Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Duende by E.E. Ottoman

Title: Duende
Author: E.E. Ottoman
Purchase at Less Than Three Press
Purchase at All Romance eBooks
Cover Artist: Aisha Akeju
Genre: fantasy
Length: 15k words
Formats: epub, mobi, pdf

Famed opera singer Aimé has a lot in common with Badri, the Royal Ballet Company's most popular male lead. They have both dedicated their entire lives to their art, and struggle to be taken seriously among the Empire's elite. And both harbor a secret admiration and desire for the other.

This year for his birthday Aimé treats himself to a night at the ballet seeing Badri perform, and after the show decides to meet Badri and confess his admiration for Badri's skill. But when that first awkward meeting turns to more, they are left wondering if there is room in their lives for both career and romance...


Remember three-act structure? You won’t find it here. Here’s a beginning, which has some interesting elements. And an end. Foomp. No middle.

We’re given a fair amount of setup, in a world that feels pre-revolutionary France with British Empire elements. Engineering is coming along, assisted by magic, an idea that applies in practical terms to stage lights and nothing else that we see. Unless you count the mechanical sex toy, which has the element of novelty. Otherwise, it’s nobility has the money and the pull, and everyone else bows and says yes, sir or yes ma’am, because gender equality is a given, gayness isn’t an issue, and nasty remarks about a *trans person are a call for a public dressing down. Skin color is still a societal issue in places.

Aimé and Badri are noted performers, but their professions matter little aside from some set up. Aimé is a castrato opera singer, Badri a primo ballet dancer, and aside from an early performance which only serves to bring the two together, it really doesn’t matter. Badri’s dancing serves only to attract Aimé’s attention.

Aimé’s testicularly challenged state is something he consented to, as much as a child could be said to consent, and left him with the clear high voice that makes him a star, something we’re told repeatedly but never shown: his performing has no stage time in the story. We have no idea if he sings male or female roles, breeches roles, or roles where nothing matters except the ability to hit high F#. Aimé’s body issues and physical differences are handled head on: he doesn’t flinch when exposing himself to physically exquisite Badri. The author has an optimistic view of a castrato’s sexual function.

There really isn’t anything to pass for plot here: the MC’s meet, decide they’d like to get in one another’s pants, have a couple of dates that show more good time than anything else, break a few because of performing commitments, no big, and—HEA. How nice for them, but I was expecting something to be done with the interesting world, the vivid secondary characters, the MCs’ careers in the arts, some collaboration, anything. One unusual sex scene and more setup that goes nowhere in particular is about all we get. When added to the no-contractions, rather stilted dialog, repetitions of information that don’t illustrate anything, and a foray into a third party’s head for no discernible reason, the style doesn’t make up for the absence of plot arc. It’s all buildup and no events or resolution.

I really wanted all this set-up to dump me into an adventure that could only be had in this world, with these two men. The inconsequential juggling of performances and rehearsals plus tiny twitches of class awareness weren’t a good substitute. 2.5 marbles

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