Demir is the harem master, responsible for all the jewels in King Kagan’s extensive collection of beauties. Unfortunately for Demir, the King has a habit of taking in new concubines and discarding them when his interest wanes, even going so far as killing a few. The situation has become so untenable that the King’s courtiers and advisers are planning on discontinuing the whole harem tradition. Demir is caught between a rock and a hard place, trying to fulfill his role to the best of his abilities, under the scrutiny of a tyrannical king and scheming courtiers, one of whom wants Demir for himself.
To this unbearable situation along comes Prince Ihsan who has been away at war and as a war prisoner for four long years. With him arrives his harem, a collection of seasoned warriors rather than soft nobles. Kitt is a bratty bottom, Haluk a man with scholarly interests, and Sabah the quiet, reserved, intriguing person. Despite their loving polyamorous relationship, they all have vital skills of war and assassination, which come in handy as the situation with the King’s harem worsens and the political climate darkens. When Demir becomes embroiled in the plotting, and a murder you could see coming a mile away, Ihsan has no choice but to choose sides, even against his own family to save Demir and his harem.
Preconceptions about stories set within a harem should definitely be cast aside as you read this. Though there’s polyamory, this isn’t a simple excuse for glorifying orgies. The harem is portrayed as a sacred and honorable tradition, with a proud history as a shining example of civilization, now corrupted by a cruel, ruthless king. That aspect in itself shows that the harems aren’t all about sex. In fact, with great kings the harems thrived. Demir is proud to uphold the tradition and mentor and take care of the concubines, be they male or female.
Demir is the central character, with the others playing important parts in his life and how it evolves from a beautiful figurehead to a man able to love and be loved, and by more than one man. Ihsan already has a flock of male concubines, but seeing Demir again, having grown into a fine man, sets his desires aflame. The palace intrigue is an obstacle as much as the harem master’s role of being unobtainable, a man destined to be adored but only from afar. Plus, one of the courtiers, Bulut, is a total creep, advocating the abolishing of the harem tradition–mostly to get his hands on Demir without contention. Another devious plot twist that adds layers of dimension to this intricate fantasy story.
This tale is not mere sexual encounters, or even these men forming friendships and bonds of devotions. The underlying plot is multifaceted and complex, with lots of players, all fully fleshed characters with their own motives. This is fantasy at its finest, the perfect mesh of fantasy, adventure, and erotic romance. Though part of a series, according to Derr this is a prequel to those stories, so this can be read as standalone.
There are several POV characters, including Demir, Ihsan, and Ihsan’s wife, Princess Euren. You might think that because there’s a female protagonist involved there’ll be M/F sex. There isn’t. Ihsan and Euren’s relationship is chaste, as in they kiss and clearly have love for each other, but neither is the other’s sexual preference. In a story so set in the sensual, I think this aspect could have been built upon a bit more, since they are destined to take the throne as husband and wife. Alas, it was a mere side plot. On the positive side, Euren is a strong, smart woman in her own right, and she can handle problems fine on her own. Her relationship with her own harem is both protective and sensual, and there are some F/F scenes.
What makes this story stand out from the fantasy genre is the polyamory. Derr depicts this practice as something that makes cultural and social sense, as it’s normal for the Tavamaran people to be bisexual, so its tied to larger constructs. Thus it never feel out of place, and it always serves a larger purpose. It’s
simply a part of an excellent narrative, titillating and exciting to be sure.
Some of the descriptions of how the harem system and the palace work, such as who wears what colors and what jewels, could have been reduced a bit without affecting the integrity of the story. These scenes do show how well and detailed the world-building is, but some of them could be skipped with ease.
All in all, let go of your preconceived notions of what to expect from a harem fantasy novel, and give this a try. The characters are fascinating, the dialogue warm and intelligent, the world carefully crafted, and the political intrigue well worthy of the multitude traditions of the fantasy genre. Highly recommended.