Master’s Schiavo, Laura Lascarso
Rating: 5 Stars
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Master/slave, BDSM, Age Gap, Moral Ambiguity, Exhibitionism, Ménage Components. Trigger Warnings for Past Sexual Abuse, Drug Use, Suicide Ideation
Length: 300 Pages
Patience, humility, subservience, gratitude… these are the virtues of a schiavo, qualities that Giovanni not only demonstrates in serving his Master but has internalized since his training began three years ago. Master makes the rules, Master enforces them, and Giovanni thrives on the structure and discipline his Master provides.
But Master, a New York City crime lord, must tie up loose ends with the family business, and it’s not safe for Giovanni to accompany him back to the city, so Giovanni must stay with Master’s younger brother, Signore. Signore is not at all like Master. He’s brash, boisterous, impulsive, arrogant. This schiavo will not submit to such a mercurial man, but Master is not here, and Signore offers Giovanni the freedom to explore and express himself in different ways.
Torn by his loyalties to two very different men, Giovanni strives to exemplify his virtues in every way, but his training never covered how he might serve two Masters.
MASTER’S SCHIAVO is an introspective romantic story featuring a submissive shared by two different Dominants. This work contains several references to past sexual abuse and trauma. Trigger warnings for addiction, suicidal ideation, and self-harm. This book is meant for entertainment purposes only, not as a guide to safe, sane, and consensual BDSM practices.
I feel for Laura Lascarso having had to write the blurb for this book. This truly is not the easiest book to describe. Yes, Giovanni is the slave, or schiavo, to a New York City crime lord, Valentin Fortuna, and yes the training has been several years in the making. But there is so much more. When we meet Giovanni he has a routine – rising time, waxing, skincare, sun salutations, specific ablutions, prostate milking, a dietitian, a psychologist. Giovanni does all the things that he has been trained to do to give Master pleasure, satisfaction, and willing service. They give Giovanni a necessary and rigid routine, a reason to please with an arsenal of all the necessary virtues he prides himself on delivering. This is a 24/7 lifestyle that has not been taken lightly. Giovanni is young, twenty-two, when we meet him. Master is considerably older but his age isn’t given. It is intimated at. He was a friend of Giovanni’s grandfather and guardian, the don of the Aponte family. He was someone who bounced a young Giovanni on his knee, was a familiar paternal figure as Gio grew older, who then became his guardian when Giovanni was seventeen and his grandfather died, then his Master later when things became dark and tumultuous for him. Because Giovanni couldn’t, Master was also anointed as the head of Aponte family business. And based on some medications, including Viagra to get/maintain an erection, concerns about blood pressure and heart health, I’m thinking Valentin was at least in his late 50s. So that is a definite age gap.
Valentin is elegant. Polished. Certain. Possessive. Planful. Rigid. Caring but not sentimental in his words – yet he is deeply, deeply committed to Giovanni. He’s also a sadist which is excellent when the person he carefully and considerately chose as his schiavo happened to be a masochist, and that masochist also agreed to learn to serve the Master he wanted and needed. Giovanni thrives on discipline and pain as much as he thrives on structure and service. He has safe words and Master makes sure they are checked and used, not abused. He knows that there are times when his schiavo cannot be counted on solely to use safe words because he can become single-minded on silencing his inner demons. Age is an issue for Valentin. He worries that a young man needs to experience more of life rather than serving a much older man, something Giovanni strongly disagrees with. However, Master always, always makes sure that his schiavo knows that there is a big, wide world out there if he wants to explore it, that Master, while he would miss him, will never stand in the way of a young man’s future. Especially his golden boy, and Giovanni definitely is that.
