“Touched By Venom: Book One of the Dragon Temple Saga” by Janine Cross.
I’m going to start with a disclaimer: The words quoted from the book are for review purposes only. I am not taking credit for any facet of the author’s work or any of her characters. The work quoted belongs solely to the credited author. I have reproduced every bit of florid language, every run on sentence and every horrifying plot point exactly as they appear in the book. Pity me.
I’m beginning to think that my friends secretly hate me. If not hate me, at least like seeing me in pain. I mean, I know about telaryn and her rarified tastes, but I have no explanation for the rest of those bitches.
How else can I explain the fact these women (and laughingimp who is an Alpha Bitch by association) have exposed me to Night Travels of the Elven Vampire or The Star Wars Holiday Special. Pure cruelty. I’m not even going into the Yule gift of Circle’s, although I know that juliefortune will squeal when she reads about me getting that one.
Well, enough of the painful introspection about myself, my personality flaws and my inadequacies. Onto the fun. “Fun” being a relative term, of course.
Now, if you were to ask me to describe this book on one word, I’d have quite a bit of difficulty. The words “loathsome” or “vile” just don’t seem strong enough. "Repulsive”? “Repugnant”? Hmmm. They just don’t give an idea of the depths of my feelings for this piece of work.
Let’s start with a synopsis of the story. Mind you, this means that there are SPOILERS and if you ever wanted to actually read this book I will be ruining the experience of reading this book for you with my callus disregard for your virginal eyeballs.
But let’s be honest here. If I can convince ONE person, ONE SINGLE PERSON to not read this book, I think my place in heaven would be assured. All my past sins, insults and slights, both real and imagined, would be absolved forever. I will lose my time-share on the lake of fire and move into the heavenly abode next to all the really wholesome boring people. I doubt none of them will be able to snark with me the way the Alphas do, and I kinda doubt that as a group we’d have the kind of pull to get group reservations up there. But that’s okay too because if you were a person who actually wanted to read this book, I really wouldn’t care because you’d be so deeply in a vegetative coma-like state from freebasing raw plastics that you’d have problems pushing your scroll mouse around and wouldn’t make it past this paragraph anyway.
The story begins with Zarq. Zarq is a serf in a pottery making sept of Clan Re. The story begins when she is a young girl, nine or so.
I need to set up the society here. It’s very repressive. Serfs have no rights, women have even less. Only the aristocratic class is allowed to own dragons. The society also worships dragons. Their language has “clawful” or “claw of days” instead of handful. They have a temple and culture completely dedicated to their worship of dragons.
Don’t ask me to explain how a culture that worships dragons to the point of having their calendar, language, culture, death rituals and so forth revolve around them also mutilates their female dragons at hatching by removing their venom sacks and amputating their wings. Or has dragon eggs as a major component of their diet. Or uses them as their beasts of burden and riding animals. I really don’t get that. But that’s okay, because—as to paraphrase Big Trouble in Little China--Just like Jack Burton, I wasn’t put on this planet to ‘get it’. But I digress.
Women are so lowly that they’re not allowed to sleep on the ground for fear of polluting it. They urinate in special places. They’re basically treated like dirt.
Zarq has a big sister, Waivia. She’s beautiful and voluptuous and dreams of being chosen by an aristocratic lord to be his sex slave, (Wai-ebani bayen —private pleasurer for an aristocrat, as compared to a Kiyu—a general sex slave for everyone, lowest of the low), but she’s also a half blooded Djimbi. Djimbi are the jungle people. They’re identified by their green mottled skin. They’re even more second class than women. Zarq and Waivia’s mother is Djimbi.
This is what the book has to say about the Djimbi:
The Djimbi. The mottled bellies. If Malacar, my birth nation, has any true-blood natives, they are to be found in the Djimbi. IF you can find the Djimbi, that is. They are an elusive people.
As children, we were terrified those green-haired half-demons would slink out of the jungle, slide snakelike over our walls, and steal us from our sleeping mats. They would cut out our tongues and eat them raw, then bind us and blind us and drag us deep into the jungle, where they’d hoist us into the jungle crown using pulleys and ropes. There, among the decomposing nests of a dragon colony, they’d feed us limb by limb to sharp-toothed hatchlings.
The Djimbi did that. Oh, WE knew. Didn’t matter what the adults would or wouldn’t admit. We knew. The Djimbi loved feeding children to hatchlings. They did it to tame the hatchlings, see and to accustom them to the Djimbi scent.
