This review took me FOREVER to actually type up. Not because of how long it was, but because of how angry I kept getting while editing it. -A-
Duende by E.E. Ottoman (author) • Less Than Three Press • 2014 • 37 pages
Blurb (from GoodReads): 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…
Genre/Themes: Romance, Finding True Love, Castrato, AGS, Music & Theater, Ballet, Historical Fiction/Fantasy/Steampunk/IDK WHAT THIS IS
Got My Copy: e-ARC From NetGalley
Overall Rating: 2/2.5 of 5 stars
Review & Evaluation:
→ Characters: 3.5
→ Plot/Concept: 3
→ Delivery: 2.5
→ Message: 2.5
I don’t even know what the hell this is. Short story? Steampunk? Fantasy? Continuation from another novel/book/short story/what-have-you? It just wasn’t clear. I will mention now though, that I haven’t read the first(??) book in this “apparent” universe? series?? whatever??? So maybe that is where my confusion is coming from… but some really simple freakin’ things could have alleviated that confusion. LIKE A SENTENCE SAYING “SERIES MUST BE READ IN ORDER.”
Because if that is the case, then it ABSOLUTELY needs to be stated or said somewhere in the book. That way other readers like myself would actually be able to understand context in the setting of that world… even if the primary characters are different in each book.
But enough of that. I’ll get more into the details of that later.
Taking into consideration that this e-ARC did not go through final proofing… I would conservatively say that it definitely needs some editing here and there, but otherwise… was a somewhat decent story. It won’t be winning any awards from me. I certainly wasn’t dazzled, but I didn’t hate it either. There were moments in it that I truly enjoyed, so that has to account for something. I guess…
Now here’s a bit of warning: This review is half ACTUAL, PROPER REVIEW and half TBBR and ranty and angry and GRRR!ARGGHHHHHLHKMFKD! XD There is a DAMN GOOD REASON FOR THIS.
It is also long.
Like, REALLY long.
And a bit spoilery.
You have been warned.
Now back to the review…
Truth is, I have so many mixed feelings about this book. For one, I loved the premise and even how it started off, even if it was a little slow. But as it went on, more problems arose and I was just thrown left and right because of things that should have been minor, but ended up really bothering me.
I know the note in the front matter of this ARC said that what I was reading wasn’t the final proof, but still. Unless another 40 pages are being added to this book to:
- MAKE IT LONGER (It was far too short. And I’m not even saying this because I WANTED more. The story simply NEEDED MORE TO IT in order for it to even *work* as a finished story…) or
- FIX some really obnoxious world-building flaws and pitfalls…
…I doubt this story is going to get any better review from me. Sorry.
I was actually really hoping for something great to come out of this book… Not before I started reading it, but just after I got a few pages in. Duende immediately opened up with concepts and terminology I was unfamiliar with (and, as such, ignited my interest and curiosity). I avidly went to research and investigate this and that, because obviously EVERYONE is as much of a nerd as I am y/y?? XD For instance, I didn’t know what a castrato was or what it entailed before starting this book (though I did have a feeling…), and after learning more about them (and having my suspicions confirmed), I was intrigued. I wanted more, and I wanted to see the relationship between Aimè (our castrato) and Badri (our magnificent ballet dancer) really go somewhere—
But it sort of… fell short? I don’t even know. It just didn’t do anything of what I thought it would… And I’m not even talking about lack of sex in the book or anything. The amount was fine. The way it happened perhaps… ehh, not so much. The courtship was also… meh… alright. I had no problem with some of the interesting places they went to for their dates and such. There was just something definitely missing from this book overall, which is a real shame. I wanted to enjoy it so much. In the end, I was just really confused when it was over.
Now here starts the ranty-angry-spoilery bit of this review:
- The only thing that was really nice about this book was the diversity of it and the fact that it was challenging gender roles and the ideals of a cis-normative society, but I think that was all it had going for it. Of those I read about: the women were strong and powerful, taking roles of importance and relevance, while the males were either in arts or science roles, and though still the focus of the lime-light, were at the beck and call of others’ hospitality and patronage. Either that or they were secondary (in a sense) to female “superiors”. It was… oddly refreshing, but that’s about as far as I can go with it.
