Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Virago is the royal tailor of a corrupt prince. Left to care for his blind brother, Virago devotes himself to his trade until an unexpected delivery changes his life, and a wandering minstrel knocks on his door. What he discovers will test the bonds of brotherhood and unravel the forbidden secrets of his heart.
Loosely based on the 14th Century Laws of Sumptuary, Velvet takes readers to a land where cruelty is disguised as allegiance, loyalty is masked by obligation, and the laws of sumptuary govern the people. But nothing is more dangerous than Velvet.
Velvet by Xavier Axelson has all the elements I’ve come to expect from an Xavier Axelson story. The language is lyrical, hints of the mystical float through the narrative, and the overhaul effect is just plain haunting as a whole.
From the start, the tone is set as Virago is on board a ship. Virago stands next to a heavily pregnant woman who’s unborn child is a seer interested in Virago. From there, Virago recounts the journey that has led to this voyage and his strange circumstances.
From happy child with a famous, loving tailor father in a kingdom ruled by a benevolent king to a man living under the rule of a unhinged cruel despot, Virago and his brother undergo so many changes here. Primarily Virago because he is the character who has had blinders on about so much for most of his life. About his sexuality, about the prince and his true characters, and about those the prince has “considered his true friends and brothers”. Things his blind brother has been aware of for far too long.
All changes when a new fabric comes into Virago’s hands…something called velvet. Soon an obsession and more is born just as a musician, Seton, arrives for the King’s coronation. A sexuality awakens, forbidden by law and punishable by death. So too does a sickness arrive in the city.
Axelson weaves a tale of revenge, cruelty, discovery, passion, and love in Velvet. You’re never sure if this is an historical novel or if dragons will soon appear because there is an air of heavy mysticism about it that bespeaks of darkness and otherness.
As with most of Axelson’s romances, Virago and Seton find love rather quickly but here it feels natural or rather that fact is subdued under all the other elements here. Perhaps it’s that all the threads are equal, the velvet vest, Virago’s feelings, the whore’s revenge, the peacocks, the court, and more. It all builds to an uneasy crescendo.
Never was I so happy for that beginning.
Velvet will haunt you. It leaves you with questions that will never be answered, and scenes that linger on in your mind. That’s why I read this author. And you should too. I absolutely recommend Velvet as a lovely starting place.
Cover art: Winterheart Ink Designs. Haunting, beautiful cover that is perfect for the story.
Kindle Edition, 161 pages
Published March 24th 2018 by JMS Books LLC (first published October 25th 2012)