Wishbone by Lauren P. Burka
Wishbone has a risky life as a prostitute. He’s desperately short of money the night a well-dressed shih-aan offers to take him home. While Wishbone has heard that shih-aan are dangerous, he doesn’t expect to find one of them so dangerously seductive.
Rumored to be demonic, shih-aan fought humans to a bloody standstill in a war a decade past. Though peace between the two races is profitable, humans avoid and fear the shih-aan merchants living in Bronlyn Harbor.
Wishbone allows himself to be drawn closer to the sophisticated alien whose only name is given as Sir. Wishbone learns the shih-aan’s secrets as he uncovers the mysteries of the alien’s body, hidden beneath layers of exquisitely tailored clothing. Sir seethes with sexual desires that his human hosts consider blasphemous.
And he is a spy.
Wishbone is a complicated story with a lot of extreme elements thrown in. There is pretty hard core BDSM with a lot of dominance and submission issues, both sexually and non-sexually. There is a science fiction setting combined with a historical atmosphere, not fully explored or developed but with enough originality and interest to create something engaging. There is also a slight mystery but nothing that really drives the story. Ultimately the book is neither character driven nor surrounding a mystery and seems to revolve around the development of the main relationship, but even that is not fully drawn. This offering didn’t work well for me with too many disparate elements and poor execution, but perhaps others will feel differently.
Wishbone is the third person narrator and makes his living as a dock side prostitute. An alien species, called shih-aan, living in the city are feared and avoided. One such alien called Sir buys Wishbone for an evening. After the sexual encounter, which is a fisting scene only, Wishbone steals a gemmed comb. Unfortunately the comb is spelled and Wishbone attempts to get rid of the bad luck by returning to the man’s home and beginning forgiveness. This embarks the young prostitute on a new path and new life while destroying his old life.
The setting is a mixture of historical and science fiction. The majority of the setting is historical, likely based on London, with horse drawn carriages and a classic ambiance that historical fans will recognize. This is contrast with the presence of magic, aliens, and a church run government. The alien aspect is definitely different and creates a society of near werewolves. These shih-aan have claws, fur on their backs, are referred to as cubs when young and have a complicated social structure. This structure is based heavily on BDSM and a series of bets. Often these creatures give themselves for days to each other for ritual torture, beating, and raping. This is acceptable to them and occurs often without much shame or loss of status. At the same time the shih-aan are pretty arrogant and believe they can conquer any opposing culture. They’ve proven they can with another culture that are now treated as mindless servants and purposefully bred this way. A point of the story –though soon forgotten- is the shih-aan and their attempt to understand if humans should be treated in a similar way or given more care once taken over.
Along the same lines, there is a confusing and ill-conceived mystery involving some assassination attempts on the shih-aan due to being aliens and the church supposedly hates them for their existence. The weak thread of the shih-aan trying to understand human culture and the assassination attempts are mostly forgotten and rarely if ever explained or mentioned. The real strength of the still incomplete world building comes when one character or another tries to explain the very complicated and intricate class system and family structure. Here the real attention to detail shines and shows a fascinating culture. If only that level of detail and interest had been carried to the story as a whole, perhaps the book could have been more successful. Unfortunately the few threads offered are mostly dropped and the story focuses on the BDSM relationship between Wishbone and the main character, Sir.
The relationship between these two characters is supposed to be intense and violent with an exchange and fight for dominance. This aspect is there but never really materialized in an meaningful way. Neither character is faithful and both sleep with other people, since apparently fidelity to one person is a totally foreign concept to these aliens. The relationship is therefore supposed to rely on a unique connection and strong emotion to survive and this too never really materializes. The relationship feels manipulated and artificial. The instant love Wishbone has for Sir doesn’t make sense nor does the depth of that emotion translate. The dominance and submission game that both Sir and Wishbone indulge in does create a common thread but the fact that such things are done with other partners dilutes the real purpose of being together. Wishbone seemed to offer nothing especially unique that Sir couldn’t get elsewhere, except perhaps on a more frequent basis. Wishbone also seems to stay with Sir not out of deep and abiding love but because his life as a whore is over and being an owned slave is better than being dead.
Part of the weak relationship is due to the flat characters. None of the large cast are well developed and only given brief outlines of their personality. Neither Wishbone nor Sir is given much depth as the story relies on the almost violent BDSM sex scenes to secure their supposedly strong connection. The lack of real development to any of the characters leaves the story without a much needed contrast to the sex scenes. These scenes are rough; often involve fisting, beating, blood, and painful sex. Since the emotional connection is missing, these numerous scenes felt unimportant and added for shock factor rather than a necessary depiction of their relationship. The titillation of the strong BDSM is lost when emotional and intellectual responses are absent and the scenes focus almost exclusively on the action and violence.
Wishbone has an interesting premise and shows brief moments of decent writing with some good twists. Unfortunately the poor romantic connection, incomplete world building, and soulless sex scenes that fail to enhance either the story or characters produce a book that I didn’t like and wouldn’t want to continue with the series. There are the usual editing and problematic mistakes that typify this publisher so altogether I wouldn’t recommend the book. The execution doesn’t pull off the premise.
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