- Alternative genders and a very atypical M/M story. I can say that too because as Aimè keeps reminding everyone, regardless of the fact that he’s a castrato, he is STILL a MAN. So yeah. *nods resolutely*
- TWINS! I love books that have twins in them, especially when both are portrayed as individuals and not just parrots of one another.
- Some of the world-building!! …y’know… When it actually made sense!! 8D
- PS – Two cool things I found out more information about were, as I mentioned, the Castrato (which is exactly what you think it is) and the title of the book itself: Duende (see also the mythos behind the word). You can check out more information about both by clicking on the links. It’s quite fascinating reads to be completely honestly with you. In fact, I wish more information on both terms had been added to the book. That would have helped situations. Like… A LOT. And if you’d like to hear what a castrato actually sounds like, check out this video. It’s the same one I watched when looking up more information about them. 🙂
Dislikes and serious concerns:
- Where did magic come into all this? What the fuck?? I thought this was contemporary/normal shit without magical anything! WHAT IS GOING ON.
- I don’t know how to deal with this book. And I really mean that. Because… honestly? The story was decent enough. I liked the characters, and yet… I didn’t… really… believe them? I don’t know. They were very one-dimensional (except for the two main characters Aimè and Badri, who were more… two-dimensional and at times even three-dimensional, but still held this unconvincing vibe at times.) And Commander Collette, Aimè’s roommate. I wish we had seen a little more of her, since she was actually decent and interesting in as far as characters go. She was the only other one that seemed to have an actual personality. Sorta.
- Sorta-kinda mentioned already but – As I later noticed, this is like, book 2?? or something?? in a particular universe… and… that’s all fine, well, and good and all… but… I just don’t know. It doesn’t seem like these books continue directly from one another, so why was this book so difficult to follow in terms of settling and world-building?
- I had this issue early on, which I thought might resolve itself later in the book… and didn’t? It was this really, REALLY random mention of magic in this book’s world, and – granted, that’s fine! The presence of magic and all. But it was SO RANDOM. And it did NOTHING for the book. It didn’t enhance or drive plot. It didn’t add depth or meaning to the world-building. It didn’t even make sense when it came up in sentences like this one:
“Sushil needed to contact Gregory about how to sustain a power spell once it was laid on the interworks of a steam engine. Steam could power the engine in its own right, of course, but magic most certainly would enhance it. Didn’t this kind of technology exist in China already?”
What? I mean…. wha-what?!! …okay. Random as hell to bring in the use of magic and spells when I’m reading this book thinking it’s basically historical fiction because it gives NO OTHER INDICATIONS WHATSOEVER – ANYWHERE – IN ANY OF THE PAGES AS BEING ANYTHING OTHERWISE… and then you throw in magic and spells and shit to make the lights for stage performances more… interesting? What the fuck even?! Now… I might have been okay with that… IF – and this IF is stressed like the weight of a mammoth collapsing ontop of you in a barren field – IF… I had seen… even ONE. OTHER. INSTANCE. OF MAGIC. ANY.WHERE.IN.THE.BOOK.
But there was none to be had.
I mean… you could have made the carriages powered by… levitation spells or something. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN FINE. Or maybe… I don’t know… uttering spells to turn on the lights? Or lock and secure the doors or entire house before a character leaves. SOMETHING. I don’t even know what kind of “magic” supposedly is being used in this world. I don’t know if it’s taking place in an alternate history earth, or another realm that just seems to eerily remind me of bygone eras like the Victorian of our own world. I don’t even know what the function or purpose of magic is in a world that apparently uses it for NOTHING ELSE BUT STAGE LIGHTS FOR PERFORMERS LIKE SINGERS AND BALLET DANCERS WHO COMPLAIN THAT IT’S FAR TOO HOT ANYWAY SO WHAT IS THE POINT?!!!?
I honestly do not even know where to go with that. And it bothered me. Throughout the reading of the WHOLE DAMNED THING. I kept thinking, “Ok. So maybe I’ll get some explanation as to why they have magic when apparently they’re also wearing stockings, heeled shoes, and waistcoats and run around in carriages (presumably) drawn by horses. But then… apparently… also have taxis. What the actual fuck.”
- It was also ridiculously short. Only 37 pages! I feel like I was gipped. Now I’ve read short stories, novellas, and such that have, obviously, been short. But when they were done I felt complete. Or I only pinned for more because it was so good and GIMMMMMEEEE.But this!
