Sunday, September 13, 2020

RED HEIR, a Houses and Humans quest tale through Aguillon (also, fun m/m romp in homophobia-less secondary world)


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$3.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Imprisoned pickpocket Loth isn't sure why a bunch of idiots just broke into his cell claiming they’re here to rescue the lost prince of Aguillon, and he doesn’t really care. They’re looking for a redheaded prince, and he’s more than happy to play along if it means freedom. Then his cranky cellmate Grub complicates things by claiming to be the prince as well.

Now they’re fleeing across the country and Loth’s stuck sharing a horse and a bedroll with Grub while imitating royalty, eating eel porridge, and dodging swamp monsters and bandits.

Along the way, Loth discovers that there’s more to Grub than meets the eye. Under the dirt and bad attitude, Grub’s not completely awful. He might even be attractive. In fact, Loth has a terrible suspicion that he’s developing feelings, and he’s not sure what to do about that. He’d probably have more luck figuring it out if people would just stop trying to kill them.

Still, at least they’ve got a dragon, right?


My Review
: Once there was, in a Kingdom called Aguillon, a petty thief with a penchant for picking pockets and, um, seducing one could euphemize every male human with a purse that looked fatter than flatter. He's a mouthy git, prone to making it up as he goes along, and as we all know, loose ropes on deck mean nasty falls. Lies and thievery land a lad (not quite as young as once he was, prone to crow's feet) in chokey:
“I suppose you’re wondering how I got into this mess,” he announced loudly in the gloom. The pile of straw on the other side of the cell rustled, and a grubby face appeared.
“I wasn’t. I don’t care.”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Loth said to his cellmate.
“Then who were you talking to?” his cellmate demanded, jutting his jaw out.
“I was soliloquising,” Loth said. “Well, I was hoping to, but somebody won’t shut their mouth.”
And there it is, from the very first lines: What to expect, who's doing what to whom. Gadfly meets bloodmeal. Oh what fun it will be. Banter, bizarreness, and boys...yeup, I'm in a Lisa Henry novel.

So we've met Loth. (I suspect his placeholder name was "Loudmouth" and it got elided.) We've met the cellmate, who has bestowed upon him the utterly unlovely name "Grub" by Loth. Lovely, no? He'll have several other names as the book goes by. He soon gains a, well, unsavory reputation that will come back to haunt Loth, who bestowed that as well.

And then!!!
Where there had once been a wall, there was now a mountain of rubble, with an orc standing on top of it. He was big and ugly by human standards—possibly he was very attractive to other orcs—with two teeth in his bottom jaw protruding from between his lips like tusks.
The braids woven throughout the beard made Loth think the dwarf was possibly a woman, though it wasn’t always easy to tell with dwarves, and it was considered rude to ask—a lesson he’d learned the hard way.
Dave, the orc, and Ada, the dwarf, have arrived. Dave is dim, but deeply good. Oh, of course he's strong, he's seven feet of greenish-skinned muscle (good luck casting that, Hollywood) and prone to hurling people who don't meet his standards of not-murdering-his-friends like they were shot-puts. Ada, being a dwarf, is one tough customer, and she very quickly makes it clear to all and sundry that she is here to collect a fee for the service of rescuing the red-headed prince in the cell.

But both the rag-bags in the cell are red-headed. One natural, and Loth. But there's a rescue party, a wall that's a functional imitation of a door, and a guard party...tell me you didn't think Loth wouldn't try to be a long-unseen prince held hostage by a murderous, wicked uncle called Lord Doom if it meant getting out of jail.

Together with the anarchist-collectivist elf, Calarian, and the "hero" of the piece (in his own mind) Scott the cowardly dimwit, the six of them skedaddle from the (curiously uninvestigated) scene of the rescue. It's just like the quest that Ser (Bene) Factor promised Scott when he talked him into this lunacy! And as for the Houses and Humans-playing elf, well, his mother slung him out of the house with instructions to move his damned game on the road, so he was ripe for Ser (Bene) Factor's coins as well.

The Swamp of Death (a volcanic overturn with Calarian's studly cousin Benji, more anti-social than most elves, playing monster to keep people away), the ruined royal hunting lodge with a secret passage, the former jailer Ser Greylord who shows up at the's a quest.

And is it queer! Good lawsy me, the number of subverted power structures here is epic. Heh. Nothing, not one single thing, is made of anyone's sexual nature. Their behavior gets ribbed a lot...Loth and Grub, later Cue, still later Quinn discover a mutual attraction and go at it hammer and tongs, Benji the faux monster and Calarian the Housemaster (remember the game!), all come in for their share of ribbing but none of it homophobic. In fact, the entire universe the story operates in is laissez-faire regarding sexual behavior, and in a throwaway line we even learn it's no big deal for men to marry each other. (There is an almost complete absence of females, and a complete absence of heterosexual sex, throughout the story. Blissful for me.)

The quest proceeds to the royal capital, Scott gets abused quite a lot, we meet Loth's parents (I loved them and hope they can have a book of their own, Mum would be a great narrator hint hint), we encounter Lord Doom and Scott ends up putting the pieces together for all the merrie band (and gets a broken nose), and all ends up Right With This World. (It's a quest, that's not a spoiler.) And would it surprise you to learn that Dave the orc strikes the final blow for liberty? Only he isn't in the room...there's you a mystery to ponder.

The one question I cannot bear not to have answered is: WHO WAS THE ORIGINAL SCOTT?!? WHAT DID HE DO TO YOU, AUTHOR HENRY?!?

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