her mission is to become the emperor Lucien’s lover, then kill him during sex (she’s trained to do that). Lucien has no heir, so the empire will collapse in civil war, giving Riorca a chance to break free.
The first complication is that Vitala is (of course) more attracted to Lucien than is good for her mission. A bigger one is that before she can strike, a usurper takes the throne. Vitala realizes that if she kills Lucien it won’t trigger any civil war, only more repression from his brutal replacement. So she sets out to put him back on the throne and to convince the Circle he’s the one to back. Which is rather like convincing George Washington to fight for George III.
What I Learned:
You can have heroes and villains without black and white ethics.
Stories like this are often written with black-and-white sides (revolutionaries either noble or terrorists) or present both sides as corrupt. Raby does a good job standing between them: the Obsidian Circle are very ruthless (Vitala’s training includes seducing and killing a helpless captive soldier) but they’re clearly preferable to the Kjallans. Lucien turns out to be a good guy, but he’s tied by Kjallan politics and only frees Riorca when he has to.
I Don’t Think I Can Write Paranormal Romance. I have one novel (still in draft stages), Good Morning Starshine, that started out as a paranormal romance, but then I began to think it was getting more SF. In idle moments, I’ve debated which one I’d like to try for.
After reading Assassin’s Gambit, I think it’ll have to be SF. I can write decent sex scenes and sexual tension, but the kind of intense, drawn out sex scenes here are probably beyond me. I may read some more in the genre before I decide (it’ll be a while before I get back to her).
There are untapped ways to create sexual tension. Vitala is deeply traumatized. She had to kill a Kjallan captive while making love to him as part of her training and the PTSD makes her freak whenever things get hot. So we get prolonged sexual tension despite their willingness to jump each other. And without using rape or abuse as the trigger.
It’s a good book and obviously relevant to something I’m writing, so this was a definite win.