At first, I thought things were happening too fast, then they weren’t, and then it was just OVER. I was really, REALLY irritated by this, lemme tell ya.
- And the characters! Specifically Aimè! I don’t even know where to begin with this guy. I apparently had a very different image of what he looked like from the beginning of the book to what he looked like later on (Not the end-end epilogue.. ish… thing, but during their sex scene when we get a very intimate picture of what he looks like undressed). And, to be quite honest with you, I don’t know if I am to attest that to simple time lapse (which the author REALLY needs to address in their book and make a bit more obvious because without some sort of indicators, the reader has NO idea how much time has actually passed between scenes. Either labeled it easily “One year later” or… start off the new scene with something to tell the reader A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF TIME HAS PASSED THANKS) or just really unclear character detailing and description throughout. I had this image of a petite, pretty, almost womanly (shaped) individual with a shapely figure, a prominent rounded ass, tiny body otherwise, and small build. Nice hair that’s long, but not too long. Gorgeous eyes, and lovely olive (not DARK) skin. When he’s revealed later, it’s almost the complete opposite (besides the shortness in height. THAT I got right at least!) of what I envisioned. He’s got a rounded, maybe even pudgy belly, small rounded “breasts” (I guess?) and a PEAK OF GREY IN SHORT CROPPED HAIR (WHAT EVEN?! WHERE DID THIS COME FROM?!?!!?!?), and throughout the book he is increasing getting darker and darker in skin tone (WHICH IS FINE. BUT I THINK THE AUTHOR THEMSELVES HAS NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL SKIN TONE THEY WANT THIS CHARACTER TO BE THANKS NO THANKS :X OR SIMPLY DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH POC HOLY CRAP)
- The love story, as I already said, seemed rushed. Then not. Then suddenly rushed again, and then finally… unfulfilling? We get the sense from the beginning that these two have been eyeing each other for a while, but unbeknowst to the other. So when Aimè finally makes the first move (in a sense), and they eventually admit they admire each other (and more…), I’m like, “Ok. FANTASTIC. Let’s move along, shall we?” And they do. WAY TOO FAST. And just when I think, “WHAT THE HELL?!” They stop. And I’m like, “Oh. Oh okay, well that was. ….ok.” I read on and Badri straight out tells us – the reader – that he wants to fuck Aimè’s brains out. Which I am TOTALLY fine with btw. And so, I’m expecting this to happen. Not now. Not even soon. But I AM. EXPECTING. IT. TO. HAPPEN. IN. THE. GODFORSAKEN. BOOK.It does not BY. THE. WAY.
Oh, they have sex alright. And it’s… interesting.
Badri does NOT get to fuck Aimè’s brains out.
He doesn’t even get HIS brains fucked out by Aimè.
Do you see the problem here?
You see… I just told you they had sex. TWICE in fact, within the span of the 37 pages of this not-book.
But there is no ACTUAL FUCKING.
On EITHER part.
And this is frustrating. Because I don’t need pages upon pages of endless, mindless sex. I mean, if a book has it, fine. That’s great. I have nothing against it. Doesn’t matter who it’s between so long as they’re both consenting and I enjoy the characters and yeah. I don’t even care if it’s really, REALLY weird. (OK, so I might get really “WTF” if it gets too random, or odd, or doesn’t make sense, but honestly? I can still deal with it, get through the pages and move on.)
You – the author – tell us from the very beginning that they BOTH want to fuck each other’s brains out… AND THEN WHEN THEY HAVE SEX THEY DO NOT FUCK EACH OTHER’S BRAINS OUT?!?!
- P.S.S.S.S.S.S. – RANDOM MAGIC. DID I MENTION THIS ALREADY?? WHAT. IS. ITS. PURPOSE. AND. WHHHHHY.
. . .
*HEAVES BREATH AND EXHALES LOUDLY THROUGH NOSE*
Overall… this book just irritated me.
Not because it wasn’t good, but because it could have been BETTER.
I know what I read wasn’t the final proof. I know this. I get this. But unless the final proof includes a SHITTON of editing, restructuring, character… revamping?? (No, not really revamping, just much more developing), and maybe even the addition of about fifty more pages, I just don’t see me ever picking this book up again.
Except maybe to fume and honestly wonder if it was ever worth reading at all.
/END LONG ASS RANT
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