Tag Archive | Slavery

Hidden in Ashes by Rachel Leigh Smith

Hidden in AshesSource: ARC from author
Format: ebook
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

Childhood enmity turns to love, with one problem: his heart isn’t his to give.

Lorin is a daro, a Lokmane man trained to make humans feel special and valued. As Prime of Arkos House, no one stands between him and the safety of the daros under his care—except his mistress. The dead one, and the new one. He needs to focus on the Essence crisis infiltrating the Houses, and his sister’s safety. Not figure out how to balance his duties with falling in love.

When her mother dies, emotionally wounded Sagira Memeos becomes the Marcasian Empire’s newest High Lady. And reluctant owner of the most sought after daro in said empire. He’s her childhood nemesis, and way too sexy for his own good. With his kindness finding its way into her bruised soul, asking for his help to navigate her succession to ruling high lady probably isn’t her brightest idea.

Lorin wants Sagira. But not if he has to pay for it with innocent lives. She’s a distraction he can’t afford while the bedrock of Marcasian high society is under attack. Not to mention facing losing his sister to the man who wounded Sagira. If the daro houses fall, all hope of freedom goes with them.

An up-front warning – this book is not for the faint of heart, or those unable to deal with abuse, including physical, emotional and sexual. There are some graphic descriptions of abuse: while most action is off-page, it is discussed on-page.

This is, I think one of Smith’s gentler novels, but at the same time, she still takes her time taking your heart apart piece by piece – and at one point, she certainly ripped mine to shreds – and then patches it all back together again ready for the end.

My goodness. Nothing in the universe Smith has created ever comes easy – especially for the Lokmane. In this novel we get to know Lorin – a Lokmane daro we met briefly in Freedom’s Embrace – and Sunny, who some of us may have met as a babe in a short story Smith shared a while back. And as usual, Smith’s characters are broken people – usually through abuse of one form or another – who are trying to learn how to stand on their own two feet again.

Smith made me cry. Now, I am NOT a person who cries easily when reading books. The fact that this was the second book within a month that got to me says more of my fragile health at the time than anything else, but even then I think I would have had tears in my eyes at a particular revelation in the book. In all, I have huge respect for an author who can engage my emotions in a story that far.

I loved learning more about the Marcasian society, and it was special getting to know Lorin and Sunny. I look forward to meeting them again one day, as surely their story is incomplete.

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Winter’s Edge by Mike Sheridan

Winter's EdgeSource: ARC from author
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

The year is 2047. Seven years after a global war has devastated mankind, the apparatus of the old security state has rebuilt itself into an even greater monster: the Strata State. But there’s a difference–The Outzone. A choice too dangerous for most to consider.

Not Frank Brogan. When three Outzone bandits cross into New Haven and murder his wife and daughter, Lieutenant Frank Brogan quits his specially-trained police unit to hunt them down. Leaving the safety of the Strata State, Brogan enters the Outzone–a quasi-sovereign tract of land ceded from federal jurisdiction–and travels to its de facto capital, Winter’s Edge, where he picks up the bandits’ trail. In a violent city controlled by rival gangs, he needs to use all his hard-won skills as a police officer and war veteran to survive.

It isn’t long before Brogan’s quest takes him out of the city and deeper into the lawless territory. Can he survive encounters with the nomadic tribes that roam the Outzone’s mountains and plains to finally confront the men who murdered his family?

Set in a convincing post-apocalyptic world, Winter’s Edge is a fast-paced thriller that explores the contrasts between New Haven’s authoritarian Strata State and the Outzone’s dangerous and fragmented society.

This story opens with a news clipping about the murders of a mother and daughter, Sarah and Jessica Brogan, at the hands of three Outzoners. They are survived by husband and father Frank Brogan, a lieutenant in the New Haven police force. Frank elects to abandon his job in the police and head into the Outzone in search of the murderers.

This story really comes alive once Frank hits the Outzone. His time spent in New Haven within Strata State carries scant details. We don’t really get a sense of the actual environment within which he moves. But we do gain an understanding that it is relatively hi-tech in some ways.

The Outzone, by contrast, is low-tech and gritty. A relatively lawless region in the American Mid-West (or thereabouts), it is largely run by tribes, clans, gangs and oficinas. For some people fighting and dicing with death is part and parcel of their way of life, while others find ways to live a more peaceful existence. I really liked that we met people on both sides during the course of the story.

I’ve discovered lately that I often have a pervading image that runs through my head while reading a book, and this one is of semi-arid desert, with small, low bushes and plenty of rocks and pebbles visible inbetween. Of course there were areas the characters go to that were vastly different from this – this is just what got stuck in my head.

An excellent debut in the post-apocalyptic dystopia genre, with clear depictions of events and a compelling main character in Frank who one roots for throughout. There is also a well-defined group of secondary characters, each of whom plays an important role in the story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Winter’s Edge, and look forward to more from Mike Sheridan.

