What I’m Reading: Sworn to the Gods

Sworn to the Gods is a fantasy romance by Lexi Caine. I came across it as it was listed on Amazon as an “other books you may like” for one of my own fantasy books. This struck me as odd, as fantasy romance and epic fantasy don’t often mix. When I investigated, I discovered the Amazon recommendation is likely because Caine’s book has a mythological setting, like the Atlantis setting of my “Last Days of Atlantis” series. In the case of SttG this setting is ancient Greece. I was intrigued and decided to go ahead and purchase it.

Eleni is a beautiful young woman of twenty-one in Grecia who has eschewed marriage. It’s not that she’s against the idea or hates men, it’s just that all the men she encounters are disgusting brutes who don’t even remotely meet her standard of what a man should be. The worst is Trav, a drunken lout who sometimes leaves his seat at the tavern long enough to harass her in the street.

Even worse than her personal life is the condition of Grecia. Three centuries ago, Grecia was conquered by the Empire (maybe supposed to be the Romans?), who claim their emperor is the only god and have forbidden the worship of the ancient gods. Eleni’s own mother was a priestess at the underground temple of Aphrodite, and killed because of it.

As the book opens, Eleni is carrying a basket of food to the hidden priestesses of Aphrodite. At the market, she stops to watch the Legionnaires execute an old man who won’t shut up about the doom the emperor is bringing on all of them. He points to her and issues a sort of prophecy about her being the one to waken the gods. Eleni hurries on her way in the crowd before the Legionnaires can investigate, when a drunken Trav accosts her, follows her to an abandoned area of the city, and seems to be ready to rape her. Eleni flees into an entrance to the creepy old catacombs where no one dares go, but Trav follows her. She falls to her knees and prays to whatever gods might be listening that she’ll do anything if they save her. Something in the dark kills Trav and then steps forward–a gorgeous, muscular, dark-haired man surrounded by shadows, who claims the terms of her prayer: her loyalty in exchange for saving her.

The man turns out to be Erebus, Greek god of darkness. He has been trapped in the catacombs for three hundred years, along with Eros, god of love; Thanatos, god of death; and Helios, god of the sun (who’s gone a bit crazy being cooped up underground for centuries). They need a mortal woman who is willing to take part in a ceremony to help free them. The catch is, this ceremony will involve an exchange of blood, and will bind Eleni to the gods, and vice versa. They’ll share a special emotional, mental, and, um, erotic connection. And once they’re free, the four gods want Eleni’s help in taking their revenge on Dionysus, the one who imprisoned them for reasons they don’t know, but which will become apparent in the course of the book, and are connected with the Empire’s control of Grecia.

In some ways, this isn’t too different than a regular fantasy book. Gods with powers, a mythological setting, centaurs and nymphs and monsters, quests and evil rulers and missions of revenge–all normal stuff. The difference between, say, an epic fantasy and a fantasy romance seems to be the emphasis. In a typical fantasy, a romantic relationship will be a secondary story thread supporting the main plot, usually involving the completion of some sort of quest. In SttG, the developing romantic relationship among Eleni and the four gods is the important story arc, while the other things are the supporting elements.

I also have to point out, when I say “developing romantic relationship,” I’m being coy. Up until the ceremony, Eleni and the gods tease and flirt with each other, building the sexual tension. Once the binding ceremony take place, Eleni sleeps with each of the gods over the course of their travels to find Dionysus, fulfilling the ceremony’s purpose. These scenes are described–including body parts, acts, and bedroom repartee–with a level of loving detail and precision reserved in an epic fantasy for the hero winning his magic sword or the wizard casting a spell from his spellbook. In short, this is an adult book in the fullest sense of the term.

So do I recommend Sworn to the Gods? Hmm, that’s a tricky one, because I simply don’t have enough experience of the romance genre to know how this compares. My suspicion is that a reader of fantasy romances will find this highly satisfactory–interesting and exotic settings, a strong female lead with a bevy of (literally) god-like suitors, direct and rewarding erotic scenes. But I don’t know for sure. As for the readers who more typically read my books–fans of epic or adventure fantasy–this might be a nice diversion if you want to try something different and don’t mind some very definitely adult scenes. It’s probably not a genre you’ll return to often, but if you want to give it a try, SttG is fun and fast-paced and probably as good or better than similar books. I certainly enjoyed reading it, and am glad I branched out!

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