Whilst there are other gay-themed fantasy "epics" around - this is one of the best I've encountered. Firstly, it's there as one entire volume (rather than the over-played "trilogy") and secondly it's fantasy world is based on an Eastern/Indian style culture rather than the usual European - which made for a refreshing change. In overview the plot is about a power-struggle between 2 branches of a family competing for the throne. Refreshingly, there's no straight-forward "good" & "bad" sides. Each contender has their virtues & weaknesses. The terrible implications of a society run on strict religious codes(at least at the surface-level)where the class/caste a person was born to or their sexual nature can condemn them to death (or worse a living hell) also threads through every aspect of the story. The characters and the fantasy world are richly brought to life and the story gripped me from the start. I had to force myself to read the book slowly - to savour it - and not give in to the temptation to rush through it. My only criticism is that some of the vocabulory used by the author seemed inappropriate for the aforementioned eastern style she selected for her fantasy world. For example, someone describing women as "chicks" seemed totally out of place as did one reference to a character being called "gay" (and in the homosexual context). It was also a pity that the author who had described this world's culture, food, clothing etc so richly & imaginatively - couldn't apply that same imagination to the rather tedious use of "modern-day" and "americanised" swearing & other expletives. But please don't let that one failing stop you from buying this book - it's otherwise perfect!
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After reading Jesse Hajicek's 'The God Eaters', I was looking for another fantasy book that dealt with gay themes and characters. I picked up 'Archer's Heart' because unlike most in the genre it's a decent length, which I hoped meant that it would have three dimensional characters, and because it's setting in ancient India is something I haven't come across in fiction before.
And I'll admit, the plotline is good enough. Two branches of the same royal family with two competing ideologies, with lots of Indian mythology thrown in (the latter half of the book centres around some of the major stories from Indian myth). But everything from dialogue to character development is frustratingly two dimensional, and while I have nothing against cursing in principle the sheer amount of it in this book turned me off - as well as making no sense; the author makes a large point around Jandu's 'purity', but he swears all the time. That's just one example of the contradiction rife in this book. The relationships between many of the characters just aren't realistic and while I have to admit Amara knows her Indian culture, and inspects and explains the caste system in great detail, there is absaloutely nothing to hold a reader engaged except interest in the background of the story. I gave up in disgust with a quarter of the book left to go; it just wasn't worth it.
Overall - don't waste your money, you'll just end up regretting it.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
The Archer's Heart7 April 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Honesty from the outset~
Over the last few months I have reviewed several stories by Astrid Amara in the anthologies Hell Cop and Tangle: Edition XY. Each time I have come away more and more impressed by her storytelling. The Archer's Heart did not disappoint. This was the stuff of epics.
First things first~
When The Archer's Heart arrived with a thunk on my doorstep I admit to being daunted about the task of reviewing such a large book that was sure to be filled with the rich prose I've come to expect from this author. Once I'd started reading I quickly forgot my earlier intimidation and over the next four to five hours completely lost myself in the world the author had created.
Where to start...
The Archer's Heart is beautifully written with the culture and landscape of the Marhavad kingdom being lushly crafted and reminiscent of India at its most beautiful and its most darkest. This is a story about power, oppression, societal expectations, personal belief systems, acceptance, hope, friendship, family, loyalty and love. The setting, especially with its rigid caste system, provides a perfect backdrop to the exploration of these themes.
There were a few places where I did find the world building a little too descriptive. Having said that, it never overwhelmed as is sometimes the case in the fantasy genre, was always relevant to the plot and helped to paint the vivid picture that was the Marhavad kingdom. In places, you could almost smell the stink of the sewerage of the slums or the stench of the dying bodies on the battlefield. It was very evocative.
The story focuses on Keshan and Jandu and their relationship and on the story of Tarek. Through them you meet a cast of characters, who both repel and engage your emotions. Some of you might be jumping to your own fantasies conclusions and thinking along the lines of m/m/m, but I assure you it is not. Tarek and the unrequited feelings he has for his Lord (Darvad) provides the contrast to the openness, love and commitment between Keshan and Jandu. From a low caste, Tarek worked his way up to his high status and as a result is obsessed with his oath and the man who helped him get there. He will do anything to serve his Lord, even compromise his own beliefs.
Keshan and Jandu on the other hand are complete opposites; not only in ideals, but also in factions. Keshan is politically savvy with a radical vision (literally) for the future which he works to see implemented and Jandu is a spoilt young man who has never questioned his position as Prince. The two are fascinated with each other from the very beginning, despite Jandu's horror at being attracted to a man which is an act punishable by death in the kingdom.
For all his apparent shallowness at the beginning of the book, Jandu was by far my favourite character. Don't get me wrong, all the protags are very well developed in The Archer's Heart. Yet, it was Jandu who captured MY heart. I think this was because of the incredible and challenging experiences this character has over the approximately four year period the book covers. Although he becomes lovers with Keshan quite early in the story, it is not Keshan who is the central catalyst to Jandu's maturation but it is the impact of his other life circumstances. As a reader, I felt privileged to witness Jandu's change and growth in character albeit distressing at times.