*****

Minor spoiler: There was one moment of violence in the book where Sheridan caught me off guard. I’m used to reading violence (prefer reading to watching), but this was sheer genius. Took me a while to recover from it too. Kudos to Sheridan for that one!

*****

For fans of post-apocalyptic and dystopia.

The King’s Mistress by Rachel Leigh Smith

TKMSource: ARC from author
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

Freedom has a cost. Can A’yen pay it without losing his soul?

Liberation of the enslaved Lokmane begins with the king. A’yen and Fae agree to visit the Hidden, a group of escaped Lokmane, to protect his identity while the Shadows make their move with emancipation acts. But he’s not prepared for the prejudice rampant in the Hidden, or their lack of patience for him. And his new linked bodyguard is unstable to the point A’yen fears for the young man’s sanity.

Upon returning to Titan, A’yen is kidnapped and taken to the largest breeding farm in the galaxy. This time he’ll be himself even if it kills him. His resolve to unite his people grows as he wonders if he’ll live long enough to do it.

With A’yen kidnapped, Fae returns to the Lokmane homeworld seeking the final pieces of what happened two thousand years ago when they were conquered and enslaved. Getting as far away from her father as possible is the only way to keep her from disappearing too.

Separated by light years, A’yen and Fae have to stand alone and fight for their right to live in freedom. No matter the cost.

This book is an excellent read. The universe Smith has created is one I can easily immerse myself in, and remain stuck in there for days after I’ve finished reading one of these books.

The second book in the A’yen’s Legacy series, The King’s Mistress is a continuation of the storyline begun in My Name Is A’yen. We follow A’yen and Fae as they figure out what’s required of them as the next king and queen of the Lokmane, but some new characters are introduced, particularly Da’Ro, mentioned in My Name is A’yen as someone Na’var knows. While the story focuses predominantly on how A’yen can relate to his people, both the enslaved and the free, it also deals very elegantly with the topics of trust and identity.

There are many surprises along the way in this story, and nobody gets away easily. As always, Smith is unafraid to demonstrate the inhumanity of man – at times graphically – but juxtaposes this with an exploration of what it means to be a person, an individual, free. And a very important lesson underpins it all; don’t judge, because you don’t know what a person has been through and who they really are.

Suitable for both YA and adult readers, but deals with issues such as rape, slavery and physical and sexual abuse.

My Name is A’yen by Rachel Leigh Smith

My Name is A'yenSource: ARC from author
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

They’ve taken everything from him. Except his name.

The Loks Mé have been slaves for so long, freedom is a distant myth A’yen Mesu no longer believes. A year in holding, because of his master’s murder, has sucked the life from him. Archaeologist Farran Hart buys him to protect her on an expedition to the Rim, the last unexplored quadrant.

Farran believes the Loks Mé once lived on the Rim and is determined to prove it. And win A’yen’s trust. But she’s a breeder’s daughter and can’t be trusted.

Hidden rooms, information caches and messages from a long-dead king change A’yen’s mind about her importance. When she’s threatened he offers himself in exchange, and lands on the Association’s radar. The truth must be told. Even if it costs him his heart.

This has to be one of the best début novels I have read. The concept is impressive in its complexity, and Smith’s writing is very clear, minimising confusion as one learns new concepts and is introduced to a society and people group that is entirely alien.

A’yen, the main character of the book, is introduced to us as a slave-with-no-owner who has been kept in ‘holding’ for just over a year. We soon learn that his previous owner, and lover, was murdered and died in his arms. His outlook on life as we meet him is bleak, to say the least. Most importantly, he no longer believes that his people have a homeworld.

He is soon purchased by Farran Hart, an archaeologist in search of A’yen’s homeworld. Together they embark on an expedition to a planet on the Rim that sees to fulfil the promises told in the legends of A’yen’s people. A planet A’yen previously visited with his former Master.

What I really like about this book is that it is, while clearly being a romance, not your conventional romance-format story. While the romance itself faces challenges, the tension in the book comes from an unrelated source.

It didn’t take long for A’yen to worm his way into my heart, which made this book a very tough read at times. There were numerous occasions when I was threatening Smith with all sorts of dire consequences if I had to read any more of the book (which, yes, I DID have to read!). What that means in simple terms is that she is a first-rate author; she gets you to love who you’re meant to love and resent/hate/loathe/despise (pick your emotion) those who you’re meant to… take your pick. And I love a book with a well-drawn villain – much as I frequently wish to punch them in the snoot. While it isn’t your conventional relaxing, easy read, it is a very rewarding one. All the characters have depth, and there are even a few surprises along the way for good measure.

I appreciated the lengths to which Smith went in building the cultures, society and worlds the book depicts. Here are no info-dumps, but instead tidbits that are easily digestible and tangible, building up images in the mind.

Overall, this is – despite the tough subject matter (slavery, physical and emotional abuse) – an accessible read with a lot of heart and a huge amount of depth. There is clearly much more to this than one book, and I will look forward to each of Smith’s future works.