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Kept locked away in a tower by an overzealous mother lest any harm ever befall him, young princeling Leonard de Limbourg is awed the first time he glimpses two Crusader Knights visiting the family home. They come to see the boy, and one of the knights, Lord Francis is so taken by the young man's abject hero worship that he agrees to spirit the boy away and train him under his command. While training, he and the other young knights are taken to visit prisoners, who praise their commander, General Jamal Jan, for his prowess and inner nobility. Their devotion echoes his own feelings for Lord Francis, so this leaves quite the impression. One day Lord Francis leaves the command of Gerun Fortress in Leonard's hands, ostensibly to go off in search of more interesting conquests than this "quiet" place. I say ostensibly, for not shortly after, Leonard and the occupying forces are attacked by an overwhelming force, led by none other than General Jamal Jan. With the townspeople's apathy and lack of assistance added to the problem of their own smaller numbers, the occupying forces are forced to retreat within hidden passageways. With the church taken, their escape route is cut off. Leonard realises that his noble lineage may carry currency, and decides to offer himself as a prisoner in exchange for his men's safe passage and their full, unconditional surrender of the citadel.
It is accepted, but has unexpected consequences. To General Jan's men's surprise and the shock of Leonard himself, his offer is accepted but at a personal cost. For the general orders him to bare his lower half, and submit to sexual humiliation before his right hand man and the general's own entourage, then claims Leonard as his personal property. What follows is a series of forced sexual activity, followed by moments of great care and even tenderness. It confuses Leonard, who begins to suspect that he is developing inexplicable feelings for the general, yet also dreams of escape. Even more confusing is discovering what actually happened to Lord Francis and that man's reaction to meeting Leonard again. And just what has the king done to General Jan for taking himself a prize without first asking permission? One thing is for certain, nothing is quite as it first seemed to Leonard, and this heavily sheltered and still naïve young man is learning some life lessons the hard way, and fast.
Uki Ogasawara's tale is one of passion and betrayals and given the unusual setting, it does not fail to catch the eye's interest. It is not a story without controversy, however, as the depiction of bondage and non consensual sex have raised several eyebrows. Having decided to give this an unbiased read, I read it through once. It was admittedly shocking in places, not due to images of the body, nor the sex itself, but the circumstances thereof. Having read it through once, I went away to think about it, and then came back and read it again, thought about it some more, and then reread it yet again. Putting the story into perspective, I could say that while it does deserve the explicit rating it has been given, it is far from smut and the rape plot device is actually deeply meaningful.
Leonard is kept locked away back at his family home, as the baby born before him died after a nurse accidentally dropped him. His older brothers and mother keep him from the world around him to keep all possible harm from him, leading him to romanticise that which he does not know. When the Monastic Knights make their appearance, it is the stuff of books, and he is utterly enthralled with it. His hero worship for Lord Francis actually reveals his naïveté and vulnerability, which is easily taken advantage of. Indeed, his own blind acceptance of the Knight's chivalrous code blinds him to what is actually happening about him, and this is what makes him irresistible to the jaded General Jamal Jan who currently is loverless and, as it turns out, gay. The brutal background of Jamal's childhood as a slave snatched from his home and raised for war along with his learned behaviour from the court of his king all play a role in the method he decides to use to lay claim to Leonard, but which is the truth? Is Leonard just property to be abused for amusement, or is the tenderness that is also shown real? The mixed signals and Leonard's reactions add a Stockholm type syndrome effect to the captive Leonard's dilemmas, but is that all there is to it, or does he feel something more? And just what role does Lord Francis REALLY play in all this?
This is the first volume and while only some of these plot points are covered, it provides a thought provoking read that shies away neither from the violence of war nor the emotions of human lust that plays into politics both interpersonal and governmental, without excusing it. One does have to read carefully and digest the inner subtexts provided by the pictures and dialogue, or it becomes all too easy to unfairly write this off as a piece of low quality rape fantasy smut. The art is quite beautiful, with its exotic locations, both geographical and time period wise, and men who are handsome, lean, and nicely defined muscle wise. The second volume is not yet out in Japan due to a previous hiatus, but the mangaka has picked this back up and is penning new chapters to the story which will be collected into the second volume and then hopefully translated and published by Digital Manga's 801 imprint just as this was so that the remaining questions are answered.
****I would like to thank Digital Manga Publishing for providing me with the review copy****