When transporting Ohiri slaves, Khoram feels a tinge of wariness. His charges are as docile as ever, he can’t think of any way he may have displeased his mercenary leader…and yet, Khoram is unsettled. One stop from his ultimate destination, he picks up a fellow mercenary, but as the Ohiri are being unloaded, Khoram suddenly finds himself on the wrong end of an electric prod. Soon, he’s chained to with the other slaves and off to the slave markets himself.
Khoram gets some extra attention at the hands of the slave traders. It’s just enough to catch the eye of Atash. Atash is one of Dulia’s very best slave trainers. He knows that skill is his one and only means of cultivating the social inroads with Dulia’s elite. This contact is crucial for Atash if he ever hopes to get out from under his controlling mother’s thumb and be free—free like the man he’d just purchased at the slave market.
Khoram cooperates with Atash if only for a way to bide his time before making a break for it. When his chance finally arrives, his efforts are botched in the worst possible way. Not only has he angered some of Dulia’s elite, but he manages to draw the attention of his former employer—someone who wanted him dead, not merely enslaved. To make amends for Khoram’s brash actions, Atash is forced to provide a show for the planet’s elite. There is, however, a caveat. The slaves of Dulia are not for labor, but pleasure. When Khoram realizes what the show will entail and that another will likely be assuming his place, Khoram comes to believe he must step up and endure this show as penance for his own actions. Atash, however, knows performing a show as mere penance has small chance of securing their safety. Somehow, Khoram and Atash must find a way to appease the elites if the want to survive.
Here’s something interesting…despite this story being a mere 98 pages (according to Amazon anyway), it reads like a fully developed novel. There is a lot going on, a lot of world-building/culture-building, but all the threads blend together so well, there wasn’t a moment I wasn’t entertained.
One thing I love love love about the story is the culture-building. Neither main character is a Durian, but this species figures prominently in the themes of the book. The Durians took a minute for me to wrap my brain around (or, say, a couple of sections—this book is separated into sections within much more lengthy chapters). A quick and dirty explanation is that Durians are reptilian in nature, but they form bonded groups. On average, a single Durian “entity” would be 4 to 6 individuals and they form a hierarchy within themselves as well. I liked that the pronoun to refer to the Durians is also “them,” which might purely be function since one entity can have males and females…but still beats the pants of “it.”
Veldura doesn’t stop at a plurality of an entity, though, but goes through delight detail on how entities in this society interact with one another. For one thing, “one” Durian has several physically complete bodies, but once they bond, they have a shared conscious. The hierarchy of the various corporeal constituents matters—you know how well you rank in a Durian’s estimation based on where in the hierarchy the Durian address you from. It sounds convoluted and, like I said, it took me a few interactions to really “get” it, but once you do, it’s a marvelous take on “alien.”
The main characters are fairly strong. Khoram feels more well developed, but Atash has the more fleshed-out backstory. In fact, Atash’s backstory ends up forming a big part of the on-page action. Veldura did very well including these hints throughout the story without giving it all away, leading the reader to at least one conclusion while still letting them (me) feel clever for having guessed it.
As far as criticism goes, my only real complaint is that Khoram and Atash’s romantic spark, while certainly present and accounted for, isn’t initially based on much. It doesn’t smack of instalove per se, but it’s not like they start out getting to know one another in ideal situations. Khoram has been betrayed into slavery against his will and Atash initially sees Khoram as a way to gain station in Durian society. That and the fact that their connection—while wholly in line with the cultural elements presented in this fictional world—do tend to run towards the “I have ever stronger feelings for you because reasons” end of the spectrum.
That said, overall this is a fantastic read! If you’re looking for a short but thoroughly developed story that focuses on clash of cultures (not just master/slave power dichotomy, but also an overlaying veneer of BDSM and alien races with characters that aren’t TOO alien [in point of fact, I’d classify Khoram as human and Atash is only half alien]), then I think you’ll be tremendously pleased with the carefully interwoven threads of this delightfully thoughtful, but easy to digest space drama.