Then, when the hatchlings were sated, they would touch them. Sure, sure they would. Stroke the hatchlings’ scaled heads and gristle-packed crops and cool, dirty bellies. They’d reach beneath their whip-thin tails and slowly insert fingers where fingers shouldn’t go, then tongues and cocks and whatever else our imaginations could come up with…
There’s some truth to all that.
This passage, by the way, is on page 22. That passage that early in the book is a merciful God’s way of telling you to RUN! RUN! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY, PUT DOWN THE BOOK AND RUN BEFORE YOU READ ANY MORE OF THIS BOOK!!!!! PEOPLE ARE SHTUPPING BABY DRAGONS ON PAGE 22!!! IT’S ONLY GOING TO GET WORSE, YOU FOOL!!!
::ahem:: Anyways, one of the clan’s boys is chosen to be the dragonmaster’s apprentice. By custom they have to give away everything to everyone else and they will be given great wealth. But because of a technicality, everything they have is taken and they get nothing in return.
The clan is now destitute so they sell Waivia as a Kiyu to another clan. This sends Zarq’s mother over the deep end. Her entire purpose is now to buy her eldest daughter back.
Zarq’s mother leads the clan to make jewelry items for the aristocrats. The secret of these jewelry items? They’re made with women’s urine and therefore unclean.
When it is found out what is done to make these items the aristocrats come in, kill Zarq’s father and beat her mother. Then Zarq and her mother are expelled from their clan. From there they wander until they are taken into Tieron Nask Cnai, the Dragon Convent of Tieron.
Zarq’s mother dies, and Zarq is circumcised and renamed Zar-shi because the bloodstains from her circumcision spelled out those letters.
A shocking pain in my sex, a blinding white tug. The cloud and the millstone song vanished.
Burning pain radiated from my groin up into my belly and down deep into my thighs, a nauseating, engulfing never-ending pain that threatened to split my head apart, and it didn’t end, it increased, and someone was wailing, a breathless ongoing scream.
Tug, tug, something was ripping my sex out, flensing flesh from bone….
Someone shoved a clot of leather into my mouth.
Okay, this is what you get if you don’t heed the warning of fondled and molested baby dragons on page 22. This is your second warning. If you keep going after this, it’s your own damn fault. Or peacockharpy’s if you’re me. As an aside, any book that uses the word ‘flensing’ in reference to female organs… well, it’s just wrong wrong wrongity McWrong.
So now we have Zar-shi, circumcised nun at a convent where they take care of old male dragons. She’s also haunted by the ghost of her mother. In order to keep her mother’s shade away, she becomes addicted to dragon venom, a powerful hallucinogen that the male dragons secrete from glands at the base of their tongues.
When she’s 15 she comes across a ‘ritual’ that the older nuns are partaking in… you know what it is… you know you’ve been waiting for this… you know you want this…. Oral sex with dragons.
His tongue flicked out. Long as my arm, pale as the moon, forked at the end. Spotted with glistening black venom.
Boj-est raised her knees into a child-birthing position. The onais who knelt about her leaned forward, still droning their intoxicating Djimbi chant. They reached out and ran hands lightly over her glorious body. Palms caressed her stomach, fingers trailed over her hip bones, down her thighs, disappeared into her dark cleft.
My nipples hardened, heat pulsed in my groin.
Lutche fought the muzzle pole hooked in his nare. His desiccated wings fluttered, fanning Nnp-trn, who held him still.
Boj-est panted and moaned.
“Now, oh, now” she gasped.
Abruptly, the women pulled back. Nnp-trn unhooked Lutche. The dragon lunged forward, great arrowed snout diving between Boj-est’s legs.
I closed my eyes against the terrible sight but could not escape the inebriating Djimbi chants or Boj-est’s escstatic (spelling error as in the book. Bad editor, no cookie!... Hell, bad editor for letting this get published. No fucking cookies EVER AGAIN!!!) gasps, and desire bloomed within me, climbed higher and higher and so deliciously higher—
Boj-est cried out.
Her cry rang around the rotunda, sent a flurry of bats chattering into the night. My eyes snapped open and I found myself panting, sweat slicked, my trembling hands between my thighs.
Okay, maybe it’s me but the girl has been circumcised. Genitally mutilated. Why the FUCK would she have her hand between her thighs? There’s NOTHING LEFT TO STIMULATE! WHAT THE FUCK????
But I digress yet again. Because the story continues. Oh, yes precious. It continues. And it burns, precious. It buuuurns…
Because now the dragon venom addicted Zar-shi is laying down in front of the dragons and letting them use the “oral delivery system” for venom, which is much, much better than just drinking it and so much better than putting it on your fingers and putting it in, which I sort of doubt would be possible based on how severe her circumcision was.
