Review: 'Spies in Their Midst', by Alflor Aalto
Spies in Their Midst by Alflor Aalto is listed as the third book in The Llyrian Wars: Act One series, following The Prince of Thieves and The Streets of His City and Other Stories. The series is also referred to as "The Llyrian Wars tetralogy”, so apparently there is at least one more book to come. There is no information about what will follow Act One.
Hmmm. The Prince of Thieves includes a Rabbit Valley advisory notice that “This book deals with homoerotic themes and descriptions of erotic acts.” You had better consider that Spies in Their Midst needs one, also.
Spies in Their Midst stands well on its own. The protagonist of The Prince of Thieves and The Streets of His City and Other Stories is Prince Natier of Llyria, a red fox; the heir to the throne. The protagonist of Spies in Their Midst is Orrin, Lord Vintaa, a raccoon and Llyran nobleman. Yet he is not a new character. He was an important supporting character in “The Looking War”; a short story in The Streets of His City and Other Stories. This is his novel-length story, starting before the other two books.
Illustrated by Robbye "Quel" Nicholson, Las Vegas, NV, Rabbit Valley, December 2013, trade paperback $20.00 (303 pages).
Other carts and carriages started to appear along the way. Most belonged to merchants, but a few were definitely too dear for someone without a peerage to afford. Orrin shut the carriage door and took a seat once more. He removed a very familiar piece of parchment from his pocket and read it over. He’d lost count of just how many times he had done so since the letter arrived some eight days ago. Just as he had done all the other times, the raccoon attempted to solidify his feelings at the strange news. He was expected to feel sad; the letter’s author had no doubt thought so. Unfortunately, Orrin simply could not bring himself to feel anything but confusion. (p. 1)
Spies in Their Midst is a superficially well-written but basically non-believable adventure of funny-animal skullduggery, derring-do and graphic gay sex. Orrin, apparently a teenager or in his early twenties, is the son of the Lord of Vintaa, one of the Kingdom of Llyra’s noblemen. His mother died when he was a child, and his father’s position called for him to live in Llyra’s royal palace in the Capital City; so Orrin has grown up not only alone, but almost totally unsupervised. Chapters 1 and 2 establish that Orrin spent much of his youth getting experience at picking locks and clambering unseen up Vintaa’s walls and across the rooftops. The novel begins as Orrin is informed by letter of his father’s mysterious murder, and his duty to take his father’s place at the Llyran court. Orrin travels there by carriage but alone, with no idea of what to expect. At the royal palace, Orrin is greeted by Werill, a raccoon servant who was his father’s personal servant (the word valet is apparently unknown). Orrin is led to his father’s apartments, now his. He lies down to rest after his long journey to the Capital City, and is rudely awakened in an attic across town by a cloaked ferret who informs him that his father and grandfather were spies for Aarya, Llyra’s traditional enemy, and that he is expected to continue the family tradition. Werill will inform him of his orders. Orrin, who still does not know what is going on, immediately agrees. The cloaked ferret leaves, and Orrin uses his ability to climb up and down walls and run unseen over rooftops to return to the palace. Need I go on?
The setting is a vague mixture of the medieval and renaissance ages. The royal palace is both a palace with multiple floors, broad marble staircases, large dining halls, and a grand ballroom, and a castle with a moat and armed soldiers walking the battlements. The Capital City is walled – how long has it been since the larger European cities were protected by walls, and how large were they? York, England still has its medieval walls, built roughly between 1100 and 1400, but they only enclose an area of about 2.5 miles; a tourist attraction today. The city has long since expanded beyond its walls. The kingdom is equally indeterminate. Is it Llyria and Llyrian, or Llyra and Llyran? It is both, in different places.
Orrin’s first friend at the palace is Lord Timmin of Septimine, “a rather jubilant” auburn squirrel. This turns out to be fortunate, because Orrin’s first assignment as an Aaryan spy is to follow Lord Timmin through the city and see where he goes. It turns out to be The Silk Peony, a male brothel run by D’arcy, a mouse madam.
Inside, was a scene of decadence and crimson velour. Ten gorgeous males lay languidly on a row of divans, their trim, well-muscled bodies entirely exposed or occasionally draped with flowing red silk. (p. 19)
Is Tim there to partake of homosexual pleasures, or does he have some other purpose? No matter; Orrin can hardly wait for his mission to conclude so he can race back to The Silk Peony to enjoy its masculine ecstasy for himself.
With just a few gold, he could have any one of those luscious males. The thought made him smile. (p. 21)
"Don’t worry, I’ll be careful." Orrin adjusted his cravat. The city couldn’t possibly be all that dangerous. (p. 30)
Since nobody has yet discovered why his father was murdered, or who did it, Orrin seems to assume a recklessly cavalier attitude toward his own invulnerability.
Orrin quickly learns that Aarya is not the only nation to have a spy network within the Llyran court. So does its northern neighbor, Tilmar. And doubtlessly others. He meets Count Trivus of Rywer, “a gorgeous, attractive fox” who is equally smitten with Orrin. Romancing Trivus to gain his confidence is a delectably pleasurable assignment for the young raccoon.
Orrin’s and Tim’s dialogue includes such modernisms as “Yeah!”, “Sure,” and “Sounds good to me.” It may be just me, but these do not help the pseudo-old-fashioned atmosphere of the story any.
Spies in Their Midst features the drama of attempted assassinations, successful assassinations, much climbing in and out of multistoried windows, burning buildings, pirates, betrayal, sacrifice and more, all interrupted by the raccoon’s having sex with either the squirrel or the fox before going on to the next episode. There are several full-page illustrations by cover artist Robbye "Quel" Nicholson. As long as you are satisfied by an adventure that is never convincing, and that has lots of graphic M/M sex, Aalto’s third Llyrian novel is an enjoyable read.
There are also an ePub and a .pdf edition of this book at $15.00 each.