September 05, 2010

Review: Lord of the White Hell

Lord of the White Hell (Book #1)Lord of the White Hell by Ginn Hale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My quest to find quality gay fantasy novels leads me to suffer through a lot of small-publisher dreck, rife with awkward, overwritten prose, cliched characters, terrible covers, amateurish typesetting, and many, many typos. While Lord of the White Hell has terrible cover art and its share of typos, it's actually quite well-written, with a strong novelistic voice, complicated, interesting characterizations, and a strong sense of setting and sensual detail.

The book follows the basic trope of the fantasy academy, except with college-age students who are fully sexualized. The story is set in the POV of a 17-year-old mechanical genius named Kiram, who is attending an elite military academy in a country called Caledonia, which has religious, political, and ethnic tensions with his home country of Haldiim. So you get the general fish-out-of-water tale, with the added bonus that Kiram is gay, which is accepted in Haldiim but greatly frowned upon in Caledonia.

Anyway, Kirim is set up in a room with the hottie upperclassman Javier, who is Caledonian and a Duke, but also ostracized because everyone is scared of him, since he apparently has a "white hell" inside him, which gives him some very simple powers. Kirim thinks this is superstition, but he's still wildly attracted to Javier, and it's pretty obvious from the start that the feeling is mutual. Their personalities don't mesh easily, but they do become friends . . . and more . . . as they struggle together to figure out who is casting a curse that's killing off Javier's family.

This is barely a fantasy novel, beyond the semi-medieval setting and Javier's seldom-used powers. It's much more of a romance, even falling into that genre with some purplish emotions, although I welcomed a gay romance with a semi-fantasy setting while still feeling disappointed that it was more romance than fantasy. The challenging characterizations carry the story relatively well, keeping interest up even when the plot digresses and loses earlier, potentially fascinating threads.

Finally, the story feels incomplete, without a full arc and climax -- there's already a sequel available, and I'll bet that one feels more like a Part II than a true second book.

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