Arabesque by Hayden Thorne

Rating: 8.5/10 ★★★★★★★★½☆ 
Title: Arabesque
Author: Hayden Thorne
Genre: fairy tale, horror, gay romance
URL: Smashwords
Price: US$2.99
Other Information/warnings: horror, violence, explicit sexual content
Summary [from the publisher]:
Alarick, the son of a sorceress-queen, falls in love with a childhood friend, and their romance stirs the fires that soon rage through a corrupt and decadent court. Separated during a bloody uprising, Roald and Alarick become ensnared in adventures designed to twist their characters and destroy their minds, and they find themselves fighting for their souls in the face of dark magic.

My review:

Arabesque is a most unusual, beautiful, at times confusing and difficult book weaving together traditional fairy tales, horror, and romance – think Mervin Peake more than Disney. Although it’s tagged as gay romance, it works better as a commentary on myths, magic and homophobia, as well as the underlying racism and classism of many of our most beloved Western folk stories, and their assumptions about romantic attraction and the divine right of kings, than as a straightforward love story.

Seen as a romance between Roald and the bastard Prince Alarick, it’s somewhat unsatisfying, especially in the ending, because we don’t really get to know these characters very well until nearly two thirds of the story has passed. They’re very much cookie cutter hero material, and while their individual endurance of circumstances designed to test and break them, as a couple, they’re not particularly memorable. They never really become individual or powerful enough to support the story on their own. However, they don’t have to, because Thorne creates a complex, compelling tapestry, trying together generational sin, madness, tainted royalty, and two sisters bound by love and the most horrible betrayal. This book is as much about Ulrike (Alarick’s mad, sorceress mother) and her sister Amara, as it is about the two boys, and that part of the story is utterly compelling.

I found it all compelling, despite the lush, at times dense prose, the convoluted story line and the (properly used and appropriate) omniscient POV. A friend of mine gave up on this, but the important difference between us is that I grew up on the unbowdlerised Grimm Fairy Tales and she has no experience of or patience for that kind of story. So if you don’t like that type of thing, this isn’t for you. If you like Emily Veinglory’s writing, this may appeal, though Thorne’s writing is much richer and more emotional than Veinglory’s. She perhaps could do with tightening her prose up a tad, and I did spot one or two typos (‘rogue’ for ‘rouge’, amusingly) but this is a polished, high standard self-published offering.

That I didn’t rate it higher is mainly due to the surprisingly weak ending of the Roald/Alarick arc, though it fits perfectly well within the fairy tale-like narrative. If you’re looking for a hot and heavy romance centred on the lovers, this is not for you. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas le m/m. 🙂 I recommend this to anyone who likes good writing and who likes to be challenged. If you like your stories complex, thought-provoking, and beautiful, you should try this.