Review – Bloom & Dark: A Burningsoul Novel

I had to do a Google search today…

Time to learn how to eat crow, I guess…

My first brush with Regina Watts was when Facebook decided to advertise her to me, likely because of some of the other books I read. The advertisement said something like “Like Eric Vall? Meet Burningsoul.” Eric Vall, for the uninitiated, is the absolutely prolific author of a lot of harem-style stories, who at his best keeps his fans entertained by putting out about a book a month across a multitude of franchises and at his worst may actually be like 15 elder gods and an AI all writing together under a pseudonym. (Seriously, the conspiracy theories about “the truth” of Eric Vall are a bit much.) As such, I initially thought it was a weird angle to be advertising from. Then there was a Facebook group post where someone asked some questions about the book, likely having seen the same advertisement as I and… the discussion was mixed. Not all bad, but there were concerns. The author is well established, having been published for over five years, but this appeared to be her first story in this angle.


There was a bit of a surprise when the author herself appeared in the thread. Her responses to potential fans and decided detractors alike won me over; I forked over the $6.99 for the preordered and waited for the moment it would be delivered. I would have my answers soon enough… and I am pleased to state those concerns were largely unfounded. This is a damn solid story about one fallen paladin finding new life with his new Queen. And all of her followers. This guy gets passed around like a blunt behind the schoolyard bleachers.

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Roarke Burningsoal is a Paladin of Weltyr who gets betrayed by his companions over the recollection of some holy artifact. He is saved from the brink of death by two durrow (“drow” with the serial number filed off) at the cost of becoming a slave. After having their way with him and using him as part of a scheme to lower the price of the service of melting gold down, they end up losing him to a high priest of another goddess named Valeria the Materna. She, uh, she puts him to use. In between escapades in the bedroom and the bathhouse, Roarke must protect Valeria’s very life from threats both demonic and political.

The book’s use of high fantasy tropes is solidly entrenched in classic Dungeons and Dragons storytelling, where there are clearly powers at play but no one is throwing around words like “levels” or “skill points.” Everything has a dark and gritty sheen, where the light of a candle or of fungi show the cruelty of the world even as it shows off its beauty. There is this feeling that the world is far more vast than the main character is aware, or frankly can be bothered to be concerned with, giving a sense of solid world-building. A good thing, too, because as book one comes to a conclusion, it’s clear the reader is going to get to see more of that world, so a certain level of buy-in is necessary.

And yet, there are elements of this book that aren’t for me. There is a running theme I, in my lack of expertise, can only describe as “reverse Gorean” – the main character is only able to have the sexual adventures he has because of his slavery, and only by truly giving in to his mistress’s desires, and to a lesser extent the desires of lesser women he is lent to, can he truly be free. In fact, the desire to escape from his captivity is a far goal in his mind compared to making sure the mistress he so eagerly pleases is happy. There is a plot point where the main character looks around him and goes “maybe this isn’t for me, maybe slavery like this is unjust” – and then he trips and falls into a scene where he’s commanded to whip another elf before getting whipped himself and realizes just how wrong he was. It isn’t that the main character is weak, by any means, but his agency leads him to embrace this new lifestyle, and I just couldn’t empathize. Given how much the fantasy landscape has changed over the last couple of decades, I imagine I won’t be the only one.

The sex scenes, as much as some of them didn’t suit my palette, were all well written, although at times with the type of flowery prose I might scoff at while reading. Bloom and Dark is far more than just its sex scenes, however – there’s quite a bit of action and intrigue. I’d argue for those keeping count that the main character’s romping around keeps the book from being a “true harem” which will upset those that wish to gatekeep the term, although the book ends in such a way that suggests maybe Roarke is starting to get the agency to make the women he desires truly his own. I can’t imagine many people making it to the end that won’t want to read the next book in the series.

It’s a solid sign of a good novel when an author can include elements that aren’t for me and I will still find myself pushing to the end to see how it all pans out. As such, while I can’t recommend it to everyone? I can’t find any real fault with it, either. It’s a fine wine for a specific palette. Is it worth the $7? I’ve spent more on books I’ve enjoyed less.

Bloom & Dark: Book I of The Rorke Burningsoul Saga was written by Regina Watts and is listed at being 248 pages in length. This novel can be purchased for $6.99 for an electronic copy from the Amazon store. It is also available to be read at no additional cost as part of a Kindle Unlimited subscription.

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