The attractive, if not slightly track marked, and charismatic Giovanni is the sole POV of this story. He was raised by his doting grandfather to basically be a high end courtesan. He is submissive, willing to please, and he is well educated, cultured, artistic, with a great passion for philosophy and the arts. He also speaks several languages and plays the piano and cello. He dresses impeccably. His demons, something that is very much a part of this story, are his internal critic(s) or limbic moments when he is triggered. Giovanni has complex PTSD due to his mother’s behaviour and a time when some “friends” chose to be anything but – all roads lead to rape and to drugs, like heroin. It isn’t belaboured but occasionally Giovanni melts down and acts out. Sometimes the mostly centred schiavo, the slave who believes in service to his Master wholeheartedly, asserts his angry attitude. He looks to a custom box as a safe space when his emotional footing shifts – when routine isn’t met or when the world and the actions of others become intrusive or overwhelming, when his demons chatter loudly and exceedingly self-destructively. Master understands this and makes sure he knows where his schiavo’s emotions are at, but Giovanni can be tricky.
On the surface it might be easy to dismiss this as another dark book in amongst the rest that have drug addiction, rape, and other edgy issues that lend themselves to a trauma story. I say this as someone who reads dark books regularly. I’ve read plenty of books, and there was once a plethora of them, that showed readers a “magical” BDSM lifestyle that healed all traumatised minds. I don’t read much BDSM these days because I find it’s been abused that way, with some notable exceptions. However, I felt Master’s Schiavo was a good representation of some of the people who live and love this life, perhaps in this Master/slave way. To this point, Giovanni’s therapist, Rebekah, gives sage advice to Giovanni, understanding and respecting the dynamic, never pathologizing it. Obviously different people have different limits and different ideas of what this means to them, but for Master and Giovanni, this book and writing around the main characters felt incredibly right and respectful.
When things become complicated in New York, Valentin decides it’s time for Giovanni to go to Italy for some respite and for his safety. Valentin has a villa estate on the water in a small village. His family is there, including his half brother, Silvio. Silvio is a big, burly Italian man, considerably younger than Valentin. He calls Valentin old man, and Giovanni principessa, or princess. There is no malice in his words at any stage, he’s a liver-of-life, a purveyor of fun. It’s because he loves and respects Valentin as a semi-father figure himself, and as for Valentin’s slave, Giovanni is waxed absolutely everywhere, has soft skin, and slightly longer hair, is beautifully groomed even when he’s as naked as the day he was born, which is often. Silvio is interested in Giovanni but not as a slave. It’s different for him. He isn’t in the lifestyle but he’s attracted to aspects of it, and Giovanni seems enthralled by Silvio’s bulk and his huge cock. That there is a mutual attraction between his schiavo and his brother makes Valentin happy to share how best to look after his schiavo because he has to go back to New York to tie-up some loose ends. He trains Silvio enough to make sure he can assist the routine-dependent Giovanni, have sex with him, and also take orders on the phone from Valentin, because his schiavo will continue to need structure. To this end, Silvio becomes Sir or Signore.
The relationship between Valentin and Giovanni can best be described as incredibly devoted. In simpatico. Sometimes it may seem harsh. Punitive. But it suits them. It certainly can be viewed as obsessive by both. I call it exceedingly red hot and passionate and right for them. It’s mesmerising to read. It’s like they’ve always been preordained for one another. Which I believe is the case. That Laura Lascarso can add Silvio to the mix without making it feel like people who are seemingly predestined are interrupted speaks volumes to the calibre of her writing. Does it stir emotions? Oh, yes. Yes, it does. Silvio adds such depth of emotion for the reader, for the characters, it’s subtle until it isn’t, and it’s different to Master and his schiavo. It adds an emotional dynamism to the story and the characters themselves. It gives everyone more clarity.
This story is simply beautiful. Highly emotional. I cried my eyes out. It’s also not without moments of harsh reality or difficulty and it’s all the better for those elements. It has a lovely ebb and flow of philosophy and religious references with an entwined questioning about art and culture and BDSM. It is bittersweet and the ending is not close to cookie cutter but speaks to something more substantial. To that end I’m going to add my two cents worth after this main review because I had rumination as I read and then a penny-drop moment at the finish of this book. Don’t read on if you don’t want my take or if you haven’t read the Mortal & Divine trilogy. The review is already in depth enough. Seriously, do yourself a huge favour if any of this sounds interesting to you and pre-order a copy (like I have) or grab a copy of Master’s Schiavo when it comes out. It’s superb. It’s 5 Eternal Stars from me.
