Fortune (Arcanium Book 1) by Aurelia T. Evans
Totally Bound, 2015
Be careful what you wish for. Someone may be listening, eager to twist your words in ways you can’t begin to imagine.
A careless wish uttered by her jealous, self-centered boyfriend traps Maya DeLuca in Arcanium, a traveling circus suffused with dark, perverse magic. Psychic jinn Bell Madoc presides over Arcanium’s assorted demons and monsters, plus the humans self-condemned to servitude as freaks or entertainers because of their thoughtlessly articulated desires. Devious, manipulative and devilishly attractive, Bell makes Maya his personal plaything. He teases, tortures and tests her, inflicting pain and evoking exquisite pleasure with equal frequency.
Irrevocably bound to Arcanium and to Bell, Maya struggles against internal demons—shame, anger, guilt, self-disgust—as she tries to avoid wishing herself into more serious difficulties. Gradually, coaxed or commanded by her jinn master, she sinks deeper into the luridly carnal atmosphere of the circus. The demons and the oddities become first her friends, then her lovers. When Arcanium is threatened, Maya rises to its defense like some avenging angel. Bell rewards her with a final, extreme test of trust and endurance, one which teaches Maya what she truly wants.
I loved this book, for a dozen reasons. Rarely do I find such originality and freshness in today’s erotic romance. Aurelia Evans makes Arcanium feel real—bloody, dangerous, uncomfortable and unbearably arousing. The horror and the eroticism balance perfectly, both conveyed in vivid, visceral detail. In Arcanium, violence and fear are the flip side of sexual desire. You can scarcely tell whether your heart is racing from lust or terror.
It takes talent and courage to people a world with freaks and monsters—bearded women, quadruple amputees, conjoined twins, giants and midgets, flesh-devouring clowns—and make the reader care about them. Fortune deals with philosophical and moral issues rarely considered in erotic romance: what it means to be an outcast; the limits of rationality; the healing powers of both compassion and of anger; the nature of good and evil. Bell and his fellow immortals do horrible things, killing, maiming, disfiguring, causing unbelievable agony. With deliberate cruelty, he uses his victims’ words against them. Yet he makes the case to Maya that he’s not evil, but merely an instrument of the chaos that underlies creation. By the end of the book, one almost believes him.
The pacing of this novel particularly impressed me. The narrative tension climbs steadily to three successive peaks, each one emotionally shattering. I don’t want to spoil readers’ enjoyment by giving away details, but it’s very skillfully done.
I have one complaint about Fortune. I found some of Ms. Evan’s descriptions rather difficult to follow. For instance, there’s one scene in which Bell’s knife-wielding previous lover chases Maya into the maze of trapezes, high wires and catwalks near the top of the circus tent. No matter how many times I reread the description, I couldn’t get a clear picture of how these physical elements were laid out and thus, what exactly was going on.
This problem arises only occasionally. Other scenes—for instance, Bell’s and Maya’s frantic coupling atop a tentacled beast on the whirling carousel—paint easily imagined pictures in the mind (very dirty pictures, in this case).
Fortune is the first book in a series. Upcoming volumes, I gather, will deal with relationships among other inhabitants of Arcanium. In general, I tend not to read series. I’ll sample one book, then move on to another author or fictional world.
In the case of Arcanium, though, I’m not sure I want to leave.