The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.
Ellian has a problem, and his name is Felix Masters. When Ellie, a high society male succubus, joins Against the Grain, he has a foolproof plan: attend the support group for supernatural misfits, figure out how to correct his… abnormality, and then return to the Incubi compound to join his betrothed. For once in Ellie’s suffocatingly controlled existence, he will bring honor to his family name, regardless of the personal cost. As long as a certain awkwardly sweet human does not ruin his carefully laid plans.
Felix Masters has a problem, and his name is Ellian. Felix never meant to crash into a therapy group for magical oddballs, but that single stumble changes his world forever. Magic, glamour, and succubus tails are only the beginning, and when faced with a skittish Incubi dead set on self-destruction, Felix is determined to change Ellie’s mind and, with a little bit of luck, capture his heart as well.
An asexual succubus trapped by fate and expectation. An insecure human desperate to set him free. Join Felix and Ellie as they find acceptance, courage, and unconditional love in the one place they never expected: each other.
Possible triggering material includes: Supernatural culture “norms” that border on child abuse (past), emotional abuse, and dubious consent (non-graphic/off-page). One character struggles with a form of gender dysphoria and self-harm manifesting in a type of eating disorder. There is one instance of on-page marijuana use. Side note: mpreg exists in this magical race/universe, but it is not featured on page or experienced by the main characters.
Felix and Ellie’s romance was as unexpected as it was wonderful. I’ll admit that I didn’t quite know what to make of Felix when he stumbled into the support group Ellie attended, but the more I got to know him the more I fell in love with his quirky personality. If there was ever a person who could bring Ellie out of his shell, it was Felix, and I had a blast watching the two of them bond over cooking classes and self-portraits.
Though Felix’s anxiety appeared in bits and pieces throughout this book, the heart of this story centered around Ellie’s struggles with the expectations placed on him in Incubi society. It was truly heartbreaking to see him war with his sense of duty versus what made him happy, and I was firmly on Team “Make-Ellie-Happy” despite how much he wavered back and forth. Knowing how much was at stake for him, I was even more thrilled to see Ellie open up around Felix and trust him with intimacy he hadn’t shared with anyone else. This book didn’t need steamy sex and passionate bedroom flings to showcase the emotional connection these men shared when a sweet kiss and hand-holding session could melt my heart into a pile of mush. I loved experiencing every quiet, content moment between Felix and Ellie, and their silly banter never failed to make me smile. Best of all, Felix never asked for anything Ellie wasn’t comfortable giving and regularly checked on his emotional state. Without even saying the words, I could feel the love these two had for each other, and that’s what made me even more invested in seeing them find a way to be together. The journey certainly wasn’t easy, and there were moments when I was afraid Ellie’s sense of duty would overrule his heart, but in the end Felix and Ellie took the leap and chose a life of happiness, love, and togetherness.
Felix and Ellie are pure magic together, in the messiest, realest, most awkward and yet beautiful possible way. I liked them, separately and together, and I liked how they both enabled each other to be the truest versions of themselves: Ellie likes Felix’s body the way it is and appreciates his art. Felix respect’s Ellie’s asexuality and supports his right to feel, be, and do what he wants, rather than what his Incubi heritage would seem to demand. It’s impossible not to feel for Ellie– his culture is brutal and trying to fit himself into the mold he’s being bludgeoned into is, for him, a fate worse than death. Watching him slowly embrace the possibility of something more is really rewarding. Plus, his prickly vanity overlaps beautifully with Felix’s awkward snark, and you have to love any romance where “jellyfish” becomes a meaningful endearment. They’re a great couple, and the premise of the series, a supernatural support group for beings who just don’t fit in, is awesome as well. I’m looking forward to more stories in this world.
I haven’t read many books with trans characters in them, and I don’t know a lot about gender dysphoria, but that’s not specifically what this book is about although I would say that there are definite features of both of those things in this book.
As a cis het woman I don’t want to say much about the believability of one of the character’s journeys with gender dysphoria. I’ve never experienced that myself and I think it would be ignorant to pretend that I understand what the character was going through, but I thought it was realistic and I believed it and I believed in the emotion of how the journey was portrayed. I feel that I understand more than I did before I started the book, and that’s a good thing.
I don’t want to give too much away about the plot because I think that this is a really difficult topic to tackle, and I thought that the approach was very interesting and unique, and I also think that the reader should be allowed to find out about it for themselves. I will say that I thought this was a good book. It wasn’t hot and steamy, but rather emotional and sweetly loving. One of the characters identifies as ace, and there is some on-page steam, but it is low steam and may not be what you are particularly looking for when it comes to romance novels.
I think the people who will like this book will be people who are looking for emotional connection more than other types of connections between characters, or people who enjoy hurt/comfort as that is something this author does well, or people who are wanting to try to understand asexuality or gender dysphoria a little bit better. In addition to all of that, this is just a really good and interesting story with excellent world building. I have been a fan of this author since she first published her Fire and Brimstone Scroll series, and she continues to impress me. If you ever look at my reviews, you’ll know that’s not an easy thing to do!