**Absolute spoilers ahead if you have not read Mortal and Divine**
I have two viewpoints on this book. As it stands, Master’s Schiavo is a unique, poetic, well written, deeply emotional, standalone gay romance. However, I’m going to add my own left of centre? Maybe not? interpretation of the book, the characters, and the ending. What it represents, at least to me.
I just want to make it known that I have no inner sanctum view into any author’s writing. I’m not part of groups or beta reading collectives so I have absolutely no insight into what an author writes or their motivations, etc, but I have one hell of an imagination, one which bubbled over as the book progressed, especially by the end.
Last year Laura Lascarso’s Book of Orlando was my Book of the Year. It was book #1 of the Mortal and Divine trilogy. I’ll also mention that Bloodborn Prince, book #2, was also fantastic but Parousia, the third instalment, didn’t grab me as much. The writing was good but there were two reasons I didn’t get over the line with loving Parousia, I didn’t believe that the Vincent I read about in that book was capable of being Parousia. Also, that he and Henri lost their immortality in a supernatural/paranormal book never sat well on me, it never does. Immortality or extended life is one of the reasons I enjoy paranormal books so much, especially in romance. I actually look for and cheer on the human who gets that opportunity offered for being with their vampire, for example. I like that someone gets to live a longer life and to see many lifetime changes, and that power that they possess is excellent. But after everything they went through in that trilogy – Orlando/Vincent and Henri – it really wasn’t right for me at that time. But that was then and this is now. Now, I’m in another mode of thinking because these characters felt like a comfy place to me throughout for the following reasons.
As I mentioned initially, Master’s Schiavo is its own story… yadda yadda yadda… but I felt like there were little breadcrumbs, ones I brushed off as my rampant imagination, or maybe I was missing some characters I loved and felt I didn’t part with on the right terms. Anyway, as I read I kept feeling this sense of reconnection, a deja vu, to the primary characters of Master – Valentin – and his schiavo – Giovanni. It felt uncanny. BUT…that ending?! That ending!! As I read the last portion of the last chapter my jaw fell open, my heart sped up, and I dropped my Kindle in shock and awe, and let me tell you, I have great dexterity, I don’t drop things. I swear this is an Orlando/Vincent and Henri moment. I swear this is them finding each other again as they are now predestined to do over and over, according to the terms and conditions around the loss of immortality in Parousia.
I could be completely wrong on everything, other than this is a fabulous book. The timing seems wrong, but this is fiction, the author is able to do whatever the hell they want. I can pull out fictional “facts” to back up my feelings about my hypothesis – two names – Matthew/Giovanni, shimmering gold on a body, especially at a poignant moment, philosophy in context within dialogue and the story, hair colour, the palpable obsession, ‘eternal’, ‘lifetimes,’ movements within and around the periphery of religiosity, even the brother, the age gap as a bridging metaphor, Italy, and at that time in this book.
If this is them re-meeting, I’m so incredibly, mind shatteringly touched. Bravo! And that ending was everything (to me), and if I’m wrong, it if isn’t my guys from Mortal and Divine reconnecting in the cosmic universe and it is solely Valentin and Giovanni, then that is incredibly moving and special too. There is only win-win with this writing, this world, and the characters of Master’s Schiavo. And now that I have potentially confused everyone who has read this, all I’ve got left to say is this book is absolutely brilliant to make me think and feel so much – and I did feel, a hell of a lot. That’s what I’m always looking for when I pick up a book. Grazie, Laura Lascarso. To my fellow readers of the morally ambiguous, the boundary pushing tales, or those who love the psychological, the vulnerable, or darker side of life… enjoy!