The Beast of Blackmore is a quick bite of the Barbarian world Milla Vane is building in her A Gathering of Dragons series. I grew up on barbarians. Frank Frazetta’s fantasy barbarian art graced the walls of a surprising number of hippie owned shops and restaurants, and then came the Barbarian movies of the 1980s – Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, Red Sonja, and a whole bunch of others that I watched many many times on HBO when I should have been doing my homework. A lot of the artwork and the lesser of the movies were bastions of masculinity, beefcake and T&A. There were a lot of damsels that needed saving. Conan the Barbarian was my favorite of them because Conan’s first love, Valeria, was a warrior and thief in her own right. She sacrifices herself to save Conan (boo, fridging), but before that she was his equal. Milla Vane is writing the barbarian romance books I would have loved to have read where the woman are as fierce as Valeria, but they get to live past the end of the adventure. Xena Warrior Princess came along during the years I wasn’t watching tv, but she feels like she would fit into Vane’s troubled lands quite easily.
Kavik, the titular Beast, is an honorable dunderhead barbarian warrior. He’s so dumb the goddess Vela emerges twice to tell him he’s an idiot. He is so noble and protective of others that Mala is intrigued and smitten with him as she sees him use his body to protect the people of Blackmoor. Mala has been tasked by Vela to tame the Beast of Blackmoor. She assumes initially that she is meant to kill a demon. Once she realizes Kavik is her quest, she sets about taming him with cheerful affection and oral sex. To Mala, taming isn’t about breaking but about creating mutual bonds of trust and friendship. Kavik is too scarred by trauma to appreciate this until it’s almost too late.
The Beast of Blackmoor has a lot more rape, past and present, than either A Heart of Blood and Ashes or A Touch of Stone and Snow. The series antagonist, Anumith the Destroyer, used rape as a weapon of war and his stand in baddie for this novella continues to use it as a tool to keep the people of Blackmore under his thumb. Vane focuses more on the trauma of rape than on explicit depictions of the acts itself. When she is explicit with sex, it is consensual. Though handled with a lot more grace and empathy than in A Song of Ice and Fire, book or tv adaptation, it is brutal. I truly wish someone would show Vane’s books to GRRM and the show runners to illustrate that you can use rape and sexual assault in a story without it being exploitative.