This review is part of the series of reviews of asexual fiction published by LT3 press which I am doing for Asexual Awareness Week.
Instead of reviewing just one story, I am going to review two of them, Alexey Dyed in Red and Breakfire’s Glass, both part of the Zhakieve Chronicles by A.M. Valenza. There are additional side stories published on the writer’s blog, but I am only reviewing Alexey Dyed in Red and Breakfire’s Glass. Henceforth in this review, I am going to refer to Alexey Dyed in Red as ADiR and Breakfire Glass as BG.
So, What Is This Series About?
It’s a fantasy story, with magic, set in the land of Zhakieve, ruled by the Blue Emperor. There are four seasons – New Spring, Little Summer, Little Winter, and Lonely Winter – and various deities, such as ‘Quiet Death’. Zhakieve has been closed to the outside for a very long time, but the Blue Emperor plans to finally re-open the borders. However, before that can happen, the Darkrow (powerful magic users who answer only to the emperor) have to take care of some issues. One of these issues is addressed in Alexey Dyed in Red and another is addressed in Breakfire’s Glass.
Three members of the Gorchev family – Katerini Gorchev, Vasily Gorchev, and Porfiry Gorchev – are all Darkrow. It’s a fairly unusual family, since Vasily and Porfiry are actually demons who Katerini’s father summoned, and since he was not strong enough to bind them, they ate him. However, since he wished them to serve the Blue Emperor and be like Katerini’s siblings, they have become Darkrow and their bodies bear a striking resemblance to Katerini. Katerini, naturally, has some very complicated feelings about her ‘brothers’.
That is about as much as I can say about the series as a whole without getting into spoiler territory. Though the stories can technically work as standalones, BF contains some major spoilers for ADiR, and I think ADiR does a better job of introducing the universe, so I definitely recommend reading ADiR first.
What Kind of Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Series Have, If Any?
There is quite a bit of off-page sex in ADiR, but nothing described in graphic detail. There is a lot of kissing in ADiR, and one kiss in BF. The kissing sometimes happens without the recipient’s permission, but the recipient always likes the experience.
As far as violence … I don’t think there’s any outright gore but there are certainly references to violent death – for example, Vasily and Porfiry eating Katerini’s father. Most of the violence is magical in nature.
Tell Me More about This Series
ADiR is the kind of story in which one makes a set of assumptions, and then forty pages later those assumptions get turned on their head – it’s in a good way, but it makes having a spoiler-free discussion tough.
For example, when we are introduced to the city of Kalinstad at the beginning of ADiR, one of my first thoughts was “How can an entire city exist in a place where it’s impossible for anyone who isn’t a particularly powerful magic user to get in and out for most of the year? How do the residents get food? What kind of economy do they have?” These questions were rhetorical. I assumed it was sloppy world-building, but it turns out there is a good answer to these questions. The answers, of course, would be major spoilers.
I admit that I did not understand everything about the worldbuilding/plot, but I overall liked it, both for the imagery and the way the world pushes the characters to challenge themselves.
On the asexuality content scale described in the introduction, I would rate ADiR as 1 and BG as a 3.
Both Porfiry and Katerini are asexual. Porfiry is not a POV character in ADiR, but he makes it clear that he is not as interested in sex as his fellow demon Vasily. Actually, I read Porfiry as being grey-asexual or possibly demisexual, but Word of God says he’s ‘asexual’. Katerini is only a minor character in ADiR, which contains no hint of her sexual orientation. However, in BG, Katerini is the main character, and she makes it quite clear that she has never desired anyone in a sexual way, and she is sex-repulsed. There is this dialogue between them:
“I have no inclinations or desires to be others, Katerini,” he said, much slower this time, as if she wouldn’t understand.
Which was good, because she didn’t. She scoffed in disbelief. “Excuse me, dear brother? You have two lovers … Not one, but two.” …
… “Both took time, and convincing.” He glanced away, and she saw the tightness in his features. “You insist demons and humans are different, Katerini, but desire is much the same between both of us. And I lack it. I am more than content to watch, though I participate when asked. It is not unpleasant.”
Katerini choked and went red. Scowling, she hissed, “Information I never wanted to know.” She shot a glare at Vasily for good measure. He blinked.
Porfiry touched her cheek with a sharp finger and she jerked, looking at him in disbelief. “Do you understand? I have heard others speak of your disinterest…”
[I am cutting out a bunch of dialogue here]
… “You said you heard the others speak of me – then you know what they say.” She hunched her shoulders. “I have never thought it was wrong, or alienating, or even odd. Yet my unwillingness has garnered me scorn on more than one occasion.”
Early on in BG, Katerini receives a prophecy – “Desire must not touch you during the course of your journey, or you will fail.” Katerini’s initial thoughts are something like this:
Why desire? Desire for what, of course, was the question – yet she felt it was obvious what kind of desire. For days, weeks, possibly months, she and Nikolai would be together. No one else. Desire. Katerini snorted. Likely she’d smother him before she’d ever fee a drop of desire for him. She’d never felt that way in her life. Not once. The thought of such intimacy revolted her.
The danger in prophecies was the tendency to underestimate them.
Katerini realizes that the prophecy says ‘desire’ not ‘sexual desire’, so throughout the story she has to watch out for the various non-sexual desires she has. This raises the subtle point that when many people hear ‘desire’ they automatically assume ‘sexual desire’ because that is our cultural conditioning, but assuming that sexual desire is the only kind of desire which counts can lead to problems.
Was This Written by an Asexual?
I’m not sure. Some of A.M. Valenza’s posts imply that she is asexual, but I don’t want to jump to conclusions. She has written this tumblr post for Asexual Awareness Week.
Hey Sara, Do You Like This Series?
Yes, I do. Out of all of the fiction published by Less Than Three Press I’ve read so far, this series is my favorite. I will get around to reading the bonus side-stories on the writer’s blog, and I intend to keep following this series as more instalments get published.
One may get theses books in eBook or paperback editions here.
I hope I have spread awareness of asexually-themed fiction, and that you all have discovered something new. If you have the means to do so, I encourage you to show your support for asexual fiction by buying it.