Ashamet, Desert Born by Terry Jackman (book review).

Ashamet, Desert Born’ by Terry Jackman has a fascinating setting. Ashamet is a desert prince, only son and heir to his father, his royal highness, the Voice of Heaven. Being the only son is more significant in this world because a single birth is rare, with twins and triplets being more common. The story opens on the eve of Ash’s thirtieth birthday and wedding. Among his gifts is a body slave, another rare male with white skin, grey eyes and little to no memory of where he came from. Taken as a boy, Keril has been raised in seclusion, ignorant of his purpose. He has never been touched and his handling by the Sidassi, who mean to gift him to the prince, leaves him insensible.

Ashamet, Desert Born by Terry Jackman (book review)
Ashamet, Desert Born by Terry Jackman (book review)

The ratio of female to male in the desert kingdom is so skewed (one for every hundred males), women hold an almost sacred place. They are kept secluded, tended by crones and eunuchs and visited by men strictly for the purpose of getting heirs. Otherwise, men turn to men for pleasure. So it is not unusual for Ash to have a male body slave. He appears in fact to prefer men, as do all of his companions – soldiers, palace courtiers and relatives. Cloistered all his life, Keril has no notion of sex let alone pleasure.

Impetuous and headstrong, Ash is not known for his patience. Yet instead of simply taking his slave’s innocence, he seduces him. Over the course of days spent in this task, a maddening itch on his arm becomes another thirtieth birthday present: the outline of a very particular tattoo, one he avoided ten years before. The En-Syn is the mark of the Chosen and all the kings of his line have had one. Ash has always believed such tattoos – the mark of the Gods – a farce between priests and kings to perpetuate the founding myth of their kingdom. Ash doesn’t believe in the Gods, nor does he want their mark. He doesn’t really even want to be king and why would he? His father bears the title Voice of Heaven well enough and if he gets an heir on his new wife, he can remain the prince who fights, feasts and *ahem* continues to enjoy the company of his slaves. The mark will change all of that, so Ash hides it with an arm band and tries to ignore it.

As his relationship with Keril deepens, scandalising the nobles and fighters of his kingdom, so does the mark on his arm. Keril is changing, too. Slowly, his memories are returning. Encouraged, Ash gives his body slave access to his library, takes him riding and allows his visitors to see him, which is apparently an extreme breach of manners. Body slaves are supposed to be the most private of all possessions, not to be treated as friends and lovers. When Keril saves his life, Ash pushes the very boundaries of propriety and law to have Keril accompany him everywhere.

At this point, the plot of the book finally begins to clarify. Someone wants Ash dead. The why of it is unclear, as is the identity of who is causing mischief. In an effort to solve this mystery, Ash also looks into Keril’s origins. It’s a stretch to believe Keril’s arrival is related to both the deepening mark on his arm and the rising strife in the kingdom, but every time Keril reveals a new talent, the En-Syn becomes more obvious.

While the setting of ‘Ashamet, Desert Born’ is fascinating, the actual plot is less so until the final hundred pages. Part of this is due to the veil thrown between the author and her readers, being the extraordinarily slow way relevant detail is revealed. We get a lot of very interesting world-building and a lot of Ashamet doing what Ashamet does. I found his voice very engaging! I enjoyed being party to his thoughts. I would have liked to have been more party to his actions, however. When we do go along with Ash on a mission, the detail is rich and compelling, but not all of these missions feel relevant to the main plot or don’t seem to be related until much later. Too few cues and clues.

There is a hint of romance between Ash and Keril. Their relationship is very much taken for granted, however, with Keril only putting up a token struggle before falling seamlessly into the role of obedient slave. His innocence is well-portrayed but, as he grows, he seems only to grow into what he believes is his purpose, rather than into any sort of self-serving being. Ash grows not at all and this is the real pity. There is so much potential in this man. He begins as the lackadaisical heir and ends as…well, much the same, even if his circumstances have altered. He is obviously intelligent, cunning, empathetic and capable of great kindness. His moments of humility are quite lovely. But, by the end of the book, I didn’t feel he’d had to sacrifice anything, therefore he hadn’t really gained anything. Not deep down inside.

Despite this, I still really liked him! I enjoyed the book, too. I thought about it when not reading and made time to pick it back up again. I wanted to know what would happen in the end. Now that I’ve finished, I want to know what happens next. I just wish there had been more emotional depth to the story. A proper romantic arc would have been welcome, and more character growth. A clearer idea of what Ash wanted and what he was willing to do to achieve that goal. With those elements, this could be a truly fantastic book.

Kelly Jensen

May 2015

(pub: Dragonwell Publishing. 330 page US paperback: $16.95 (US), £11.95 (UK) ISBN: 978-1-94007-622-5. Ebook: $ 6.95 (US), £ 4.66 (UK). ASIN: / B00VSIF2W4)

check out websites: http://publishing.dragonwell.org/ and www.terryjackman.co.uk/

Kelly Jensen

Writer of love stories. Bibliophile. Gamer. Cat herder.

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