Title: The Pet and His Duke
Series: Virasana Empire
Author: Beryll & Osiris Brackhaus
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Romance, Slavefic
LGBTQ+ Category: MM Gay
Reviewers: Dan; Ulysses, Paranormal Romance Guild
About The Book
Robert is a pet, a human pleasure slave, and well past his prime.
So when teenage Duke Thomar of Aylian buys him via mail order, Robert first suspects a dreadful misunderstanding. The duke is young, handsome and headstrong, and the very last thing he needs while struggling to secure his reign over his planet is an aging bargain bin pet by his side.
Only, the more time Robert spends with Thomar, the more he learns that the young duke rarely makes mistakes. Unless, of course, Thomar dashes off on one of his mad adventures, which Robert increasingly becomes a part of…
‘The Pet and his Duke’ is a standalone m/m romance novel in the ‘Virasana Empire’ universe. Written by Rainbow Book Award winners Beryll and Osiris Brackhaus, it is a story of self-determination and love, and Happily-Ever-Afters in the most unlikely places. Warning: contains slavery, non-con and lots of fluff.
This fourth book in the Virasana Empire series from the inimitable Brackhauses is not part of the Sir Yaden series, but a stand-alone novel with all sorts of tangential connections that keep making the reader (at least this one) say “ah!” Aside from its own epic romance – between Thomar Quetzal, the youngest Duke in the empire, and his slave ‘pet’ Robert – the book offers a delicious and often disturbing look at the morally ambiguous notion of “good” in Virasana’s incredibly complex cultures.
The peculiar interest and challenge of Duke Thomar’s rule is that he is (1) a teenager still, and (2) the Duke of Aylian, a planet that is directly below a recently opened portal between Virasana and another dimension. The young duke must negotiate the violent and complicated politics of a war-torn planet while capitalizing on the wealth potential of a whole new universe of demons hungry for Virasana’s culture, goods and services.
We get something of a deep dive into the Quetzal family, the most badass of all the great noble families in Virasana, whose emperor (the Good Emperor) is himself a Quetzal. And, of course, Sir Yaden of the Lotus Knights is a Quetzal. We have, however, been repeatedly told unpleasant things about the Quetzal nobles, including their inclination to sadistic sex and use of assassination as a political tool (the way you and I use the ‘delete’ button on our computers). In this book, we learn exactly how true all these terrible things are; but we also get very close to Thomar Quetzal, who both embodies and defies everything we have been told about his family.
Honestly, I think Beryll and Osiris Brackhaus purposely design their plot points to make me squirm. They’re really good at it.
Robert – who never has a surname – is an ageing ‘pet,’ which is the Virasana Empire’s euphemism for ‘sex slave.’ The teenaged Duke Thomar Quetzal purchases him through a cheap mail-order catalogue – because Robert is forty years old and has been sold and resold more times than he can remember since he himself was a pretty teenaged boy. We don’t quite understand why Thomar purchases Robert in the first place – and the gradual discovery of Thomar’s reasons becomes one of the subtexts of the entire, outrageous, episodic narrative of Robert’s life as Thomar’s pet.
Americans know all about slavery and its consequences (or should), but in this archaic-futuristic world slavery is a business like luxury fashion, and such a deeply-rooted custom that it is no more questioned than is the existence of the arrogant, selfish nobles who have all the power and most of the wealth in the empire.
Darios in the first book is a failed gladiator, and is purchased for the child Yaden by his parents when they discover he has huge superpowers – and think having a slave to teach and care for him will help. Robert is a very specific kind of slave, and a second strong subtext in the story is the sex life of Virasana nobles. It is fascinating and, I repeat, disturbing by turns. What saves this book from being a total creep-fest for me is the fact that Thomar is different in critical ways from other nobles in Virasana, something that Robert himself, as narrator, reveals to the reader as he discovers it for himself.
The authors warn the readers at the start of the book that the values of the people of the Virasana Empire are not like our values here and now (although I wonder these days). In particular, Robert’s attitude about his own status is never based on the idea that someday he’ll be free. After talking to a young pet belonging to another noble, and remembering himself as a young slave, he makes the sad comment: “there was no such thing as hope for a pet, there was only dull acceptance of whatever fate dealt to you.”
