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Ill Met in TanivarI should warn you that today’s story is a gay erotic novella, and there may be graphic analysis of a sex scene later. I should also warn you that I was in the same class as the author at Clarion West, though any bias that results from that would be overwhelmed by my bias towards entertaining erotica.

Actually, it’s unfair to characterize this solely in its erotic terms. You could easily describe this as a light high fantasy adventure story that just happens to have its character arcs integrally linked to long juicy sex scenes. The opening gives an idea of the tone to follow:

“I have a job for us,” Asamir said.

Sinjin pressed his cheek to the cheap wood of the door frame, hard enough to hurt his cheekbone and grind a ridge into his flesh. “Is it anything like the last one? Because I like my skin attached to the rest of me. And I like getting paid. And I like the world not overrun by the torture gods of Ghuu-Zcryck.”

That was a mistake. The only wise answer when Asamir came knocking was a definitive ‘no’, a slammed door, and a speedy relocation to the other side of Tanivar. But Sinjin always opted for snark over wisdom – one of the many reasons the grove-keepers had tossed him out of Kialle quicker than a rotten acorn Elves were supposed to be wise. Not snarky.

“We stopped the ritual. No torture gods. And we won’t have to kill our employer this time. We’ll get paid. Promise.” Asamir’s grin flashed like a khopesh in the night, slicing Sinjin from gut to groin. His balls pricked. Fuck.

Asamir’s job seems simple. Duke Roland is well known for holding enormous decadent parties, and every so often an unimportant guest goes missing. Asamir plans to bluff his way into the party with Sinjin and investigate why.

The story’s good fun, and the characters remind me a little of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser if they boinked each other on a regular basis (which would admittedly explain a good deal about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but I digress). One of the sex scenes in particular is an excellent example of rising tension, and I’d like to examine why this is so in a certain amount of detail that may be inappropriate for reading at work. Especially if your boss can read what’s on your screen.

Rising tension is an important part of any story, making the reader increasingly involved as the narrative goes on until the peak of the tension, and subsequent relaxation, comes as catharsis. This is a particular problem for sex scenes. While having sex produces a rising tension until the moment of climax, fiction finds this difficult to do because it has no control over the reader’s nervous system. And without the neurochemicals of arousal, the act of sexual penetration is viewed from a distance, and is reduced to ‘insert tab a into slot b, withdraw tab a, repeat’. This is an especially noticeable feature of cheap animated hentai; every animated movement costs money, so it’s common for the studio to animate tab a going into slot b, then run that animation on a loop for a couple of minutes while voice actors squeal unconvincingly.

Anyway, fiction needs to compensate for its lack of control of the reader’s autonomic nervous system, and excitation must be achieved by other means. And there’s a sex scene in chapter four that uses rising tension to do precisely that.

They’re at the party. Sinjin (under a gender-changing charm) has been the enthusiastic life and soul of the party, but he’s been growing increasingly frustrated. As an elf, he takes a long time to achieve satisfaction, and so far the people at the orgy haven’t had the attention span to get him off properly. This has been building through the previous two chapters, so when Sinjin finally meets up with Asamir (and discards the gender-changing charm), it doesn’t take long before Sinjin’s gripping the edges of a marble plinth while Asamir’s taking him from behind.

So far, so good, and if the scene stopped here it would have been a fair payoff to the rising tension generated thus far.

But just when Sinjin’s on the cusp of climaxing, Duke Roland and an elf come into the curtained alcove. They haven’t met yet, but Duke Roland has heard about Sinjin’s reputation and wants to try for himself, and Sinjin finds himself filled at both ends. Not only is this an escalation in the physical sense, but because it’s dark in the alcove, Duke Roland hasn’t noticed that Sinjin isn’t female anymore. And while the story doesn’t clarify what the status of homosexuality is in this world, it’s made out to be a bad thing if Duke Roland realizes the truth, so there’s extra impetus for Sinjin to keep him distracted.

And just when the reader has become used to the new status quo, Sinjin notices that the elf is watching with bored contempt. And this pricks Sinjin’s pride; elves are long-lived and frequently jaded, but Sinjin’s an elf too, and he prides himself on his erotic artistry. So the sex scene is rejuvenated with Sinjin altering his ministrations to Asamir and Duke Roland to give them greater visual appeal, and the tension heightens still further as he attempts to seduce the watching elf into being entertained, even aroused, at the performance before her.

All told, it’s a memorably choreographed set piece, and Duke Roland’s revelation at the end spurs the plot along to boot. Well worth checking out for that scene alone.

Ill Met In Tanivar by Reyna Todd

Availability: e-book

Word count: 31,000

First published: as a stand-alone novella by Loose Id in 2014, available for purchase here

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