Despite having multiple short stories and novellas to his name, including my review of The Incident that brought him by for an interview last year, Velvet marks the first full-length novel from Xavier Axelson. Although it didn't necessarily work for me on a romantic level, I did find it to be an extraordinarily erotic tale of sordid history, friendship, and betrayal.
From the heights of royalty to the depths of prostitution, the story carries us through a series of betrayals that prey upon poor, lovely Virago. In a world where homosexuality is forbidden, the young tailor finds himself falling in love with a singer, a man who was only dangled tantalizingly before him by Madame Therese in order to exact a measure of revenge against the King. Confusing lust with love, Virago finds himself falling under the spell of Seton, even as he struggles to craft the King's velvet coronation outfit.
The King is such a despicable, villainous character, you really have to wonder how Virago could have ever befriended him in the first place. His blind brother, Sylvain, is played perhaps a bit too sympathetically, but he is a lovely character. Seton is as much a victim as Virago, and probably the brightest spot in the entire novel. Like I said, I never quite bought into the romance between then, but the sexual relationship between Virago and Seton is hot, heavy, and gloriously sensual.
The intrigues here are almost as deep as the sexuality, creating an air of mystery and danger that keeps you reading. I had my suspicions as to how it would all turn out, but Axelson managed to toss in a few pleasant surprises that made for a conclusion that was as fascinating as it was satisfactory.
[Reviewed by Sally]