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I finished listening to this story a few days ago, and I had to give myself time to consider my best response. The short answer is that I *really* liked this story. It has a lot of elements that shouldn’t work, and yet it does quite well.
The plot of the story is that our 3 lead characters are all important people in their village. When the village gets attacked, they got to a neighbor to recruit help for the war that is sure to come. Each of them shows strength and weaknesses with each other and with the new political allies. By being their best and truest selves, they secure the aid they need.
The trio of characters are what is interesting here, and the author handles them all sensitively.
*Carivel is the titular Horse Mistress, someone who has been living as a male to be able to do the job she loves, one that would be forbidden to her as a woman. This isn’t merely a matter of historical cross-dressing. Carivel uses female pronouns in the privacy of her relationship with Andoc and Senovo, but in her own mind she feels mostly male.
*Andoc is the warrior who is very skilled, yet he is also one of the most caring characters. He makes sure Carivel and Senovo eat, and he is tender and sympathetic beyond his outer braggart persona.
*Senovo is the eunuch priest who turns into a wolf. Only Andoc’s care can give him the relief he craves. In this installment, he saves Carivel, and I predict that in later sequels, he may learn to live comfortably (or at less odds) with his inner wolf.
Steffan shows a relationship here about people who shouldn’t have found each other or care about each other. Carivel can’t believe it because it seems like such and impossibility. The thing is that it works very well. The relationship, while new to all of them, feels believable. It’s in what they say and do, and it seems very plausible that they could form a healthy trio.
I have to say here that I have not read many ménage or polyamory stories. I posit that they must be different since the few ménage stories I’ve read seem more focused on the sex and how hot it all is. It comes across to me as very shallow and just an excuse to see how many interesting ways we can connect tabs and slots A, B, C, etc.
That’s not what happens here. There is a very graphic (and quite instructional) sex scene, yes, but the story still feels like it’s more about the love relationship with the characters. They will stand by and support each other whether or not a physical act is involved.
As for the elements here that shouldn’t work but do… We have consensual BDSM, that makes sense with the characters. Senovo chooses to be restrained to control his wolf. We have realistic and honest talks about gender identity. They aren’t long or with hard to understand language. They just admit to a person who is trying to figure it out. The warrior, who would normally be a toxic masculine stereotype, is sympathetic to that and doesn’t care about body parts because he likes the person Carivel is. All of this is wrapped up in a fantasy setting. I never thought I’d see these elements together working so well. It’s a little like the Hamilton musical—objectively crazy in premise but an absolute success in execution.
I would also like to interject here that Steffan herself is a horse expert. She explains things in easily understandable ways, and for my own development as a writer, I feel the need to take notes! (I have my own trio story in the works involving a female horse expert and a male wolf shifter.)
As to the narration since I had this as an audiobook, the narrator was excellent. The story is told from Carivel’s first person point of view, but there are a few times when Andoc is talking with his mouth full. Those passages of dialogue actually sound like he’s talking with his mouth full. She uses other acting tricks so that it’s more than just a story read out loud, but it’s as exciting as a radio play.
I don’t always become a writer or narrator’s fan after a free (e/audio)book, but in this case that I am. Upon finishing this book, I immediately wanted to listen to the rest of the series on audiobook. As I write this review, they aren’t available yet, but please make haste in getting them ready. I definitely want to scoop them up, and I’m better with audio than I am with ebooks.
Disclaimer: This audiobook was provided by the author, narrator, or publisher at no cost in exchange for an unbiased review courtesy of Audiobook Blast.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
It's the kind of book with a lot of technical detail on horse training (and other things) and a great deal of cheerful, kinky, polyamorous smut. If you like the kind of story where they avoid relationship problems because of misunderstandings or philosophical differences and instead find people who they like, and who like them back, give this one a try.
My only problem is that it's a bit short - it feels like the first third of a novel instead of a standalone. (Fortunately, the rest of the trilogy is out and reasonably priced.)
The reader is good, and her Andoc-voice, warm, confident, and perpetually amused, is a thing of great beauty.