By Grace R. Duncan
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press; 1 edition (October 31, 2013)
The story immediately establishes the two main relationships, Bathasar and Teman and Cyrus and Nadir. The first two are the ruler of a Middle Eastern city and the latter two pleasure slaves, like Teman. The four come together when in 1096 AD there is rumor of an assassination attempt on the Malik Bathasar. The latter determines that provoking the assassin by behaving in an outrageously lascivious way with his three sex slaves should bring the assassin and his sponsors to light.
From this premise the story largely of the two main relationships begins. Any combination of four lovers, mix and match, makes for troubled hearts, and while Bathasar and Teman manage to keep attached to each other, the pairing of Cyrus and Nadir is threatened by insecurity and divided ambitions.
The result is one of the most relentlessly erotic tales I have ever read. Each scene of love, lust and affection is exquisitely drawn, each touch, each kiss, each drawn out climb to orgasm, uniquely individual in nature. I frankly don’t know how Duncan did it. The book could be a manual for how to write sex scenes between men. There are even two women, lesbians, who are an invaluable part of the story as they allow Cyrus and Nadir to reach their couplehood. As Cyrus struggles with his ambition not to be a slave and Nadir longs to be possessed, the two constantly worry at the implications for their relationship, requiring another exquisitely choreographed sex scene.
The assassination attempt is always intertwined with the eroticism. The four are together in order to protect the Malik after all. Whether they will remain together once the assassin is revealed is part of the tension. To top all this off, watching all four characters grow and reach their potential, including Bathasar, is a precise examination of character that is well worth sharing with them and the author
But is it historical? The date is stated, 1089 and 1096 AD, and the locale is Middle Eastern in description and culture. The names are a mix of Persian and Arabic, perfectly possible in this time period. Also possible in the place and time is all that happens. The male-male relationships may even have taken such a preeminent role in a city in this time and location. I cannot fault the author for creating a sort of alternate history, if she in fact did.