Sheyn is well educated, but he is also spoiled, stubborn, and arrogant. He is determined to see the wonders beyond the Greiwoll and to do so by caravan, regardless of the extreme risk. But shortly after beginning his journey, Sheyn is robbed, rendered unconscious, and handed over to slavers. Under the direction of a corrupt priest, Sheyn is made into a daaksim, a pleasure slave intended to serve as the pampered pet of a great king.
While struggling to process all that has happened to him, Sheyn is captured by the Bastard of Savaan, a man called Kashyan. Though not a king, Kashyan is an illegitimate prince and serves his brother, Khoyla, loyally. Kashyan is considered a great warrior, but Sheyn sees him only as a barbarian and savage. Circumstance and godly intervention tie them together as Sheyn comes to realize that Kashyan is as kind as he is fierce and that perhaps there is a place for him in Sheyn’s heart.
As Sheyn and Kashyan begin to explore the wonders of their bond, all erupts into chaos around them. For Sheyn is no ordinary daaksim and a dangerous enemy seeks to use him to unleash a vicious demon upon the innocent people of Kandaar. In order to save the world, Sheyn may have to sacrifice the joy he has found and the man he loves.
I wanted to enjoy The Bastard’s Pearl a great deal more than I did and it took some thinking to untangle exactly why I didn’t. The book is well written and generally flows smoothly. There are few jarring transitions and the narrative has an effortlessness that I truly appreciated. I always enjoy when authors shake up their fantasies by mixing themes and layering the plot with multiple levels of conflict, which certainly sums up The Bastard’s Pearl. There are goblins and demons, gods and twisted priests, and all of them are fighting to have a piece of Sheyn and Kashyan. The action always pushes forward and nothing was ever too comfortable or too settled and it meant anything could happen, which was enjoyable.
Unfortunately, I really disliked the main character, Sheyn. He is a whiny, childish man who claims he wants to experience the world but always finds it wanting. While I appreciated his verbal defiance in the face of slavery, many of his other actions failed to ring true. After a particularly nasty bout of torture by an evil priest, he seems almost nonplussed save for a brief moment of forced emotion. His relationship with Kashyan seems to progress almost overnight as they go from despising one another to being madly in love and even then it felt robotic rather than passionate. There is no doubt Sheyn is a strong man, but he never felt realistic and lacked much emotional depth. Kashyan is slightly more dimensional but his interactions with Sheyn often seemed one sided and therefore the romance never came through for me. The secondary characters aren’t much better and Luks, Sheyn’s friend and fellow daaksim, is so saccharine as to be wholly unrealistic.
Additionally, The Bastard’s Pearl contained scenes that seemed unnecessary or affected. The first chapter is a prime example of this. It adds very little to the overall plot and provides almost no important information about Sheyn or his planned journey. There are whole conversations between Sheyn and Luks that never seem to amount to much and even a few of Sheyn’s interactions with Kashyan read as an excuse for occasionally witty but essentially useless sparring sessions. The plot is set up so that multiple outcomes are possible, but instead of anything particularly original, many, though not all, of the conflicts are wrapped up through consequence or obvious action, which left me disappointed. The author created a great tension only to let it evaporate amidst rather predictable endings.
There are many good things recommending The Bastard’s Pearl, but because I disliked the main character, I really struggled to develop a connection with this book. So much of the novel hinges on the relationship between Sheyn and Kashyan and because it didn’t work for me, The Bastard’s Pearl failed to live up to expectations.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.