Title: The Luxury of Vengeance
Author: Isabella Carter
Length: 20k words
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Blurb: Take no prisoner. Show no mercy. Trust no soul. And vengeance shall be yours…
Prince Chien is determined to claim his birthright — the Throne of a Thousand Swords — denied by his wicked aunt, Empress Mai. He has successfully turned her two equally wicked sons, Prince Minh and Prince Tuan, into dueling each other for the throne. Hiding a vial of EverBloody, Prince Chien attempts to poison their foods at the banquet. No matter who win the duel tomorrow, both wicked princes will die.
One cut to the skin, and blood will flow relentless. Prince Chien will make his aunt suffer every second in watching her beloved sons die a slow painful death. Afterward, he will take her head and the crown that sits upon it. Only then will he have successfully eliminated all the traitors who helped kill his mother and his younger sister in the palace coup thirteen years ago.
Only one person stands in his way — General Bao. Prince Chien has skirted around court intrigues, planned successful assassinations, and demurred himself as a dunce prince. But love is the one thing Prince Chien never thought he would had to face. Whoever said that those who embark on a journey of revenge should dig two graves was not wise enough to realize love could do exactly the same thing.
This story was written for the Love is Always Write event at the M/M Romance Group on GoodReads.
Review: I don’t know how I missed this one when the free stories in last year’s Goodreads M/M Romance Group came around. I’m definitely a fan of Isabella Carter (especially after reading her recent full length novel A Shadow of a Dream), but this one slipped through the net. I’m happy to get the chance to review it now, because as excited as I was to review this short, I was even happier once I’d read it.
Prince Chien has been nursing his plan for vengeance against his aunt for thirteen years. Then, while he was still a child, his aunt murdered his mother in cold blood, taking the Throne of a Thousand Swords and becoming the Empress, leaving his mother’s body to rot in the streets as a sign of her power. While playing the dutiful fool of a nephew (sometimes too well) he’s been secretly honing his skills, both physical and mental. And through the past years, he’s assassinated each person who took part in the conspiracy to murder his mother one by one.
The story starts just one day before his long plan is to come to fruition. But all has not gone as he’d hoped. General Bao, one of Empress Mai’s most favored, has set his sights on Chien. But their secret trysts have become much more than bed warming to both of them and Chien is unable to decide between his heart and his mind. Bao is an honest and proud man, genuinely good, and Chien knows that the plan of vengeance he’s meant for — that is sanctioned by the gods — should take precedence over his own selfish, secret wishes. The Empress is ruining the country, the people are starving and her greed is ending in the murder of innocents across the country. To do what must me done means, in the end, pitting himself against the man he’s grown to love and who is sworn to protect the Empress.
I have to confess that I did something I don’t normally do before writing up my review. After I finished the story and went to mark it as read on Goodreads, I saw that the story had an overall rating of 3.5 something stars. Honestly, it confused me because I found this story to have really wonderful writing, an interesting plot and characters and I was engaged with it every step of the way. What I found was a really diverse group of ratings, some of which frankly baffled me. Someone said that they found all kinds of errors and horrible pacing and tons of telling instead of showing. Maybe it’s that I have a current incarnation of the story downloaded from Less Than Three Press, which has since been edited. I’m not sure. But, seriously? The story is free, people! And it has little editing because it’s for this annual story writing event. Anyway, I specifically went back to check in the story and I only found three small proofreading errors (missing words, etc.). I actually found the pacing to be wonderful because the format of this story is of the two days where Chien has enacted his final plan to dethrone his aunt and during his actions he reflects upon how he got to where he is and how his plan for vengeance started. No info dump, great pacing, and hardly any telling at all. In fact, the story is almost all present scenes back to back with little transition between them. I also saw some people talking about his sexist and racist this story was… Huh? I won’t even talk about that.
I apologize for turning a review into a rant. I hardly ever use a review to reply to other readers’ reviews, but in this case I thought it was warranted because I had such a different and positive reaction to the story, which I enjoyed immensely. And in the end, I think it comes down to style. As readers, we tend to view the story in the light of how we responded to it. I loved it, so naturally I had a bit of an easier time skimming over it’s faults. If I had hated it, I might not have felt the same, there might have been numerous details that irked me, only because I didn’t find enjoyment in the story, or it didn’t suit me. Maybe some people didn’t like that this is a Cinderella type story, but with a very different and dark twist, with seriously flawed characters… Who knows?
I definitely liked the story, but what I really enjoyed about it and what I feel made the story really successful is twofold: one, the story is character driven instead of world driven, and two, that allows the story to be full of rich detail without trying to do too much for the short format. The romance here is enough for an HFN ending but it shares the stage equally with the machinations of the royal family. There’s little sex and what is written isn’t very explicit, which went well with the mood. Most of all, I found the writing to be really beautiful. The writing has a heavily reflective mood. Prince Chien’s narration reflects his own mood — apprehensive, eager, somber, nervous, driven and determined. No matter how his own coup ends, it ends in death either way. And that slowly encroaching ending has a heavy finality that is only sometimes pierced by the hope and regret he feels in relation to General Bao.
My only real complaint is that Empress Mai came across as a storybook villain instead of a real and flawed character. I think that her brand of evil, while easy to show the contrast of good in others, ends up being less effective than it would have been if we understood her a bit more.
So, if you made it this far in such a long and twisted review, I congratulate you! LOL. You might as well go ahead and read the story now. It is free, after all!