Blind Eye Books, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-9789861-6-2
Lord of the White Hell I is the first part of two, so it goes without saying that this book is not meant to be a standalone story. Despite what the cover art and title may lead you to think, this story is actually devoid of dramatic action scenes. This story is actually a Good Times in a Boarding School tale, which we all know is a perfect setting for tales of burgeoning gay love. Given that this story features teenage characters and lacks explicit sex scenes, it isn’t hard to envision that this could have been a young adult tale as well.
We take a trip to the fantasy kingdom of Cadeleon, where the famous Sagrada Academy is located. Our hero, 17-year old Kiram Kir-Zaki, belongs to an ethnic minority race called the Haldiim. The year before, he entered his mechanical inventions to the Silver Leaf Challenge. Not only did he win the first prize, he impressed a judge so much that he was invited to apply to the Academy. Today, Kiram is the first pure-blooded Haldiim to enter the Academy. Not only will our fish out of water be mingling with the blue-blooded aristocratic children of Cadeleon, he will also discover that every single thing you hear about boarding schools is true. However, while he may be sharing a room with Javier Tornesal, the future Duke of Rauma, who is his polar opposite in that Javier can do everything and look so gorgeous in the process, Javier has an open secret. He is said to be cursed with the white hell, which can unleash a violent side that has been rumored to have caused a stable hand’s death.
I’m not explicitly told what the white hell is, so I can only wonder. It’s couched in a religious context – with it being a white hell and all that – but I wonder whether it is also an euphemism for some kind of disease. Maybe I will find out in the next book. I did say that this book doesn’t stand alone, after all.
Despite his name, Kiram isn’t a stand-in for a fantasy version of Islam. Indeed, his people are openly tolerant of same sex relationship, unlike the Cadeleons, and they are also more mechanically inclined than the Cadeleons who cling on to the old ways of magic. However, the world outside the Academy isn’t explored as thoroughly as life in the Academy itself. Therefore, if you are looking for swashbuckling tales of adventures and excitement, you won’t find them here. That is not to say that this book is boring though – far from it, in fact.
Ginn Hale’s pacing and narrative really shine here, because I find myself engrossed in reading this book in one sitting even if the characters aren’t doing the most exciting things around. The author manages to create a vividly drawn tale here, with places that feel real and descriptions that draw me right into the story. Boarding school life here isn’t portrayed in a stereotypical manner, so this story is never predictable. While I find Kiram a bit too dour for my liking, he’s a decent placeholder character. Javier is a very nicely portrayed character of a naughty golden jock who nonetheless doesn’t act like a stereotypical one, and I absolutely relish following the simmering slow boil of sexual tension between him and Kiram. I hope I get to see more of his dark side. How about him beating some guy to death in the name of love? That will be so sexy. What, you think that’s too extreme? Don’t be a spoilsport.
I really like Lord of the White Hell I. It has naughty sexual tension, well-drawn world building, and engaging narrative that brings to life the delicious naughty and fun side of boyish boarding school romps. With fantasy stuff in the mix, of course. But I know that I like this book because I’m hooked in by the author’s prose and the world building. The fact that this book really takes its time to go somewhere, and that the reader may not be sure where it is going by the last page, may be a strike against it for some folks, and I can see where they are coming from. But me, I’m most eager to move on to the next book.