Despite having a powerful mind gift for healing, Jeremy Peters is struggling to make ends meet. He is shocked when an urgent telegram summons him from the familiarity of his home state to the slave town of Hojer. Once there, Jeremy finds an old friend was killed in a fire and Jeremy has inherited the man’s medical clinic and all of his property…including a horribly burned slave. For Jeremy, the idea of owning another human being is abhorrent, but in Hojer he has a job, money, and the chance to help people. So he heals the badly injured Wren and sets about making a new life for the both of them.
Wren has known only abuse. Since his physical gift for speed revealed itself when he was a child, he has been enslaved. He assumes Jere will be no different, but finds himself surprised. Gone are the beatings, the rape, and the countless other forms of torture. In their place, he finds himself being treated like a human being for the first time. Respect gives way to affection and eventually something deeper, but Wren and Jere cannot afford to forget the divide that exists between master and slave. To do so could spell death for Wren. But can their love survive in the face of Wren’s terrible secret and all the danger it brings?
I’ve enjoyed Alicia Cameron’s works for some time. I actually read Inherent Gifts some years ago, but never realized it had become a series. So I was thrilled to have a chance to review Inherent Gifts and its sequels, Inherent Risk and Inherent Cost. One of Cameron’s biggest strengths is character development and both Wren and Jere are excellent examples of her incredibly complex and incredibly human characters. Wren is a little more than a broken shell when Jere finds him. He has been abused for so long, he trusts none of Jere’s promises regarding his safety and comfort. Instead he exists in this a perpetual state of terror always waiting for Jere to act like ever other master he has had. Only time begins to create trust between them but theirs is very much a relationship based on two steps forward and one step back.
Wren’s innate courage and eventual embrace of Jere is both satisfying and inspiring. That he can still find a way to love despite his hellish past is absolutely amazing and it’s impossible not to love his character. Jere can be harder to like sometimes. His obvious dislike of slavery is forever at odds with his desire to have a stable home and a chance to practice medicine. This eventually evolves into a need to protect Wren, as there is no system of manumission and no way to leave Hojer. Also Jere can be a bit obtuse at times and his natural moodiness makes it harder for Wren to adapt. His unwillingness to join the abolitionist movement is maddening, but this is part of what makes him so very human. And even when we get flustered with him as a character, we believe he truly cares for Wren. Their relationship in the bedroom is equally complex because Jere enjoys receiving both a bit of pain and bondage, and of course Wren initially sees these as anything but sexy. They develop an almost natural role reversal in bed that only adds even more layers to their situation. These men serve as both strength and weakness for one another and that strikes me as a natural truism for most relationships.
The master/slave trope may not be everyone’s cup of tea and I appreciate that. But one of things I enjoy about Inherent Gifts is the complexity of the world the author has created. There are no easy answers here. There is a constant push/pull effect from society, the state, and the law and even from the roles that Wren and Jere have created for themselves. All of this creates conflict for the reader because we’re constantly torn between loving and hating some of these characters. And that dynamic kept me devouring the book.
Inherent Gifts is the first in a series by the same name and another excellent novel by Alicia Cameron. Complex characters and the harsh realities of slavery collide in a wonderful story of love, redemption and courage. Consider this one highly recommended!