This review was originally posted on Goodreads.
Okay, after I've had a night to simmer down and think about this book, I'll explain why I rated it like this. Bear in mind that I only got a quarter of the way in before steam started coming out my ears and I had to stop before I blew the top of my head off in rage.
From the start I felt that there was something wrong. For one thing, it had that whole 'pleasure slave' trope that is just not reflective of history and is clearly there just to titillate the reader. While slaves were often raped by their masters, that was in addition to their usual duties (cleaning, serving food, providing entertainment with music and dancing in really rich households, fetching and carrying things, making things, farming, etc) not in place of them. I'm really tired of that trope. Also, it did not make sense that Damen would be sold, even to humiliate him. I just don't buy that at all, there are plenty of ways to execute someone in a humiliating manner, just google "the boats" and be prepared to lose your lunch. In reality Damen would either have been killed or imprisoned in a remote villa somewhere far from the capitol. By giving him to a former enemy Kastor has virtually insured that he'll be ousted, either through war or through and uprising of his own people. No matter how much he wanted to humiliate Damen, it simply wasn't worth the risk. Even the Assyrians, possibly the cruelest culture in the history of the world, wouldn't have done something like that. The stupidity of that is beyond my comprehension.
On top of that I have no idea what either country is like. As far as I can tell they're the exactly the same, ruled by psychopaths who waste resources by keeping pleasure slaves. I have no reason to care about who controls what country, so far I have not seen anything redeeming about them at all. There's no sense of history or culture beyond keeping pleasure slaves. The result is a very shallow world full of hateful people. It's just bad world-building.
So, so far we have weak world-building and a stupid villain. Let's look at the two mains shall we?
Damen. He's... okay. I'll give him that. He's not bad. He draws the line at having sex with children so, uh, how very decent of him I guess. (that's sarcasm by the way) In comparison to the people around him he's quite decent and no one should be raped so I am somewhat sympathetic to his plight. He's still immersed in a psychopathic culture though and apparently had his own pleasure slaves so I'm not really that sympathetic to him.
Laurent. This guy is bad. If I didn't know better, I'd say he was the villain of the series. If he had been the villain of the series, to be defeated by Damen and an as-yet-not-introduced second MC I might have been more willing to stick with this book, maybe the whole series. But no, apparently he's the second MC, and he's just repulsive. He sets Damen up to be raped, and only Damen's fighting ability prevents that from happening. He didn't even do it because he wanted to get off on the rape either, he just wanted to humiliate his new slave and "break" him in. At least in Bloodraven the titular character feels affection toward his victim/love interest. There just isn't anything even slightly sympathetic about Laurent, not even a glimmer that he's something more than a complete sadistic sociopath. I don't mean sadistic in the BDSM sense, that sort of sadist likes causing pain but only with people they know will enjoy the experience. No, I mean in the 'probably tortured kittens as a child' sense. He's just hateful and I don't want to spend any more time with him than I already have.
Finally, the other reviews. I feel misled by the shear number of people who liked this book. I know that's probably unfair of me, but I feel that I was led to read something that I really didn't like by nothing but glowing reviews. Even in the m/m 'what are you reading' thread I had people tell me that it gets better if I would just push on--no. I'm sorry, but I've heard that before and it has never, ever gotten better with past books, so why would it with this one? For that matter, even if it does get better, why should I make that effort? I don't owe the book or author anything and they already lost me with what I have read. I'd rather read something I enjoy from the start, like the latest Steven Brust novel.