The plot: Kiram is a young man with a talent for mechanics, just starting his first year at the prestigious Sagrada academy. As a member of a racial/cultural minority that hasn’t always been on the best terms with the dominant group, he is out of his element at the academy and has a lot to prove. Javier is the scion of wealth and privilege… and a nasty curse that is systematically wiping out his bloodline. They get assigned to be roommates because nobody else wants to sleep near either of them, and sexual tension ensues.
Lord of the White Hell has its flaws, but it has its charms as well and on the whole I enjoyed it. Hale does good world-building — all fantasy worlds have their own history, of course, but a lot of books don’t show why it’s important, whereas the present-day of Hale’s world is built firmly on the foundations of its past.
There are interesting race relations in her book, which I enjoy in fantasy when it’s more nuanced than “people who are stupid irredeemable racists.” Which, yeah, some people are, but there’s a lot more grey area. Kiram’s people are a sort-of-gypsy, sort-of-arabic melange that have been actively persecuted in the past, and even now that everyone’s getting along in peace and prosperity, they keep their own customs and resist assimilation into the mainstream culture. Simple ignorance is as much an obstacle as outright hostility and a lot of people, Kiram’s friends included, have the best of intentions but don’t know what to do with the culture gap between them and wind up saying some pretty clueless and offensive things.
Aaaand the downside: this book reads like yaoi.
I can say this with authority because I spent years translating the stuff, I know all the tropes, and this book hits a lot of them. I never got turned off the story entirely, but Javier is a bit too much the dangerous-
asshole-bad-boy-with-the-heart-of-gold, and Kiram veers perilously toward virginal blushing uke. The sexual tension is there because of course it’s there, and I found the progression of their relationship rather contrived.
It has a very distinct flavor, yaoi, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s not simply a matter of M-M romance written by women, because there are plenty of female authors who write excellent men and excellent gay romances. So what makes something read like yaoi? Is it men behaving like middle school girls? Men behaving like stereotypes? All that overwrought emo drama? Complete absence of and hostility towards women?
(It was 230 pages, by the way, before a female character spoke a single line in this book. And yeah, it’s a gay romance set at an all-boys school, but a quote from Joanna Russ comes to mind: Literature which can ignore the private lives of half the human race is not “incomplete”; it is distorted through and through.)
Also, it is not a standalone book. It does not end, but stops, and if you want the rest of the story you have to read book 2.