Kanjin hardly view their servants as human. Even less so when they are different.
Asagi is different. Both a man and a woman.
In the wake of his failure to protect a boy he saw as a son from their abusive master, Asagi is sold into the house of a young nobleman, Mahiro, who is the opposite of everything Asagi has ever known—gentle, kind, and generous.
Mahiro bonds with Asagi and their friendship blooms into a deep and profound love. But when Asagi is poisoned out of jealousy, Mahiro reveals himself to be youkai, a demon who feeds on blood, and he has no choice but to turn Asagi to save his life.
Asagi awakes reborn, strong, and eternally youthful. But the price for Asagi’s new life is high.
The blood of the innocent.
Just as Asagi’s trust in Mahiro falters, the boy he failed to protect, now a man, reappears.
New master, same threat.
With both a literal and proverbial monster at the door, Asagi must decide what it means to be human to protect what he loves most.
Publisher: City Owl Press (September 29, 2020)
Releases on: September 29, 2020
Genre: LGBTQIA Dark Historical Paranormal Romance
I sank down onto the engawa and watched the sky turn from gray to deep blue to black. The door behind me slid open, and the sharp smell of green tea hit my nose. I looked up to find Ryuichi holding a tray with a teapot and two glasses.
“Mind if I join you?”
I shrugged and turned my gaze back to the sky. He set the tray down between us and lowered himself down to the engawa with a groan. He poured himself a glass, eyeing me over the rim as he blew away the steam.
“You expect me to wait on you, girl?” he growled, gesturing with his eyes down to the teapot.
I laughed and took up the pot to pour my own glass, my chest warming a little.
“It wasn’t a lie what I told you before,” he started after a short silence, “about when I came here, but it wasn’t exactly the truth either.”
I lowered my glass to my lap and arched an eyebrow toward him.
“I was just a boy when I came to live here, and it was Mahiro-sama’s father who took me in.” He scraped at a chip in his cup with his thumbnail, a faraway look in his eyes. “Mahiro was very sick, near death I was told, and he looked it too. He couldn’t get out of bed. Couldn’t even breathe without coughing up blood. My job was to keep him as comfortable as possible in his last days. To keep his linens clean and his room warm.”
He wiped a hand over his face and weariness crept into his expression. “I’m ashamed to admit I was scared of him. Every time I went into that room, I was afraid of what I would find. I was just a boy. I’d never seen someone die before. But then…”
He snorted and sipped his tea. “All I know is that one day, I went into his room and he wasn’t dying anymore.”
I blew out a long breath and dug my toe into the earth at my feet. We had never talked about who made him. In my selfishness, I’d never even thought to ask. Now, it was all I could think about. Did he love him? Did he give him his blood in an act of mercy? Did Mahiro still feel his presence in his heart like I did Mahiro’s every second of every day?
“His miracle came at a price. I’ve seen him struggle with it every day for fifty years.” He took a long drink of his tea before leveling his hard gaze on me. “I wonder if yours did too.”
I jerked and nearly spat a mouthful of tea, triggering a thigh-slapping laugh. “Ryuichi-san—”
“Relax, girl. I’ve been keeping Mahiro-sama’s secrets for half a century. I can keep yours too. Close your mouth. You look like a blowfish.”
I clapped my mouth shut. He knew. Of course he knew.
“Why are you telling me this?”
He rolled his eyes. “Because you’re sitting out here wondering if it’s all worth it.”
My throat constricted, and I had to swallow twice to get it working again. “Is it?”
An Asian-influenced vampire tale about identity, power, love, and the awkward balance of all three, Bloodlaced was far more emotionally charged than I was prepared for. Courtney Maguire weaves a captivating story that thrives on the strength of its characters and their relationships.
This is often a very dark tale, but that darkness comes from the humanity, not the supernatural. We bear witness to families broken and children enslaved. In a world of slaves and servants, brutal abuse (both physical and emotional) is almost expected, but that inescapable sense of doom isn’t the saddest part of the tale – it’s the tease of what could be, and denial of what should be.
Asagi is one of my favorite protagonists in recent years, “certainly not a woman, but not really a man either” . . . existing on a “sliding scale between masculine and feminine, but neither felt right.” As they tell Mahiro, “I can be a girl. I can be anything you want. I can make it so you won’t know the difference.” At the core of their identity, however, is the role of adopted mother to young Tsukito, and it’s that bond, that relationship lost and found, that forms the heart of the story . . . even as eternal youth and natural aging converge to suggest a different kind of love.
Wrapped around that beating heart is the relationship between Asagi and Mahiro, which is equal parts slavery, mentorship, and romance – and just as awkward and problematic as you might imagine. It’s a brilliantly layered relationship, and I loved how Maguire tugged it in so many different ways, challenging the reader to find where the heart truly lies.
Bloodlaced utterly destroyed me in the final chapters as it explores what it means to be a monster born versus a monster made, but it does leave a glimmer of hope for what’s next.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2
About the Author
Courtney Maguire is a University of Texas graduate from Corpus Christi, Texas. Drawn to Austin by a voracious appetite for music, she spent most of her young adult life in dark, divey venues nursing a love for the sublimely weird. A self-proclaimed fangirl with a press pass, she combined her love of music and writing as the primary contributor for Japanese music and culture blog, Project: Lixx, interviewing Japanese rock and roll icons and providing live event coverage for appearances across the country.
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