The opening scenes of this are so beautiful, so full of detail and imagination, that just getting Lukan to his destination is an experience in and of itself. The Venice-inspired canals of Neu Venedig are wonderfully brought to life through Katherine's words, and the clash of true Carnival culture with that of tawdry tourists is both amusing and sad at the same time. I could gush for hours about the "nocturnal, shapeshifting nymph emerging from the skin of an iridescent blackbird" we meet, and she is just a passing figure!
You want to talk about setting a scene? Establishing a place and culture? Orienting the reader in a character's mind-set? This, right here, is how it is done . . . and it is beautiful. Even if you have never enjoyed one of Katherine's tales before, by the time we arrive at Hell, you will not only understand her world, but you will appreciate it.
As for Hell, and the encounter between Lukan and Helenay, it is so powerful and exquisite, you cannot help but be drawn into the contradictory feelings and emotions of their dynamic. As Lukan tells us, "Hell was no mere human. She was divine. A goddess of pain, bondage, and release," and that aspect of the tale spoke to me. It is rare that I find myself identifying with multiple characters in a story, but this . . . this penetrated deep into my heart and my psyche. The freedom and release that Lukan seeks through bondage and pain is so intimately familiar, but even if you have never so much as been spanked, you will come to empathize with every moment of it. The are exquisite scenes of bondage, punishment, and humiliation to be found here, but there are also delicious scenes of pleasure, and intimate scenes of aftercare.
As for Helenay, I could never imagine possessing such beauty and power, but I am so excited and intrigued by the journey she has taken and the battles she has fought for the right to her gender. She is, as we are told, "the dark and the light . . . the pain and the pleasure . . . the hard and the soft . . . the male and the female." That just makes my heart sing. Like Lukan, "I need both," and like Helenay, "I need to be both." Katherine could write the world's thickest doorstopper of a novel about Helenay, and I would still fall to my knees and beg her for more. I so deeply love and admire this woman!
So, yes, I am totally gushing here, far from professional in my review, but some books just resonate so perfectly that you need to shout your love and admiration to the world. Please, please, please, do yourself a favor and give Hell's Mercy a read.
(review of free book)