Blood is a powerful thing. It’s blood that binds Juraj to his mother, to his father and brothers, to every member of his family and that same blood is being used by the powerful Elder Danek to enslave their entire village as he has done for generations. Elder Danek controls everyone, draining their magic and dulling their minds. He arranges marriages, demands children and obedience, thriving on their fear and pain. Juraj has always known he was different, and knows that he can trust no one save his uncle with the knowledge that he, like the monster who controls their lives, has magic. When it is decided that Juraj will be married to a woman twenty years his elder, a woman he loathes, Juraj realizes he can no longer settle for hiding. It’s time to run.
On the other side of the world, Takeo, crew chief on a construction company in Edge City, picked a fight with a foreigner. Refusing to let himself be treated like a slave, he may or may not have broken the man’s jaw, and he may or may not be a little proud of that fact. But ever since that day he’s been followed by bad luck and bad tempered foreigners. His love and best friend ended up sold into slavery, and even though Takeo is able to help rescue him, it doesn’t change the fact that Jun is now a slave. Things get worse from there. A promising job is cancelled and a giant mob of foreigners chases him and Jun, intent upon harming the delicate young man. There is talk of violence, instability, and taxes are rising — as is the rent on Takeo’s apartment; enough so that he is forced to move — and everywhere are those foreigners whose eyes seem to turn gold and their faces ugly when they set eyes upon him.
As he seeks to escape the insidious ties that bind him to Elder Danek and his magic, Juraj travels north, hoping to find powerful mages who might be able to free him. Until then, as a magical stopgap, Juraj binds his own magic and locks himself into silence. Unable to speak, and trying to strengthen his own magic, he becomes an Artificer, making charms to help and to heal. While on his quest, he meets the powerful young mage, Besim, who has a different sort of magic altogether. His raw power helps shield Juraj from the worst of Danek’s attacks, but he’s not skilled enough to stop them. With any luck, they shall be able to find an answer at the Concordance — a gathering of the Heart of Magics, like Besim — or, at least, to find someone who might be able to help teach Besim.
The Concordance will bring many mages together. Wind mages, Artificers, Hearts of Magic, and even Blood Mages. Edge City is not prepared for what is to come, any more than Juraj and Besim, Takeo and Jun. Darkness is spreading like a stain over the world and brings with it the threat of war the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the days of the Ancients that left the world broken and forever changed. All they have is hope… and each other.
Running from the Immortals is book one of a trilogy and ends in a cliffhanger. It is also the thirteenth book set in this world and has a great deal of rich and intricate world building. It also deals with very dark subject matter such as rape, a young man being chased by a violent mob intent upon rape and violence, torture, slavery, possession, PTSD, child abuse, and intimacy issues as a result of rape. I will not say that these scenes are not to a purpose, but if this is the sort of violence that will cause you unhappiness or discomfort, than this is not the book for you. There is also BDSM, open relationships, and menages.
Juraj has grown up in a loveless home. His parents were put together with the sole purpose of breeding children, as were the other villagers. The blood mage can see through their eyes, hear through their ears, and uses their bodies for his own amusement. When Juraj manages to run away, he is still not able to be free of Durak; the blood in his veins allows the man to stalk him, psychically rape him, and cause him pain or pleasure, all in an effort to break his will and bring him home. Juraj, you see, has the talent to be a blood mage, himself. Whether Durak wants to use him, to kill him, or to keep him as a pet Juraj neither knows nor cares.
When he meets Besim, he meets another young man like himself who has magic. The two of them have an almost instant rapport as Juraj is able to heal an old wound of Besim’s and Besim is able to shield him from Durak’s attacks. Somewhat, at least. When Besim would take the relationship to the next level — with Juraj’s complete and utter willingness — he finds himself unable to bear the touch. Every few days he’s raped by Durak’s powers, and even though he loves Besim, he just can’t bear it. Juraj has to deal with the trauma of the attack, the anger and the rage and the helplessness over and over even while his friend and lover tries and is only occasionally able to help.
Because this is only book one of the trilogy, we don’t get to see Juraj begin to work past this. There is no healing for him while he is still being hurt, again and again, though he is mostly able to shrug it off. He puts on a strong face for Besim, but the emotional and psychic scars that this leaves can’t just be hugged away, no matter how much the two men love each other.
Takeo, unlike Juraj, is not the victim in his story. Instead he — like Besim — stands outside, trying to protect the ones he cares for. Jun had his family betray him and sell him into slavery, had his identity, his respect, and his freedom taken from him and his worth determined by gold coins. Takeo is working to buy his freedom, but there is still that gap between them of freeman and slave. Because of his altercation with the foreigner, and his continued altercations with other foreigners, all of whom seem to hate him, Jun has become a target. To hurt Takeo they’ll hurt Jun, which makes him feel even more helpless.
The characters all felt a little thin, to me, not fully feeling or dealing with the emotional traumas they’ve been handed. In Takeo’s case, he seems unwilling or unable to think beyond his role of foreman and lover to see the greater circle of violence and antipathy directed at him. It’s hard to tell if he’s just that focused on Jun and his work or if it’s because the story works better if he isn’t allowed to look beyond his own feet to see what’s going on in Edge City.
Where the characters were weak, the world was strong. The descriptions of a city built of bamboo and the work the construction crew has to do with foundations, draining a retaining pond, and examining rickety stairs were well researched and very well described. The stories of the ancient mages and the brief mentions of how different conflicts in far away cities and kingdoms affect both Juraj’s small village and Takeo’s home hint at a greater world and add depth. The magic system — be it blood magic following bloodlines, charm magics or wind magics — is creative and nicely explained.
I’m looking forward to book two to see what happens at the Concordance and to see what happens when Juraj walks into Edge City and sees what Takeo hasn’t figured out. I want to see more magic, more politics, and what happens with Elder Durak and Juraj. It isn’t often that I’m invested into the world without strong characters to draw me in, but considering that this is book one, I have hopes that they will all grow into themselves. It’s a slow book, though not too slow and it’s well written with a good plot. If you don’t mind a darker storyline and some difficult elements, I do suggest giving this book a try.