I'm a big Lia Black fan dating from last year's M/M event with her contribution, [b:Worthy|18075216|Worthy|Lia Black|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1371281347s/18075216.jpg|25379170], and was thrilled to see another dark, sexy tale on offer this year.
This year's is quite dark indeed, so much that it managed to raise a genuine fear about what would happen to the characters. By far the most interesting aspect for me was Illythe's relationship with Scion. I have a fascination with Stockholm stories, and [b:Where Willows Won't Grow|22697995|Where Willows Won't Grow|Lia Black|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1404895421s/22697995.jpg|42215115] was sharp and effective in its exploration of Illythe's conflicting feelings for the abusive enemy general who'd held him prisoner for so long. Black is not afraid to ascribe real feelings and even love to both despite their horrific history together, and in a way that felt neither exploitative nor manipulative of characters or reader. It's both a plus and a minus that Scion is so horrifying. That Illythe has such conflicted feelings for him is a sign of how ruthlessly he was broken and conditioned, and it makes the tenderness between them all the weirder. But unfortunately, it is impossible for the reader to feel anything but horror for an 8-foot creature who is described as a combination of an insect and a sea monster--and who is entirely evil. The erotic mind-fuckery that goes along with that scenario is mostly sacrificed in favor of focusing the reader's sympathies and attention on Illythe and Alex's growing feelings for each other.
The rest of the story was all good, with solid world-building, characterization and plotting, though I did find the brothel strangely underpopulated--that might have been due to the time pressures for completing the story for the event. And of course the sex was hot, hot, hot.
Altogether another great contribution to the Love's Landscapes event.