Stuff happens, all described in extremely florid language involving the usage of three adjectives to describe every damn little thing and Zar-shi leaves the convent with another nun, this one who had been raped by a priest and bore a child.
So then they stay for a while with the makmaki (those who take care of the dead) brothers. The brothers are homosexual and sleep with each other. It’s the entire Harry Potter-Weaselycest fandom rolled up with a side of necrophilia, I tell ya.
But it goes on. I know, I know, hard to believe that it could get worse, but it does.
Zarq is now Zarq again, and she goes cold turkey off the venom after almost killing her friend’s baby. She can only think about two things now. One is about how one person and one person alone is responsible for misfortune. Sadly it is not the author of this mess, but one Waikar Re Kratt, the noble son of the leader of Clan Re. The other is how much she wants to get a dragon’s snout betwixt her legs so she can get some more “special venom lovin’”.
But the pain, it continues. She tries to kill Kratt, fails, is wounded, has the entire makmaki settlement burned to the ground in retribution for her acts, takes shelter in a monastery, finds out that because she’s circumcised she can become a dragonmaster’s apprentice but she still wants to kill Kratt.
So she goes to the festival of Mombe Taro in which the dragonmaster picks his apprentices and has them whipped publicly with venom soaked whips.
(This festival is where you get the (in)famous term “Venom Cock”:
Right away, I noticed their erections. Truth, I’d been looking for them, as had Waisi and Kobo’s twins, Rutvia and Makvia. All four of us poked each other and tittered. Behind us, Mother yanked on Waisi’s and the twins’ braids with her strong potter’s hands. She even yanked on my own scabby bristle, causing instant tears. We paid heed. Unwise while in the presence of so much masculinity to mock the phallus.
Yeli’s Dono still pranced beside me like one crazed.
“Lookit the thize of that one!” he bellowed. That’th a cock, hey-o!” He tugged on his own little thing beneath his dirty loincloth.
A venom cock, they’re called. I’d heard the words grunted respectfully among the pottery clan men. I’d also heard the words mentioned by women wearing a carefully blank expression cultivated to hide opinion. Understand, women do not revere the venom cock as men do. They see it for what it is: an uncontrollable reaction to an impending event, and a slightly foolish reaction at that.
Dono’s reverence was a mystery back then, made all the more mysterious by his assertions about what a venom cock could do: slay a woman! Cripple a baby! Turn pleasurers into deaf, blind, barren idiots!)
But I digress. Zarq becomes accepted as a dragonmaster’s apprentice, temporarily gives up her dreams of killing Kratt and the book ends with her about to be beaten with venom soaked whips and being aroused by the very thought, dreaming all along of what it’ll be like to get a virile male dragon to go down on her.
The story ends.
But it doesn’t really. Because this is only book one of The Dragon Temple Saga. Saga as in neverending story of woe happening to a genitally mutilated Mary Sue. Which while I loathe most Mary Sues, I still never would wish that on anyone, fictional or not.
I have many, many issues with this book. They range from the fact that it appears the author is unfamiliar with the genre and has made every single common mistake that mainstream authors ‘slumming’ in the fantasy/science fiction genres make. One of those things is the fact that they feel that genre isn’t really good enough to stand on its own, but it must be socially relevant. In this case, the book tackles the weighty issues of ::draws deep breath:: child abuse, sexism, sexual abuse, genital mutilation, drug addiction, rape, misogyny, homosexuality, incest, bestiality, caste and class war. I probably missed a few ‘weighty issues’ here and there because I was trying to read with one eye closed and in a constant position of ‘recoil’.
Dude. Two, maybe three issues, tops. After that you get way too many issues and a story so angst-filled that it would get razzed off of Fanfiction.net, except by a bunch of Emo 15 year old girls who ‘identify’ with the protagonist and think that Zarq is a bulimic cutter, and they admire that in her and want to be at one with her and the pain.
Another issue: The discussion of the genitally mutilated women. There’s a reference to a woman who is raped by a priest and hides it from the other women in the convent. My understanding of the procedure makes it pretty hard to hide that kind of damage, makes birthing children extremely dangerous and masturbation damn near impossible. The constant references of Zarq fondling herself between her thighs were a big WTF for me. Research, research, research. Writers: Wikipedia is your friend. Google is your buddy. Encarta. Livejournal’s Bad Sex community. Fandom Wank. Something. ANYTHING. Just. Look. It. Up.
