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Thick as Thieves - Tali Spencer I had to put this book down to give myself some time to adjust my expectations at least twice, in order to not end up with a whiny review that boiled down to 'but it wasn't what I expected!'

What this book is is a fantasy story, that turns fairly dark at some point, with a lot of sex magic elements. More than romance, it's the sex magic that drives the story, although I have a feeling the author is setting up for a sequel in which debts will be called in and 'I love you's will be exchanged. Don't look for the latter in this book. Thrown together by lust (on Vorgell's side) and need (on Madd's side) the two men battle witches, an evil baron and wizards to free Madd from an unwanted love collar that makes him a sex slave to the aforementioned baron. Multiple heads roll, guts get spilled and there is rape-by-demons. This isn't a particularly fluffy story, although most of the violent stuff comes (as a bit of a surprise) in the second half of the book. Up till then it is a fairly standard fantasy action story.

To me, the second half of the story read like an AD&D session. For those of you who weren't nerds two decades ago, that is a role playing game where participants play characters divided into certain classes (thief, cleric, mage etc.) who go on quests together that are set up by the game leader, called the Dungeon Master or DM. The success of the players' actions is determined by a combination of racial and class traits of the characters and the rolling of fancy dice. Certain things, like the standard looting of defeated enemies or classifying yourself as 'thief' while you are making your living gambling and as a hired sword, and not actually stealing anything ever, are typical AD&D practice. The kind of hand-wavey world building outside the immediate experience of the main characters increases that feeling. This didn't make the story bad, it was just distracting.

Spencer is a competent DM and I like her writing style. It's descriptive without being overly flowery while setting the mood. Her story structure is solid, at least when it comes to action sequences. She has a strange habit of giving background information after it is pertinent to the story. Madd's need to be in control during sex doesn't get explained until the last chapter or so, after all the sex has already happened. Not that that one was particularly hard to figure out for the average reader anyway. And Vorgell's hate for magic users gets explained only halfway through. To claim at that point that his hate is so great that he kills all magic users he encounters is just plain wrong, though. He has met nothing but magic users up till then in the story and has not had any thoughts about killing any of them. You can't just say things are so if you're not backing them up with actions. The story would actually have been much more interesting if that hate had been a palpable thing with Madd too and didn't just come in handy when it becomes time to brain evil wizards.

And that ties in to my main peeve (yes, here comes the whiny bit). Read the first paragraph of the blurb. That, to me, says: Yay, Sex Pollen Trope! This happens to be one of my favorite tropes (shut up, I'm not judging you for the stuff you like either). Unicorn horn is supposed to be really powerful; Madd says about the baron: “He tried everything: force, starvation, even his last speck of unicorn horn. So much for innocence; I was every man's whore that night.”. So here is Vorgell, who used up an entire horn instead of just a speck and is warned this will last him the rest of his life. And at first this seems to be a thing, but as soon as it becomes inconvenient for the plot it gets reduced to a sex drive that really isn't any more powerful than that of your average horny teenager, maybe even less so. Its main function then seems to be that Vorgell is like an infinite reservoir of magic for Madd to use, instead of having an overwhelmingly powerful sex drive. It's hard to write actual plot with that trope of course, PWP is pretty much a given once Sex Pollen get involved, but if you're using it, at least be consistent. If you have no use for the Eternal Boner later in the story, why not have people say it will wear off in a few weeks instead of claiming it will last forever? That way you won't have people like me grumbling that unicorn horns are the suckiest Sex Pollen ever.

Finally, all the women in this book are justifiably hated by all males (with one exception who has a grand total of two lines of dialog). This is par for the course in most m/m, but I thought I'd mention it.