The Duke’s Handmaid by Caprice Hokstad is a romance in a fantasy setting, with a bit of a fetish twist.
Keedrina is a Itzi peasant, considered dull and stupid by the ruling class of Elva. But she’s smart and has learned to read and stuff. When her mother and sisters are brutally murdered, the Duke takes her into his house until she recovers and decides how to make a living. Keedrina opts to sell herself into slavery to the Duke, who treats slaves kindly. Over the course of the story, Keedrina’s love and loyalty to the Duke help her uncover a traitorous plot to kill the Duke and the King.
The fantasy setting is good, but not overly done. There is magic, but only mages do it. There are two suns, two moons, and two races. The rest of the details are like Middle Ages Europe, and satisfyingly consistent.
But there is a weirdness to this story. Keedrina’s worship of the Duke Vahn pretty much starts when she sees him stroking another slave’s hair. She wants him to stroke her hair. So she falls at his feet and worships him. Constantly. She’s perfectly submissive 100% of the time. She takes the heat for other slaves’ mistakes and never makes any of her own. Her loyalty never wavers.
Kee’s obsession with the Duke, and the Duke’s enjoyment at owning her, borders on creepy fetish territory. He never takes advantage of her, but the emotional stuff going on is just … weird. He loves her, she loves him, yeah, I get it. But this combined with the perfect submissive slavery stuff …
Uh … yeah, okay. It was a good story, otherwise. But I lost sympathy with Kee about halfway along. She was like a robot because her actions were so predictable.