Fantasy Review: Queen's Man: Into the Inferno by AnnaMarieAlt

Queen's Man: Into the Inferno is an odd sort of book, existing somewhere between the fantasy and romance genres, with just enough politics and philosophy to keep it centered firmly between the two. It was not quite the book I was expecting - instead, it was something a bit stronger and a lot deeper. For a first novel, AnnaMarieAlt has certainly distinguished herself, and that bodes well for the promised Queen's Man: Beyond the Corridor.

This is the story of the island of Kriiscon, a land where the women rule, and where men are slaves. It's not a female dominated world, or even a continental matriarchy, but one small island - and that's important to the tale. Surrounded by more traditional lands, Kriiscon stubbornly clings to its gender-flipped social structure, even as they're forced to capture or purchase men from outside it in order to keep their culture thriving for the next generation. It's a very rational culture, and one that's easily justifiable in the wider global context of male aggression and female oppression - until the arrival of Aarvan calls it into question.

A mainlander with no memory of his past, Aarvan is purchased by Queen Rejeena after an ancient conjurah foretells that he will break the curse upon her line and give her daughters. While she finds him physically appealing, the Queen has no interesting in making love or of being romantic - she simply needs a man to look handsome before the court, and to quickly and efficiently do his duty beneath the sheets. That is where the conflicts begin. Aarvan is agreeable to being her slave, but only if they can take pleasure in one another's company. He is so adamant, in fact, that he risks whippings and beatings to make her see there can be more than just a necessary act of procreation between them. When she ultimately gives in, Queen Rejeena finds herself challenged on a daily basis, being slowly transformed in more ways than one.

The progression from simple slavery to a deeper, more fulfilling romance is at the heart of the story, but it's the philosophical sparring between Queen and Queen's Man that give the story its intelligence - and its edge. Even as one tries to right social injustices and push for a little human dignity (if not equality), the other fights to preserve a culture that is already under threat from the world around it. It's a story that allows us to see both sides, and which presents both Rejeena and Aarvan as strong, likable characters, making the cruelties of their society that much more jarring. Even as we see Aarvan push too far, cross lines that would be inappropriate even in a more equal society, we completely understand and sympathize with him for doing so. At the same time, even as we see Rejeena take inexcusable steps to punish his lack of respect, we understand those actions in the context of her society, and we sympathize with her own internal conflict between feelings and belief.

While I had a few minor issues with the narrative (namely a tendency to switch POV mid-scene), and was a little frustrated that we didn't get more of a resolution to Aarvan's mysterious past, the final few chapters push us deeply enough into the simmering tease of civil war to bring all the threads to a tidy (if temporary) knot. If you're in the mood for an intelligent, socially relevant romantic fantasy, Queen's Man: Into the Inferno is definitely worth a read.

Paperback, 316 pages
Published March 23rd 2016 by Xlibris

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the author in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.