Choices by Grace R. Duncan
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Story Rating: 3 out of 5 paddles
Sting Factor (kink): 5 out of 5
Teman and his boyhood friend Jasim are professional thieves, although they prefer to think of themselves as specialists in the recovery of lost items, by any means. As “Choices” opens, they are caught in a trap set by the palace guards. They are taken to the captain of the guards, who gives them a choice: be cast into the dungeon or agree to become pleasure slaves in the palace. Thinking that life in the palace would offer a better chance of escape, they both agree to become slaves.
In the slave quarters, Teman and Jasim are trained to be submissive sex slaves, able to take pain as pleasure and unable to achieve orgasm without permission from their master. They become good friends with the two slaves who help with their training, Cyrus and Nadir. Once trained, Teman is called to service the king, a truly sadistic cruel man who regards his slaves as less than human and delights in testing how much pain they can take without any sexual relief. But there are other masters in the palace that are not so unpleasant, and Teman has also caught the attention of the crown prince, Bathasar.
Bathasar is the complete opposite of his father the king. He has never used the pleasure slaves, although he is quite familiar with the training they undergo. Bathasar has been fascinated by Teman since his first presentation at court, although he observes the young slave from a distance. But one night, after an altercation at a state dinner, he feels compelled to take Teman back to his quarters, to keep him out of the clutches of both the king and a bothersome foreign guest. Once alone with the handsome slave, Bathasar is unable to keep himself from enjoying the pleasures that Teman has been trained to provide, and even to need. For his part, Teman feels something different for the prince than he has felt with any other master.
The two quickly become lovers, although Teman must remain a slave, since Bathasar is powerless to free him. Keeping Teman safely away from the king and other courtiers is only part of the problem, as the two soon learn of the mad king’s plan to attack one of his neighbors, to whom Jasim was gifted after its empress dressed down the king for his lack of humanity towards Teman.
“Choices” is a tale with epic ambitions, set in a middle-ages “Arabian Nights” fantasy world. It is, as you can probably guess, very steamy, with detailed descriptions of the training that Teman and Jasim undergo to become pleasure slaves. They learn how to take pleasure from pain as well as how to delay their orgasm until it is permitted, and even how to be ready to go again after only a few minutes pause, if necessary. Their training conditions them to be aroused on cue and remain so until their master is finished with them.
While Bathasar has no desire to treat Teman as a slave, he can’t undo the conditioning the young man has been put through, and like it or not, Teman has discovered a deep desire to submit within himself. Instead, Bathasar learns to use Teman’s training, particularly the thrill he gets from being edged, to keep the young man from dwelling too much on the friend he misses or the fact he is still a slave. If you’re a fan of the BDSM practice of edging, then you will almost certainly enjoy this book. Several group scenes add even more steaminess to the story.
Unfortunately, the writing in “Choices” is a bit lackluster, with numerous anachronisms, repetitious details and even the occasional lapse into physical improbabilities – the kind of thing that makes you stop and think, “Wait, he has one hand there, and the other hand where? How is that possible?” Sometimes the group scenes get a bit muddled in a similar way, as you try to figure out who has what stuck into whom. This is made worse by frequent and sudden shifts in the point of view between Teman and Bathasar. The flaws, while many, are never quite serious or frequent enough to be annoying. Rather, the lack of tight editing keeps what could have been a much better book from achieving its potential. It does get bonus points, though, for having a cover that actually comes close to reflecting the image of the main characters that the text conjures up. That’s such a rarity these days that it’s worth mentioning.
Reviewed by Michael Joseph