I think the biggest issue I have is not the fact that the only difference in dialogue from a bunch of people in Peoria, Ohio and Malacar is some fakey made up names for common items and the tendency to stick the word ‘Hey-O’ on the end of random sentences with no discernable pattern. No, I think the thing that annoys me the most about this book is the fact that scent of venom is described over and over and over as smelling like “limes and licorice”.
The serf diet is described in painful, extensive detail on page 36. You would know this if you managed to read past the Djimbi molesting baby dragons without either 1)puking or 2)throwing the book against the wall in disgust and doing a full scale Silkwood-esque full body contamination. Serfs eat: Paak, a dish made of unfertilized dragon eggs, sesal nut paste, yanichee soup, muay leaves and featon grit. It says they eat the same thing every day.
Do you see any licorice? Any limes? I don’t. And if they call scrambled eggs Paak, and they call egg drop soup Yanichee soup, do you think they would call licorice ‘licorice’ or would they call it something fakey made up genre friendly ? SO HOW WOULD THEY KNOW WHAT LICORICE AND LIMES SMELL LIKE???
Grr. Lazy writing. If you’re writing in first person, you can only express what your character knows. If your character has never chowed down on a bag of Twizzlers with a margarita on the side, then she’s not going to know that dragon venom smells like licorice and limes.
I’ll be honest with you. I enjoyed “Night Travels of the Elven Vampire” more than this book. Seriously.
I mean, LaVerne is bad. Really bad. But she’s writing because she loves to tell a story. She’s not trying to be relevant or address ‘issues’ or slum in a genre she’s not familiar with. She’s just telling a story, albeit poorly.
I mean, which would you rather read? Zarq getting it up the (mutilated) spout with a dragon tongue, or this version of pirate foreplay in A Pirates’ Passion? (found on www.rosedog.com under Laverne Ross: Disclaimer: All words quoted are credited to LaVerne Ross, belong to her and certainly not to me. They are quoted for review purposes only and are cut and pasted exactly as found. All grammatical and spelling errors, all plot points ::snerk::, all characters belong solely to LaVerne Ross.)
"I see you have a fascination for pirates, espeally fair-haired captains."Laughter still obvious in his voice.
"I do not!" She stood up quickly and faced him, her face turning pink. "It was given to me before I got on the ship by my brother."She grabbed up the book and threw it at him. He raised his arm and knocked it away from him. He grabbed her arm and pulled her close. Wrapping his other arm around her waist. "You have a problem, if you think I could like a pirate!"
"Perhaps I could make you change your mind, my dear. I am sure I could change your mind about a lot of things. His eyes danced with devilment as he latched his gaze onto her lips. She struggled against him, but couldn't get loose.
"You devil! You are too ugly for me." Her voice going high, as she had trouble breathing.
"Am I now?" His voice soft. "That's not what the women tell me."
"Then they need glasses!"
"That's not what you think, I can see it in your eyes. You find me interesting, more so than the hero in that book of yours, huh?"
"NO!" She yelled at him, and deep inside she was yelling at herself. For she knew that she was lying and that he knew it. She felt a warmth spread through her as he held her close. How could she feel anything for this man?
"Ah my fiery enchantress you have much to learn about yourself." His head lowered toward hers and she watched his lips approaching, and she discovered she wanted them on hers. His lips brushed them and he tasted the beer on hers. He moved his head back a fraction and smiled down at her. "Shame on you, . . . drinking." But he said it teasingly. He lowered his head and his lips ran slowly over hers feeling their softness against his own. His tongue softly lapped at her mouth and as they opened he entered the hot cavern, and was met by her tongue. He fondled it with his enjoying the duel that played out there. One hand came up and touched the side of her face and she moved closer to him. He picked her up with one arm around her waist as he sat down in the chair she had vacated he pulled her onto his lap. She sat there lost in the kiss they shared. He put up a hand and touched her neck and felt her pulse racing knowing she was his for the taking. She moaned as he intensified the kiss and she wrapped her arms around his neck. Putting up a hand he put it on her breast and gently squeezed it through her summer dress. She tried to pull away but he just pulled her closer. She melted into his body and he rubbed his callused hand against her dress. One of her hands came up and the fingers going through his hair and the other went to his chest resting over his heart. As though to push him away but hadn't yet.
Yep. I’ll take LaVerne any day over someone getting eaten out by a giant lizard.
Not like that’s really much of a choice, mind you. But still it’s much easier to act out latching your gaze to someone’s lips during dramatic readings than having a dragon munching your poon.
But that could just be me. I mean, telaryn has told me about these parties….