by Astrid Amara, fantasy (2008)
Blind Eye Books, $16.95, ISBN 978-0-9-789861-3-1
The Archer's Heart is a very long book indeed so you should clear away an afternoon to sit down and read this baby if you get your hands on it. It's an epic fantasy saga with some gay romantic elements in the forefront, set in a kingdom that seems to resemble ancient India populated by some elf-like folks (if the cover art is supposed to mean anything).
The kingdom of Marhavad is currently ruled by a Regent. The folks are taking a long time to decide who will get to sit on the throne, you see. On one side we have Darvad Uru, a more progressive contender to the throne as he wants to abolish the caste system and what not. Yudar Paran is the traditionalist - the way of life will remain unchanged should he get to sit on the throne. The time is drawing near when the story opens for the heir of the throne to be decided. The protocol is quite tortuous here, so I advise readers wanting to know more about the rules of the system to read the book themselves.
So this brings us to our heroes. Keshan Adaru believes that he is a forward-thinking progressive. He has returned from an admittedly pleasant exile to Marhavad, hoping to help bring about social reforms that will take place once Darvad ascends to the throne. He decides to embark on what he believes to be some mild and harmless flirtation with Jandu Paran, the archer in the title. They fall in love, of course, which means that their love will be tested when the men they throw their lots behind begin to clash in order to determine who gets to rule Marhavad.
The Archer's Heart is a long book, but most of the more dramatic action takes place late in the story. That doesn't mean that this book is dull. Okay, if could be a little bit dull if you, like me, find Keshan and Jandu as dull as faded wallpaper. I find the character of Tarek Amia, a man of the lowly caste who is in love with Darvad and who seeks to help bring an end to the caste system, more interesting than the two sighing lovelorn boys but alas, he's not the hero in this story, to say the least. The problem I have with Keshan and Jandu is that they are uttering the "love" word when, to me, they seem to be more in lust than anything else, and they utter this word when the book is barely one-third along the way. The rest of the story sees them trying their best to do that "I'm hot! I'm gay! I'm lovelorn!" thing that is very prevalent in gay fantasy romances. Not only are Keshan and Jandu forgettable, they also remind me too much of every other Tom and Harry in way too many gay fantasy stories out there.
The setting is fine, although I find it rather odd that Ms Amara describes the customs of the people more than the scenery. As a result, I am given a good idea of the way these people function as a society, but the world itself feels quite vague. I picture Marhavad as a place comparable to medieval India, but I am not sure if that is what Ms Amara has in mind when it comes to her fantasy setting. At any rate, the customs and traditions of the folks in this story are nonetheless interesting and very well thought-out.
I find The Archer's Heart an interesting read, but I enjoy it more as an introduction to the author's fantasy setting and the folks that live in that world rather than an epic love story. It's really too bad, I feel, that Keshan and Jandu don't live up to the interesting setting. They fall in love way too early and easily, thus robbing the story of much interesting potential twists and turns in the relationships. Oh well, I suppose a book this big can't be completely perfect, heh.
This book at Amazon.com
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