Review of Haevyn by Darcy Abriel

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 0 comments
Title: Haevyn: Humanotica, Book 2
Author: Darcy Abriel
Publisher: Samhain
Length: ~80k
Primary Relationship(s): MMF
Other Relationship(s): M/F, M/M, F/F/F, M/O(+>, ??, !!
Category or Genre: Erotic Romance, Science Fiction
Does this Review contain spoilers? No.
How was the copy provided? Already owned.
Has this review been posted before? No.

Behold, a rare pertinent Samhain warning!
Watch out for oiled-up, naked trinespined warriors battling for top position, feisty tracer females that fit oh-so-snugly in between, and sexy nights that segue into complex relationships. Beware of tebitcheckers wielding those nasty little contulators at illegal, testosterone-drenched cage confrontations. 
The endlessly imaginative, polymorphously perverse universe of Haevyn is the primary reading pleasure. The story, characters and relationship have serious flaws (though also draws), but the world is near-perfect in its aesthetic cohesion. It threatens to suck you in and insert little exotic handcrafted sex toys into your mind.

Let's back up a step and establish what this book is not. First of all, it's not a show-not-tell book. Large portions of the story are quite shamelessly told. I'm fine with that approach as long as the telling is stylish and exciting in and of itself, capturing something of the allure of storytelling. Judge for yourself.
Haevyn was a creature filled with unquenched wanderlust. For a female in Quentopolis, that meant she languished in a state of everlasting unfulfillment. And yet she could not bring herself to abandon her secret dreams. Star clusters glittered brightly in the black sky, too far away to touch, and the night was too temptingly clear. There were other cities—other civilizations where strange and amazing ships traveled to the stars. Sailors brought back mesmerizing tales of such wonders.
The universe of Haevyn (and its preceding Humanotica book, Silver) is a trippy science fantasy. There are uniformed sex cadets, sex cyborgs and sex demons. Take pretty much any science fiction or fantasy trope, throw "sex" in front of it, and you'll find it. For example, sex gladiator games known as "Cockrage". Cockrage. Cockrage? COCKRAGE! Oh, the clever portmanteaus and compounds!

However, there's enough moral weight to the development of this universe that it doesn't come off as an extended porny joke. True, everyone's bisexual and into BDSM and there's sex [insert noun]s, but Quentopolis, the city-state where the story takes place, is also a gritty dystopia ruled by a corrupt elite that fetishes military masculinity. Women are second-class citizens. Slavery is quasi-legal. It's undergoing a slow process of change to a more democratic and egalitarian society, and our heroes are definitely fighting (and fucking) on the side of justice.

Haevyn herself is an almost fully human woman. She struck me as a richly realized and sympathetic character, from her aesthetics and coloration (those jewels at her temple are rendered beautifully in the cover art) to her family history. She has what passes for a middle-class background in Quentopolis—rich enough to understand the workings of privilege but poor enough to not claim them in any consistent fashion. She has a complicated past with humanotics, the cyborg quasi-slave class of Quentopolis, which we find out pretty early on in the book. One of them raped her; she had to acquiesce to sex with him in order to save her family. She falls in love with another humanotic, the freedom fighter Entreus, a relationship which is facilitated by her close friend and sometime lover, Grisha. Also, her little brother is addicted to sex cyborg modification and total sexual submission, and is slowly turning himself into a human doll for the benefit of his masters.

Transactional sex is a huge theme in these books, and there are a lot of really disturbing consent issues involved. Usually, some of this stuff would go beyond my comfort level, but the tone of Heavyn is so surreal and dreamlike that the rape elements didn't disturb me nearly as much as they would have in a more realistic narrative. Haevyn works as a Compsociate, which is a sort of sexual aide-de-camp, with a job description that might read something like 50% courier, 40% sexual transcription, 10% sexual services. In the course of her job, she's embroiled in the highest level of intrigue and forced into a dangerous game of spying...

I won't go into the plot, partly to avoid spoilers and partly because it's ridiculous, as it relies on massive coincidences. I'll just say things are tough for most characters and they end up in a lot of sexual situations. There are numerous triangles involved. Entreus tries to discourage his sex demon lover from his unhealthy interest in Haevyn, who is being forced to sexually transcribe their sex. And at one point, when Haevyn gets really depressed and exhausted by this understandably confusing situation, her Compsociate superior and her boss's dominatrix friend have an awesome threeway lesbian sex session involving a giant vibrator, a warm bath and an aphrodisiac. She feels a lot better afterwards!

But the central relationship of the book, the one that is fated to be, the one that gets all the emotional weight… well, the third member is practically MIA.

Entreus—I loved him from the Cockrage match at the beginning all the way to the end. Even when he did some TSTL stuff. That's just his nature. Haevyn, I also loved, and the heat they had together was pretty hot. Lots of rough sex and tender bonding! But Grisha was terribly, woefully undercharacterized. All I know about him is that he's a nice human guy and he owns a boat. This is the one area where the high telling quotient really hurt the story. He means a lot to Haevyn as a lover and friend, he means a lot to Entreus as a lover and friend, he believes that Haevyn and Entreus are destined to be together. We know this because we are told this. Over and over again, but almost never shown. It was a bit maddening.

I rarely like giving quantified reviews. This kind of breakdown might be as close as I'm going to get on this review blog:

Menage Romance: D. Inadequate. I did not get a feel for how the relationship would stabilize as a trio. Hot, but that's not enough. I was sold on Entreus/Haevyn, but not Entreus/Haevyn/Grisha.

Style: B. Loved it. It's sort of weird fiction lite, and as close as erotic romance probably gets to dense prose. I wish it had gone a step further and been more stylistically experimental. The weird names are fantastic. For example, we are informed that Haevyn is diagnosed with manic risqexcerinia. Does the diagnosis have any bearing on her personality or the plot? Nope. But it sounds really cool. Oh, and she's in whore command. WHORE COMMAND.

Gender/Sexuality: B. Nobody is writing books like this, not that I know of. I wouldn't call the gender stuff here transgender, exactly, although it does fall under a wider trans* umbrella. I also had the revelation that Silver, and to a much lesser extent Haevyn, is the rare erotic narrative that explores the fetish of forced masculinization. The forced feminization fetish is all over porn, of course, and seems to appeal to a variety of perspectives (including straight cis men) but forced masculinization is quite rare, and it's carried off in a very... intense way. The whole concept of the trinex—half man, half woman, half machine—is fascinating. It also reminds me of this song on the Dr. Octagonecologyst album called halfsharkalligatorhalfman. Plus I love reading about futures where everyone's bisexual.

Plot: C. Huge holes, massive coincidences, lots of people frantically racing around to little apparent purpose, but not too bad when compared to the standard fare for external conflict in the genre: Evil ex! Stalker! Someone is killing strippers/BDSM enthusiasts/young hot gay men/[insert blank] and OMG that means [insert person(s) protagonist is fucking] might be next!

Setting: A. Gorgeous. The world is softly gleaming and sickly and dirty all at the same time, like Star Trek and Blade Runner getting high on Ecstasy and fucking in a porno theater. And there's the old-timey pulp feel of an art deco science fiction future dreamed up from the 1930s then crammed down into an 18th century corset. I'm sold. I love this world.

If the brass ass spreaders don't give you serious pause, buy Haevyn.


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