One of the things I love about about our on line community of bloggers, writers and readers is that occasionally there are perks. Being offered a new book in exchange for an honest review is one of those perks and I was very glad to be offered this story by Julia Leijon. Thank you, Julia.
“I think I’m supposed to be dead.”
Corwen’s emotions are a frozen wasteland after years of enslavement and abuse. When he’s finally rescued, freedom isn’t enough to thaw the wintry landscape of his heart.
Slowly, his new compatriots teach him that physical intimacy is a sacred gift, that pleasure can be shared without pain. With endless patience, they offer him a different way of being.
In order to be whole, Corwen must surrender the self-loathing he wears like armor. Can he learn to see himself the way his new companions do? Or will he hide from love forever in the icy vault that shields his deepest soul?
Ice in Sunlight is a full-length M/M fantasy tale. It is intended for mature readers only due to adult themes and content.
And here is an excerpt:
They left in late morning, when the haze started to lift. The first hour was easy, because the land surrounding the castle had been flattened and cleared decades ago so any approaching visitors or invaders would be visible long before they arrived. Theoretically, at least. The landscaping hadn’t done much to save its king, when put to the test.
The second hour, when they reached the forest, was more difficult. By the third hour, Corwen had to admit the obvious to himself: he was markedly less fit than the other three. The thought of falling short of them in yet another way hurt more than sore calves and aching sides ever could, though, so Corwen suffered in silence.
Aside from the discomfort of the walking itself, Corwen was enjoying the journey more than he’d expected to. It had been terrain just like this that he’d spent his earliest years in, and it was amazing how quickly the surroundings became familiar. He recognised smells, different tree saps and leaf mulch and plants. The bird songs and soft animal sounds were ones he knew, even though he’d forgotten for so long that he knew them.
He picked a careful path up the next hill, careful to avoid the places he knew would be weak underfoot. He’d learned that skill the hard way, as a boy.
When there was a river uphill and lots of the thick-trunked, stumpy trees with the dense, knotty root patterns, it meant the water flowed down through the root structures, creating an invisible layer of slippery mud beneath the ordinary-looking ground level.
It was one of the forest’s most treacherous tricks, and Corwen could still remember the nasty fall he’d had as a child. He’d knocked out both of his front baby teeth, and scraped his chin badly on some rocks.
That experience had been more than enough to make the lesson stick, to the point where he remembered it now, even after a full decade away from the forest.
He was almost at the top of the hill when he heard a crash and a string of curses behind him. It was Mariam, one of her feet submerged in one of the concealed mudholes up to the shin of her boot.
Reza was the closest and moved to her side immediately, helping her ease her leg out of the hole. Her face had gone ashy, and Reza’s expression was of deep concern.
Still bitter and angry over being rejected, Corwen couldn’t help but feel glad at Reza’s worried look. He forced himself not to smile.
It had never even occurred to him to share the information about the secret mud spots on the hill. What you knew and someone else didn’t was an advantage. Giving such things away for nothing never made any sense, no matter what the circumstances. Corwen knew that with such absolute certainty he hadn’t had to consider it consciously at all.
“Don’t take the boot off,” Reza said. Amir had joined them and been about to start unlacing the mud-covered shoe. “Her ankle will swell up so much it’ll be impossible to put it back on afterwards.”
Corwen, annoyed at having to retrace even the smallest amount of ground, made his way down the hill carefully.
Mariam flinched, almost imperceptibly, each time she had to move her foot. She probably thought she was hiding her pain quite well, but to Corwen she might as well have been screaming. The fact that she didn’t know how to properly conceal it meant she hadn’t had to do so very often, and quite probably never in any circumstance where revealing pain would make her a vulnerable target.
Corwen envied her for it, and resented that envy.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it one sitting. Corwin’s character had me hooked from the beginning. His quick tongue and wit, his seemingly hopeless situation, the fact that the only thing that actually makes him happy is thinking of how he will die, because he knows, with clear certainty, that he will die. This all combined to make him a very real, very flawed but very likeable character.
Corwin is a slave, a sex slave at that, used for pleasure. He’s survived so far by staying ahead of his owner and making himself desirable rather than dispensable. He is very clever, but does not know that he is, only that he can think on his feet and can learn quickly, quicker than those around him and that fact has kept him alive longer than most sex slaves. He is now nineteen and the average age of death for a slave of his standing is seventeen.
He is owned by a king. He is the same age as the king’s younger son, Eli. They strike up an unlikely friendship which is ill-advised and quite frankly dangerous but makes both their situations very much more bearable. We see this friendship through a series of flashback memories, which can sometimes be distracting from the story, but the author wove them into the narrative very well.
Eventually, as a punishment for this friendship and because the king is a sadistic b*st*rd, the son is sent away and Corwin is left to try and survive on his wits alone with only the memories of his friendship with Eli to brighten his otherwise dark dreams.
He is rescued from his life of slavery, but knows little else of life, so therefore finds his new situation difficult to comprehend. He cannot accept that he is no longer expected to be “useful” because if you are no longer useful to someone they kill you. Sometimes he tries to endear himself to his new “captors”, since his brain does not allow himself to see them as friends. Sometimes he challenges them, their ideals and their way of life. He annoys them and sometimes provokes angry reactions, but he also intrigues them.
In his new life, those around him show patience and acceptance and he slowly heals from the mental wounds of his former life.
Meanwhile there is a little intrigue in the form of political assassinations, manipulations and revenge killings. Corwin’s new situation is thrown into disarray when the daughter of his former owner tries to claim him as her own property, and her brother, Eli arrives with a view to renewing their friendship in safety this time.
All in all this story was very enjoyable. Towards the end I found myself a little disappointed that there was not more conflict due to Corwin’s uncovering some political intrigue and fowl play. The problems were more easily solved than I would have expected. There were a few loose ends as well which I realised were not going to be tied up. The author went to great pains to describe and compare two characters with a hint of a connection but then nothing came of it. Am I to believe there will be a sequel to cover this story line? I hope there is, because I would definitely read it.
This is well worth a look.