Monday, July 19, 2021

Fantasy Romance Book Review: His Secret Illuminations by Scarlett Gale (FLR)

His Secret Illuminations
Scarlett Gale
Publication Date: Oct 30, 2020
Publisher: Unnatural Redhead Creations
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Protagonist Gender: Male
Sexuality: Straight, FLR

His Secret Illuminations is the first half of a fantasy romance duology (His Sacred Incantations is the second) that began with a simple tweet from author Scarlett Gale back in February of 2019:

Been readin' romance novels and now I want to write a fantasy romance about a big burly female warrior who buys the contract of a smol sweet male indentured cleric healer and then takes him on an adventure...  With sexy results.

While I saw (and liked) that tweet, I had kind of forgotten about it until Miss Pearl made a proper introduction to the story in a series of tweets last month, writing:

It's like if Mercedes Lackey wrote a light hearted femdom D&D game and it's wonderfully warming.

It's adorable, and fantasy + romance. No fetish content except an extreme size difference and a few details handled with extreme consent despite circumstances (she buys his contract of indenture, etc...).

I would describe it as a love letter to positive submissive masculinity.

That was all it took for me to immediately hop on over to Amazon and order a paperback, and it was with no little trepidation that I opened the book a week later with high expectations and a fear of disappointment.

There are no words for how much I loved this. Out of 5 stars, I would give it an enthusiastic 10. It's a book that slipped deep into my romantic heart and connected intimately with my submissive soul. I loved Glory more than any character in recent memory, but I absolutely adored Lucian with every ounce of my being. I didn't just 'see' myself in this, I 'felt' myself in every scene, on every page. This is a book to which I happily, thoroughly, and irredeemably lost myself - and will gleefully do so again and again!

Last year I talked about how A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer left me with a book hangover so profound that I couldn’t even look at another book for days, much less talk rationally about it, and nothing makes me happier than to have found myself facing that same sense of being just utterly consumed by His Secret Illuminations. This is a book that will forever have a place on my shelves, one that I know I will return to when I need a comfort reread - and that shelf is a small one.

So, what is it about? Well, it's a simple story about a mercenary who conscripts a young cleric to assist her in locating and retrieving some stolen books. That's it. There are no heroes or villains, no schemes or conspiracies, no hidden motives or surprise plot twists. It sounds simple, and it is - I mean, there are a few cunning capers, moments of violence, and encounters with magic - but the beauty of the story comes from the characters who populate it.

Glory (the She-Wolf) and Lucian are lovely characters in their own right, and breathtakingly beautiful as the very epitome of a slow-burn romantic couple. Theirs is a tale of infatuation and friendship, a deliciously awkward, tentative courtship that's full of smiles and blushes and the heat of tender moments. They don't even kiss until the last few chapters, but theirs is a love story that is so sweet, you can't help but be won over by it. It's a wonderfully feminist tale, one that's beautifully supportive of submissive masculinity, and one that has some lovely things to say about sexuality.

There's also some positive gender exploration tied up in one of the side-characters, Shannon, who I hope we'll see more of (along with Helena) in the next book. They are simply and delightfully accepted as non-binary, with no need to elaborate on questions of biology or identity. In fact, there's an amusing scene where Lucian politely asks about proper etiquette and is horrified to hear that others feel compelled to question Shannon's genitals. 

Nothing I say could possibly do His Secret Illuminations justice, so all I can do is beg you to give it a chance - and if you've read it and you loved it, let me know, because I suspect we could be fantastic friends.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀  ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀  

(yes, that’s a 10/5, and I’m not sorry!)

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