I feel like Kingsbridge, author of the mammoth bodyguard free fiction Close Protection, the currently ongoing work-in-progress sci-fi story Control, and this free fantasy novel Blood Red, epitomizes what it is to write erotic romance.
It’s not just that each story has in-detail sexual encounters, (and for Blood Red, a lot of them), but sex and sexuality are key parts of the story and of the characters, and how they interact and grow. And through these novels, whether it’s set at a modern day high school where a stalked teenage uses his body to control others, or if it’s in the future, where a young man has had the control over who uses his body stolen from him, the author inserts plot and sex together like tab A into slot B, and so thoroughly entwines them, you cannot separate the two and have a story. (Blood Red with fade-to-black sex would be a much different reading experience, almost nulling the main character’s struggle by removing the way that he copes, survives, and eventually, how he learns to live fully and freely. It would also probably be about 150 pages shorter.)
Blood Red is set in a fantasy world where things like magic and “beastman” shifters exist, although not where Aedan is. At least, he’s not supposed to have magic there since it’s feared by humans, so the fact that he can perform it is a secret he keeps from his masters as they force him to sexually service the gladiators in the fighting arena where he lives. Beastmen are also a fearful myth, until he meets one, a captured man who can sense his secret magic, and has the feeling of something much more powerful beneath his skin. Aedan’s life of survival by any means necessary, including compartmentalizing his many daily encounters servicing the fighters (as well as not always successfully avoiding the molesting guards) is about to change in a way he never imagined. But it’s that new idea, of life beyond bondage, a reality he has never experienced, that has him reeling and questioning who he is.
Kingsbridge is a very good writer—lots of imagination, and can write plot and sex and more plot and more sex like a champ. (Someone give her a really phallic trophy.) Blood Red is long, at over 120,000 words, but is very readable, interesting, and engaging as Aedan struggles to understand his new life, a new language, and his complicated feelings for Demitrios, the beastman from the arena. Kingsbridge here does a great job of drawing out Aedan’s internal struggle to feel safe and secure, which for him is to be “owned”, and how that feeling is in direct conflict with Demitrios’ desire for Aedan to fully accept his free life.
Does all that philosophy sound dull? Well, don’t worry—the author breaks up all that internal turmoil with a lot of sex, since that’s something Aedan understands so it’s how he operates. And unfortunately, not all the times are willing, especially in the beginning.
I hate non-con, and even though there is dub-con and non-con in this story, I was able to read it and not feel as traumatized as I was with, say, Flesh Cartel 1, which I couldn’t make past the free excerpt. For those who have a hard time with dub-con or non-con, the feel is somewhat “softened” because Aedan has, by this time in his life, shifted into a survival mode where often his body is used by others, so he checks out and endures though. The problem here also is a lot of his worth is tied to being a sex slave, so that becomes one more thing he has to work though, including realizing his body is his own, and he has the right to refuse access to it.
Are you afraid of mpreg? Well, if you are, you don’t need to worry for this novel. This world HAS mpreg, but Aedan is just as thrown by it as some readers are, so, just to alleviate those that won’t go near this if the “m” word is mentioned, you’re safe. (For now—the author is exploring mpreg more in her free side stories, but it’s not in this one.)
Did I mention the sex? Seriously, there is a lot in this one, and heads-up, Demitrios is a beastman so some of the encounters are when he is partially shifted. It didn’t deter me, but for those who have a hard time with fantasy or shifters, this one may not be for you.
Story-wise, I enjoyed Blood Red. The story’s pacing dips in the middle as our MCs shift into a new environment. I partly understand this pacing change because Aedan needed the space to face these new realities and truths, but it did slow things down a little. Aedan’s fear of revealing some of his secrets also meant it was easy to forecast certain conflicts, but then again, this fear felt akin to his character, and how he would react, even if I wasn’t a fan of it.
But if you like fantasy and are okay with lots of sex with your shifters and thrilling escapes, this free novel may be up your alley.
Out of the three stories, I think Close Protection is still my favorite, followed by the current WIP Control, but Blood Red is a satisfying and engaging read, and pretty stellar for being a freely given novel. Kingsbridge has mentioned that after Control wraps up, she’s going to focus on reworking her novels, starting with Close Protection, for publication, and I think that’s a keen idea. She’s an interesting, thoughtful voice who writes very sexy stories, and as much as I like reading them for free, I think she should definitely give herself the time to shape them for publication and earn some much needed rewards.
But for now, you can enjoy all of it for free. For those wondering how to get these long works on an ereader, I like Storymaster. Feel free to share in the comments your own fave ways to make epubs from free online fiction.