Hidden Heart by Thom Lane

Hidden Heart (Tales of Amaranth, #3)Hidden Heart by Thom Lane

Blurb:
Tiffin is a slave boy, branded and chained, trained to serve and eager to please. That’s all he knows; his past life is a mystery, wiped from his mind. Sold to a grim fortress and facing a bleak future, he seeks comfort where he can find it, in the arms and at the feet of Sergeant Zander. He’s happy to give over control of his body to that dominant, delightful man — but someone else keeps stealing into his mind, taking over.

Tiffin doesn’t know how or who. All he knows is how much trouble he’s in, and how much worse it’s going to get…unless Zander can help him discover what’s going on, before he literally loses his mind.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review:

Hidden Heart is the third book within the Amaranth universe. You don’t need to read the previous books to understand this one and the books are mostly connected within the same world rather than connected characters. Once again the fantasy story deals with real life slavery and the slaves are taught to accept their slavery. The story coaches the real life slavery in BDSM terms, which is not exactly correct, since BDSM is consensual and the “submissives” in this story have no choice. I’d recommend this more for those that enjoy fantasy slavery stories only.

The plot is an interesting twist where a man’s mind and memory’s been erased to make him into a vessel for a power hungry mage. The man turned slave has no idea who he was or his past and only knows that occasionally something comes over him and forces him to take actions he doesn’t understand. Predictably in a society where slaves are treated worse than animals and their life has no worth, this kind of action isn’t going to end well for the slave. Thankfully for said slave there is a harsh but handsome Sergeant to take the slave in hand.

Hidden Heart is perhaps the most blatant of the three books in its attitude towards slavery. In the previous books the submissives were legal slaves but they were pretty happy with their lot in life, mostly. Here there is Tiffin, someone used as a pawn and then basically discarded. He has no idea about his past and he’s not even sure why he’s a slave. His mind has been erased so he can be used by a powerful mage in a grab for power. Tiffin isn’t aware of this, only that he’s often confused and lost. The free people of course don’t respond well to this and Tiffin is often beaten for his lapses. No one really cares why though because after all, he’s just a slave. Tiffin meets a young military man and emotionally grabs hold of the idea that he can stay with someone who is at least not outright cruel.

This is problematic because well its real life slavery, not BDSM even if the story coaches the fantasy like it is. Some readers will be able to enjoy the sex and fantasy world created while others may be more upset by the use of BDSM in wrongful conjunction with slavery. On the one hand since it’s a fantasy I could get by it somewhat yet what bothers me is that Tiffin isn’t actually submissive. He’s nothing really but an empty slate to be whatever he’s told to be, which takes away his personality, individuality, and any choice he has – even if it’s mentally. Furthermore, he’s not emotionally a slave. He doesn’t crave harsh treatment and dominant personalities. Instead he reacts to them and craves safety, the arms of the one man who shows him some small bit of kindness (in terms of an affectionate kick in the ribs versus a stomp). The story is also incredibly dismissive and careless about Tiffin. No one in the story cares where he came from or his past, instead he’s ordered to be happy as a slave because no one cares about who he was.

One the one hand the story is clearly a fantasy and no one would condone real life slavery. Yet fantasies exist and the writing knows how to play to those. The sex scenes are not that graphic and the abuse is very perfunctory and quick. It’s definitely not dwelled on and instead the confusion and longing Tiffin feels to discover what’s happening to him is the real focus. I found this particular story more obvious though and unfortunately more disturbing in the sense that Tiffin never has any personality or even mental choices. He can’t choose anything, in the quiet of his own mind, due to his mind wipe and this eliminates any real complexity to the character. It’s an interesting idea and well executed but in conjunction with his life as a slave, beaten on a daily basis and his ordered acceptance of that when he doesn’t really crave that control defeats the fantasy unfortunately. At least for me.

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2 thoughts on “Hidden Heart by Thom Lane

  1. I have to say, I read the first book, thought it was all right, but had serious problems with the true slavery being played off as BDSM. I don’t know. It made me incredibly uncomfortable as, to me, the blending of sex acts with the real slavery wasn’t on par with the world as presented. I mean, you’re right, they are treated as less than even work animals–usually working in place of those animals–and they seem to be beaten for everything. We’re not shown anyone really questioning this system, and (though I’ve only read the first book), I don’t believe the world building touches on how this system came to be the commonly accepted one.
    When I read the sex in the first book, it honestly felt like a fantasy novel in a medieval setting with some sex forced in to make it appeal to M/M customers. The sex scenes just didn’t sit well with me, and the main characters almost instant affection and connection with his master also didn’t endear the book or world to me.
    Each time a new one of these pop up, I think to pick it up and give it a try, but I know the world hasn’t changed much, and one slavery story after another doesn’t truly interested me. 😦 Sad, because I rather like the author’s voice, even if I don’t usually go for first person narratives.

    • I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. I’ve read all three books in the series and actually liked the first two. I’m a big fan of fantasy/urban fantasy/sci fi stories so if the world building is good and the plot meaty enough (ignore the pun), I can forgive a lot.
      This series in some ways plays to those strengths because the world building is pretty thorough. Though you’re absolutely right – there is no question of HOW the world came to be but with a fantasy world there rarely is, it simply exists. I definitely liked the first two books better and I could get by the slavery aspect because
      1 – it’s so clearly a fantasy within a fantasy setting. The story doesn’t attempt to bring the moral uproar of slavery but pushes everything so heavily into the outrageous side that it clearly is a fantasy.
      2 – the first two books had a submissive who truly -craved- the domination and often the S/m portion as well. The fact that the characters were solely created and pushed into that to go along with the story and make the slavery/rape aspect not only fantasy but ok is pretty obvious. But again it didn’t bother me when I approached it as a fantasy.
      This time I just couldn’t buy into the character and the rape was so obviously rape to me that I definitely became uncomfortable. I found the BDSM excuses this time to be ineffectual and pretty weak. Had I felt the character was really submissive and didn’t mind his slavery, in fact craved it on some level, well that would be another issue.
      This isn’t the first book or even the most recent I’ve read that uses the BDSM as the cover for slavery. Where a character will be enslaved and come to crave the BDSM justification for their relationship or to excuse the slavery aspect since the BDSM is so fulfilling. I think that’s how I saw the first two books. Unfortunately this one .. not so much. But I agree I like the author’s voice so I keep trying.

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