Glamourhai by Jess Mahler
Jess Mahler is also the author behind “Fantasy for the Kinky“, and has released one of her serials in ebook form, complete with a lovely cover- I’ve reviewed her work already with the short story “Fealty“. As such I had the good fortune to get a review copy of Glamourhai.
When people write BDSM stories, they are generally wank material or romances. Whether they are con-non-con, torture tourism or strictly spank and smooch, sexual and romantic desire is a central point behind the main characters’ interactions. This book is none of these.
What it is, is a femdom focused fantasy novel by an experienced writer. That’s pretty much the best one could wish for, to have the subject material handled by someone with strong technical skills and a love for the subject material. On the flip side, it’s a surprisingly chaste book about coming into your own regarding your orientation- there is more fantasy adventure here than fucking, and the romance is mostly onto the side characters.
To summarize the plot: In a land ruled by fairie lieges who feed on the emotional energy of human thralls, a young man (Mattin) trades himself in a lifetime of service to a relatively benevolent fairy lady to try to win back a sister (Marta) who has been claimed by a much less kind fairie lord. However, things are not all they seem- between finding his feet in a bizarre magical household and navigating the dangerous politics of the realm, Mattin must discover if he can truly submit to his Lady. She, for her part, has to deal with actually needing to let someone adjust to their role instead of a comforting, easy insta-sub like the rest of her household and a strong desire to have him accept his role willingly.
Fantasy, as a genre, often provides us with conceits that let us explore alternative social arrangements and relationship dynamics that are otherwise improbable or rare- in this book, the prevailing mode of business is poly. From the perspective of the sympathetic characters, rape and non-consensual torture is morally wrong, but regrettably common and the human subjects of the fairies collectively live in a feudal system where they live like medieval vassals.
If I had to make a comparison to Jess Mahler’s style, it’s as if Mercedes Lackey or maybe Anne McCaffery took up writing femdom- by this I mean that it’s a very personality and feelings driven story- in which the central conflict is settling precisely what is the correct emotional approach and practical coping skills for a new environment- with bonus sensible perpetually middle aged types and experienced hands watching out for whatever awakening is taking place.
And yet it’s a world laced with sex that is without much sex between the primary characters- to be frank, Mattin’s awakening was a lot closer to a religious calling. The fairie lady everyone serves simply does not fuck her servants just to punch up the erotica factor gratiously. She might sexually tease them, but if servants get horny, it’s up to their fellow humans to figure that part out. Not much time is devoted to her sexual head space in favour of a focus on her emotional desires, and her hopes and dears for Mattin.
Indeed, Mattin doesn’t persue her in that sense eithere- his sexuality is expressed in a way that’s almost vanilla, the sort of tasteful sluttiness matched with the equal tastefully slutty human female household member. There’s a m/m side romance between some other characters, and everyone else has a jolly, happy attitude to sexuality that is more cozy than vulgar.
Personally, my sexuality and my BDSM is more vulgar than cozy, and a lot less nice. Thus I found myself in an uncomfortable position, which I have to move into spoilers to talk about- so, after the jump…
Mattis embarks on his journey of submission to rescue a sister who does not need to be rescued. She is dealing with an alternative perspective- knowing that for various reasons she has a high chance of being claimed, she prepares herself with “star metal”, the only thing in that universe that can reliably harm a fae, and strikes a bargain with a bad fae to allow her to become part of his household on more equal terms.
This unfortunately puts the character beyond the pale- leading to an eventual irredeemable act after steering herself well beyond redemption. But, the seemingly shy hidden sadist who is trying to ply a path in a hostile world made a fascinating subplot, frustratingly demurely handled. Still, I thought it made an interesting counter point- if Mattin had to accept he was a sub, with all the trauma of feeling freakish, I felt like Marta’s journey was something of a mirror.
The other observation I’d make is that it’s a fairly mm book. One of the side romances is Yaoi fodder, and a major portion of the D/s takes place between the head servant to the Lady and Mattin to bring him up to speed. That’s possibly what contributed to the sexlessness of the book- Mattin spends more time learning to be pleasing from men than being an object of pleasure to a woman- excepting a pleasant interlude with another member of the household that is very much free of romance.
If I had to make a criticism, it’s that there were a few typographical errors- these things happen though, and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. Definitely if you’re a fan of fantasy and poly femdom households, replete with protocol and deep emotional significance, check out the free version on her website and if you like it, buy a copy to support the author.
What’s my final verdict?
Rating: o~o~o (3/5)
How I got it: Reveiw copy
TL;DR: Femdom fantasy fiction with high protocol and high magic. Not to my tastes, but a well put together yarn that uses the tropes of the genre with practiced skill.