Finally, and trying not to give any spoilers, some of you sooner, as I did, rather than later will get an idea as to how the book may finish. Do not let this distract you from your enjoyment because, in my opinion, it is the journey - the hows, whys and whens - that make this story, not necessarily the ending.
A couple of issues/warnings~
The were only a few things which stopped this from being five stars for me. The first was a minor issue associated with the world building and I touched on that above. The second related to the telling of Tarek's story. Although I understand Tarek's relationship with Darvad provided juxtaposition to that of Keshan's and Jandu's, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with his inability to see the truth about Darvad. There is no doubt in mind this was the response the author was trying to evoke in the reader; however, I have to admit I did skip some of the passages towards the end of the book because he was annoying the absolute crap out of me.
This is quite simply the best fantasy story I've read in my nearly 18 months of reading m/m fiction. To those who particularly enjoy this genre I would strongly recommend that you buy The Archer's Heart. It is excellent.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
An Epic of Epic Proportions7 Aug. 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
If you want to read a gay fantasy epic, "The Archer's Heart" is for you.
Jandu Paran, a young prince who is very full of himself, unintentionally wins the hand of a beautiful young girl. With his slapdash daring, he draws the attention of the rebellious and talented Keshan Adaru. The two of them are deeply involved in opposite sides of the Marhavad succession and are put into a position where they are forced to compromise love or loyalty.
What I find most remarkable about this epic is how the setting forms both plot and character. It takes place in a world that is more than reminiscent of pre-colonial India, but here, the Yashvas (somewhat like demons, somewhat like gods) take an important role. Not only magic but also cultural phenomena (such as polygamous marriage, family hierarchy, and the caste-system) shape the story. Unlike so many fantasy epics, I felt as if this story could only take place in this culture and at this precise time. It made the novel very believable, and there were hundreds of small details that gave "The Archer's Heart" a sexy, exotic feel.
Besides, I loved how the relationship between Jandu Paran and Keshan Adaru progressed as their characters evolved.
It was a real page-turner. Even though I was tired, I stayed up late so that I could finish it. Can't wait to read Astrid Amara's next book.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Amazing Story! Highly recommended!!28 Jan. 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
"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!!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Excellent6 Aug. 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Good fantasy, and a beautifully told love story. The main characters Jandu and Keshan are developed well, both individually and as a couple. I was thrilled to find another gay fantasy novel that had style and substance to it. I appreciated how complex the characters were - it didn't take very long before I couldn't tell which "side" I was supposed to be on - the Paran's side (Yudar was horrible, but almost forgiveable as Jandu's brother), or Darvad's side (who wanted to change the kingdom for the better, but who played dirty, and was greedy). I like it when the lines between good and bad, or right and wrong get blurred in novels. There are very few clear-cut good guys or bad guys in The Archer's Heart. Tarek stood out as a perfect example of this. At first I sympathized with this character - initially a "good" guy, an underdog - I rooted for him, but after a while it became difficult to sympathize with him at all, yet, I still can't say he ever really became a "bad" guy. This book was alternately fun, touching, erotic, and hopeful. There were parts that I completely related to, such as Jandu's struggle with his sexual orientation (the scene where he breaks down and cries after he has sex with Keshan; the scene where he sees Keshan for the first time after their initial "break-up", etc). Anyway, from someone who has read a lot of gay fantasy, I'd highly recommend this novel to anyone else who reads in this genre. This one was a gem, and I hope you enjoy it as well.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Awesome epic! The best fantasy I have read in a long long time..3 Jan. 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Bought this when it was published in 2008 but because of its thickness kept putting it off. Wow! Now I regret I did not read The Archer's Heart earlier. I love fantasy gay romance and this one has to be in the top of my list after Wreaththu. Amazing world building, rich imagination, exciting and stirring plot, appealing and credible characters, touching romance, brotherly love all the ingredients I want in my fantasy romance are there. Making use of Hindu mythology with its colorful cultures, mind boggling magics and terrible caste system the writer has turned The Archer's Heart into a magnificent fantasy epic. The plot itself is complex and spellbinding, one roller coaster ride both emotionally and as a grand adventure epic. Court intricacies, princes killing each other for the throne, astounding magics in the arts of wars involving gods and goddesses. And above all a moving and captivating romance as old as time. I love Keshan and Jandu, a lord and a prince who have to overcome so much trials and tribulations to be together. Keshan to Jandu's rescue is one heart gripping scene and is simply unforgettable as are both men willing to give up all to be together. There are scenes here involving the lovers and with their brothers which I do not think I will ever forget and this makes The Archer's Heart a very special book for me. Bravo Astrid Amara.