"The Archer's Heart" by Astrid Amara is amazing and should not be missed! This is an epic tale of politics, family, betrayal, war, exile, Gods/Goddesses, curses, blessings, and love.
I have to admit to initially being intimidated by the setting of this novel. Although it is never specifically stated, it appears the story is set in a land similar to India with its caste system and its mythology. Sometimes reading stories that take place in exotic lands and in different languages can overwhelm the reader with strange sounding names that get confusing. This fear was completely unfounded! I had no problem following the exotic names of characters and places, nor the rich mythology contained within this novel. I felt like I was immersed in an exquisite world of mystery and wonder. The place never felt false or imaginary; rather, it was immediate and alive.
In fact, I would not refer to this story as paranormal so much as one filled with mythology. I was impressed with the skill the author showed in making the lush mythology so easily comprehensible and the dexterity of keeping a cast of thousands clear and recognizable.
I cannot praise enough the nuanced characterizations that are to be found here. Many characters go from good to bad to somewhere in between and back again numerous times. I found myself switching allegiances to characters until the very end. People that I felt were so obviously wrong in their thoughts and political agendas I found myself not only sympathizing with but also rooting for and then cursing and then understanding ~ just like real life.
The relationship between two of the main characters, Jandu and Keshan, is a beautiful and wondrous liaison to watch develop. When they first meet, there is intense chemistry. Keshan understands his attraction but it is completely new and foreign to Jandu. Jandu doesn't know how to interpret his passionate attraction to Keshan. So, he labels it as family affection, friendship, anything and everything but lust/love. It doesn't help that homosexuality is not only against the law but is punishable by execution and that Jandu's oldest brother is not only extremely religious, but he is also the Royal Judge invested with the obligation to uphold all religious and governmental laws. After their first kiss, Jandu is conflicted ~ he fears these new feelings, hates/blames Keshan for the kiss, and yet is also completely overcome with desire for Keshan. He fears he has been bewitched, yet, feels awakened to passion and life.
Again, the author's skill must be praised. In an intensely moving and horrifying scene, Jandu is brought to court with his brother the Royal Judge to learn the family business. While Jandu is present, two men are brought before the court for homosexual activity. Jandu's brother is repulsed and outraged at the two men and orders their immediate execution. Jandu watches as the two men are forced to kneel down and are beheaded in front of him for the very feelings and actions he dreams about sharing with Keshan ~ a deeply powerful scene!
Juxtaposed to Jandu and Keshan's relationship, is one between Tarek and Darvad. Tarek is in love with Darvad, who is straight and vying to be king. The characterizations of this relationship will resonate with any gay man who has struggled to deal with romantic feelings for a straight friend. Darvad may or may not grasp the romantic longings of his friend and may or may not deliberately toss him just enough attention and moments of affection to feed Tarek's obsessive desire for the man he cannot have. Complicating these interactions is the fact that Darvad has elevated Tarek from a lower caste to a higher caste, improving not only Tarek's life but also Tarek's family and progeny. Tarek is not only grateful but, perhaps, also loyal to a fault. As he watches his life falling apart around him, he can't resolve his attraction for Darvad instead he seems to be almost paralyzed by these feelings.
While the relationship between Jandu and Keshan was like a glorious lotus blossom slowly unfolding to greet the morning sun, Tarek's obsessive love for Darvad seems to drain the light from his life. It is a beautiful revelation of the two sides of love.
There is much to discover in this astounding epic tale. The writing is top rate; the story lines are compelling; the characters are complex and authentic; the mythology is gripping; all in all, this is a novel that is not to be missed!
If this book is indicative of Astrid Amara's skills as a writer, I can't wait for the next novel and I wouldn't be surprised to see it listed on the NY Times best seller list sometime in the future. Highly recommended!!