Review: Lord of the White Hell (OR I Like Big Books And I Cannot Lie)

Oh dear internet, why do I always pick the expensive hobbies?

Good, well written gay characters in original settings are hard to find.  If you want to find them, you have to start looking outside the box.  By which I mean small press publishers.

Now, I love small press publishers, because they’re more willing to take a chance and publish in niche material than big publishers.  The downside of small press is, well, it’s small and less likely to have many copies running around, which means less likely for books to be found at your local library.  Which, due to finances, is currently my primary source of books.

Luckily, we love in the fantastic era of digital press and ebooks can be delivered anywhere and without shipping and handling. Yay!  But small press ebooks are not that cheap.  They aren’t over priced, but small press can’t offer their books at $.99 a pop because they know other book sales will cover any loss made.  Small press has to sell the books at market price, just to make back their expenses.  Thus, my lament.  Why the pricy hobbies?  Why?

Ginn Hale is a name that I’ve seen bopping around for a bit.  It wasn’t until recently that I actually picked up some of her stuff to read, due to discovering that one book of hers, Wicked Gentlemen, won a Gaylactic Spectrum award.  And with good reason, this pair of novellas paints a fascinating world of half demons, prejudice, priests, and the balancing act between what we desire and what we can obtain.

But I didn’t get to Wicked Gentlemen until after I picked up the first of Lord of the White Hell, which I lucked into finding at my local library (yay!).  I had to send the library on a hunt to find the book, because while it was in their catalogue, it had somehow vanished off of their shelves.  But I got it, I read it, I was enthralled, and, ultimately frustrated.

Lord of the White Hell is really one book published in two volumes.  Both are thick, respectable books, but the first cuts off at something of a cliff hanger without resolving any of the central plot elements.

And the library did not have the second book.

Thus ensued my lament.  My conflict. 

I gave in.  I bought the ebook.

I have no regrets.

Lord of the White Hell has many of the ear marks of a yaoi.  The plot focuses on Kiram, the first of his ethnic group to attend the elite school of the ethnic majority.  At the school, Kiram meets his very hot sempai upperclassman, Javier, a duke who is cursed with the White Hell.  Kiram initially assumes all this hell talk is a joke being played at the foreign kid’s expense, but as the book unfolds, he discovers that the White Hell is very real and that Javier and his family are suffering for a horrible curse.  A curse that Kiram swears to break, any way he can.

Yeah, I think I watched that yaoi back during my love affair with anime in the late nineties.  And yet, Hale has no fear of leaving not only playing with the stereotypes, but leaving yaoi territory far behind her. 

  • Kiram is drawn into the struggle of Javier and his curse, not because he finds Javier really hot, but mostly through other people at the school whom Kiram comes to care about.  Javier is not the only person whom Kiram cares about in the book and Kiram is not motivated only by how hot is he for Javier’s ass.  In fact, Kiram’s motives are rich and developed.  You’d think he’s an actual character and not just a sex symbol. …Wait.
  • There is a plot.  The romance is not the extent of the plot.  And, as stated, romance is NOT the only character motivator. And, when the relationship hits hard spots, it’s because of real and genuine problems between two people of different cultures and social class.  Not dumb miscommunications, over the top drama, or any other number of contrived coitus interruptus that clutter mainstream romance, gay or straight.
  • Sometimes, Kiram tops.  Look, I’m just going to come out and state it, but this is one of my favorite facets of this book.  It’s not that Javier isn’t the seducer and isn’t often the instigator of sex.  But when it comes to sleeping with men, Kiram is WAY more experienced in the subject and is perfectly willing to show that expertise.

I enjoyed the first part, but I think the book really shines in the second half.  The first part stays closer to a common model.  It’s a fantasy land academy, complete with bullies and allies and hot upperclassmen.  It’s the story of two people coming to know each other, steadily over time, becoming friends, and then more, with school yard style plot points to keep the story moving and a bigger plot looming that never quite materializes.

Book two is a lot more daring.  It jumps straight into the big plot mentioned.  We spend a significant portion of the book outside of the magic academy, exploring cultures we haven’t seen before.  Javier and Kiram know each other at this point, or think they do, so instead the book becomes about self discovery, about the ways each of them must change to actually grow into people capable of an adult relationship.  Where book one was an enjoyable yaoi-esque romp with enough thought put into the tropes to keep me happy, book two is a fascinating exploration of culture, boundaries, and some kick ass fantasy.

I am still, however, kind of annoyed that it has to be two books.  Oh well.  Not that there isn’t enough territory covered between the two of them, but readers, be aware that if you buy one, you’ll probably want to buy the other, if only to get the actual resolve.

Anyway, you can find these books, and others by Ginn Hale, on her website.  Wicked Gentlemen is also a lot of fun, though an entirely different tone with more grit and drugs.  Less explicit sex, though, amusingly enough.  She’s also continuing to explore the world of White Hell in a new release this fall.

Yeah, I’ll be squeezing the book budget to get my hands on that too.  I’m such a sucker for good gay characters.