The romantic ending that the Brackhauses promise us is there – but it’s not quite what we might expect, and by the time you’ve read this book, you’ll understand exactly why and appreciate it all the more.
In theory, this book appealed to me. I read the blurb and signed up to read it immediately. I loved the idea of an older protagonist and the idea of a far-flung space empire with its own set of rules and mores. Unfortunately, several things fell apart in the execution, and overall, this book didn’t work for me.
Stylistically, the book didn’t quite come together. The language that the authors used felt strange and almost juvenile at times (adorable, cute, sexy, and awesome were the most common adjectives). The chapters read like a series of vignettes instead of a cohesive plot. On top of that, the chapters themselves had an odd narrative structure: it would open with a statement about how Robert couldn’t believe what had happened, followed by several pages of pluperfect exposition about what had happened to set up a problem, and then concluding with a return to the regular past tense to resolve the problem.
The plot of the novel overall centered around Robert, the pet, becoming more self-assured and a person in his own right, He realizes that his master genuinely cares about him and wouldn’t sell him again. However, this transformation still didn’t give Robert much of a personality. His personality traits seemed to more defined by the situation than his character itself. When the scene required a sacrifice, Robert became a martyr; when the scene required someone to speak up, Robert became brave; when the scene required a hero, suddenly Robert could pick up and aim a blaster toward dangerous enemies.
Before the book, the authors provided a few warnings about the objectionable content of the book (rape, violence, etc.). More than the warning, I wanted the authors to use these heavier plot points in a more meaningful way. Sexual violence has a home in this universe, it seems almost a way of life, but overall the authors use rape and torture as a way for the main character to show how much he’ll undergo for his master and, once the chapter is over, Robert never seems to think about the days of intense torture that he endures. Not even a whiff of PTSD or permanent physical damage, which trivializes the topics to me.
Occasionally, the author would give hints of an incredibly interesting world and characters but never elaborate on them. The planet on which Robert and Thomar reside is below a portal to a realm of demons ruled by a god-like empress. Fascinating. However, we get little from this other than a few unnamed characters and one demon, Lady Karr, who might be the best part of the book.
Lady Karr stands out as the one character who isn’t sexualized in some way or another, which in a way gives her the most personality. She has more presence than a lot of the other secondary characters and takes up a position as one of Robert’s friends. She’s also the first person to recognize that Robert has real value to Thomar and uses that to her advantage, to secure a home for her court of demons. I could have read an entire book about the polite, clever, and genuine Lady Karr trying to navigate the culture and politics of the Virasana Empire.
The book does contain a lot of fluff and sex and ends on a nearly impossibly happy note. A happy ending, at least, I can always appreciate. I only wish I’d really wanted it for the characters. I think if the authors had spent more time developing a few more key points of the plot rather than filling the novel with one-off adventures that hardly tied together, this story might have really stood out as a fun and interesting space adventure.
Ulysses Grant Dietz grew up in Syracuse, New York, where his Leave It to Beaver life was enlivened by his fascination with vampires, from Bela Lugosi to Barnabas Collins. He studied French at Yale, and was trained to be a museum curator at the University of Delaware. A curator since 1980, Ulysses has never stopped writing fiction for the sheer pleasure of it. He created the character of Desmond Beckwith in 1988 as his personal response to Anne Rice’s landmark novels. Alyson Books released his first novel, Desmond, in 1998. Vampire in Suburbia, the sequel to Desmond, is his second novel.
Ulysses lives in suburban New Jersey with his husband of over 41 years and their two almost-grown children.
By the way, the name Ulysses was not his parents’ idea of a joke: he is a great-great grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, and his mother was the President’s last living great-grandchild. Every year on April 27 he gives a speech at Grant’s Tomb in New York City.
Dan Ackerman is a writer and educator who has lived in Connecticut for their entire life. They received their BSED from CCSU in 2013 and wrote their Master’s thesis on representations of women in same-sex relationships in contemporary Spanish literature and cinema. Currently, Dan is studying for a second MA in ABA and works in a center school for students with a variety of intellectual, developmental, or multiple disabilities. In their spare time, Dan continues to read and write, supplemented with a healthy amount of movie marathons and gaming.
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