Gaven by JC Owens
When the Masarians attack Gaven’s people, they are defeated and Gaven himself is taken captive. By a man claiming to be his father. It turns out his entire life has been a lie, and now his ‘father’ will give him into the hands of another man to indoctrinate and train him. Gaven vows he will never shame his people by giving into the Masarians’ way of loving other men.
But Vlar, the legendary warrior to whom he has been given, has other plans. The blood-drinker is determined to have Gaven and to make him yield.
[It’s a naked chest, but I do love this cover.]
This beautifully written paranormal story focuses on the emotional journey of a young man coming of age during a violent and turbulent time. While the tale has tremendous potential, the story ultimately failed to deliver on the world building and romance aspects. It does deliver in the characterization of the main narrator, Gaven, and does so wonderfully with a depth of emotion rarely found. Perhaps the author is setting this novella to be one of a series as the ending is barely a happy for now. However, this story is incredibly rich and enjoyable to read for the journey Gaven takes.
Gaven wakes to find his people slaughtered around him and taken prisoner by the violent Masarians. However, once back at their camp he is told that his life was a lie and the leader of the invading army is his real father. Disturbed and confused, Gaven is plunged into an emotional whirlwind as he is told that he will not only train with the Masarian army but he is to participate in their practice of sex between soldiers. To train and facilitate his education, both military and sexually, is a legendary warrior said to drink blood for strength.
Told in first person from Gaven’s perspective, his emotional journey is the main focus of the story. Gaven struggles with the abrupt change in his life and the overwhelming new information being given to him almost constantly. His way of life is completely changed as each new revelation shows his previous life to be full of lies. Often confused and lost, Gaven doesn’t know what to believe and seeks the only solace he can find in his anger and rage. Everything he knew is now gone and he is expected to immediately comply and accept his new fate. When he strikes out and attempts to escape, dire consequences occur and Gaven is forced to reevaluate his choices, reconciling his past with his present.
Gaven is a strong narrator, a 17 year old boy coming of age as he deals with his sexuality and the new life he has been given. Unfortunately beyond Gaven’s distinctive and sympathetic voice, the story is rather empty of any other weight. The supporting characters are only thinly developed and often kept mysterious and even tempered. None of the cast outside of Gaven show any range of emotion and behave very predictably. The pseudo romance of Gaven and Vlar is weak as Vlar is simply a teacher, participating in a ritual known to the Masarians and requires no further emotional connection. There is no evidence that Vlar and Gaven will have a relationship beyond the sexual training Gaven will be subjected to as Vlar has trained numerous other men.
Aside from the weak characterization of everyone other than Gaven, the world building is incomplete. There are very few details and setting offered, leaving the atmosphere to resemble an ancient army from mythology rather than a new and exciting fantasy setting. The concept of warriors bonding amongst themselves also seems lifted from historical and mythological themes and thus the book lacks that original spark and ingenuity. That’s not to say the story isn’t entertaining and enjoyable to read, it is. The violence, rigid conditions, and above all human emotions of Gaven drive the story and give a fast paced, engaging tale of a young man’s difficult journey.
Overall, I enjoyed reading the story but felt it didn’t live up to the premise. The strength of the story is in the evocative and beautiful language, wonderful writing, and strong lead character. Perhaps this will turn into a series where each new story adds more depth and interest. I’d love to hear Vlar’s story and how his vampire-esque people define him and his past. There is so much potential within the story that it is disappointing to have been relegated to a truncated novella but I’ll definitely pick up the author again. The oft-ignored journey of a 17 year old in a violent world is unique and riveting, even with its faults. I easily recommend the book.
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