Review – Honey & Pepper

Posted April 15, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Honey & Pepper

Honey & Pepper

by A.J. Demas

Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 222
Series: When In Pheme #1
Rating: four-stars

Newly freed from slavery, Nikias is making a life for himself in the bustling city of Pheme, working at a snack stand, drinking with a group of anti-slavery radicals, and pining for the beautiful law clerk next door. When he sees his crush attacked in the street by an outraged ex-client, it seems it’s finally Nikias’s chance to be the hero.

Kallion doesn’t need a rescue. What he really needs is a skewer of octopus fritters (with extra sauce) and a friend. Nikias can supply both, and maybe, with the help of Nikias’s skill in the kitchen and Kallion’s excellent collection of wine, they can fight past their misunderstandings and the disasters of their pasts to something deeper.

But when civil unrest roils the city and old threats resurface, the trust these two have built will be tested. And they’d both better hope that Kallion’s vicious former master will just stay dead.

Honey & Pepper is a standalone m/m romance and also the first book in the When in Pheme series set in an imaginary ancient world.

I really enjoyed A.J. Demas’ Honey & Pepper. I wasn’t sure if I would, due to the initial misunderstanding (both because it revealed that Nikias had some kind of shame about his desires, and because I wasn’t looking forward to the two of them angsting about it). But I gave it a chance anyway, and was glad: Nikias swiftly comes to realise he was rude, and that also makes clear his character as someone who is willing to be wrong, willing to think, willing to self-examine. And Kallion, for his part, forgives easily enough, because the two of them are in a situation created by the fact that they have both been slaves, and they understand how that shapes you.

Nikias is fairly straightforward as a character — his heart is well and truly on his sleeve. Kallion took longer to open up, but fortunately it didn’t happen as a third-act breakup or something like that. Instead, a plot that was already hinted at comes to the fore, and wraps things up enjoyably.

I enjoyed both Nikias and Kallion’s characters, and their interactions: the way that Nikias sweetly takes charge because that’s what Kallion needs/wants, and the positive communication between them (mostly from Nikias, but I don’t think there’s ever much doubt about Kallion’s needs and wants, even if he’s less clearly verbal about them). They work well as a couple, and I liked the supporting characters, too.

The villain of the piece is a bit unsubtle, and that part is all very black-and-white; in such a short book, there isn’t really time to add more depth, I suppose, but beside Kallion and Nikias, it felt a bit pantomime villain-y.

One thing to note, though: while slavery isn’t romanticised, there’s a touch of romanticisation of some of the slave-owning characters. I think that’s addressed somewhat by Nikias’ firm opinions on the matter (including that he is clear that he loved his master, and still thinks his master acted wrongly), and Kallion also comments on the fact that past inaction matters somewhat in the balance (though he isn’t talking directly about the owning of slaves). Still, one of the female characters is rather lionised for deciding to free her slaves and invest in the businesses of freedmen, but prior to that she did put up with an awful lot of slavery and mistreatment of slaves without doing anything about it. It feels like a little bit of a blind spot to me.

Rating: 4/5

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