Tales of Amaranth, books 1 - 6
In Amaranth, there are two kinds of men: slaves, and those who own them. It's a dark world, full of sex and magic, where privilege rules everything but the human heart.
- 1 To Be Read list
Publisher: Loose Id
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Word Count: 291,500
Setting: The empire of Amaranth
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
on Boy Meets Boy Reviews:
I hope you’re ready for a long review, because I’ll be reviewing each of the six books individually with the blurb that accompanies each one, and then an overall reaction to the boxed set/series. My method for this series was to read one book, review it, and then move on to the next so that I wouldn’t forget. With six books to read, that seemed the best course of action.
Dark Heart: Tales of Amaranth #1: In Amaranth, the Wayfarers’ Guild attracts all kinds of custom. When Lucan the mage walks into the stable yard with a lame horse in the rain, slave boy Tam runs to serve him — and soon Tam wants to do nothing else. Ever.
Lucan is demanding, ruthless, devastating, in bed and out: everything Tam ever yearned for in a master. He’s also master of the darkest arts, and not blind to Tam’s feelings, but heedless of them. Why would a free man care how a slave feels?
When Tam’s mistress asks for the mage’s help because the guild is under attack, Master Lucan finds other uses for Tam: as a guide to the city, as payment to a demon in hell. But when he doesn’t come back to the guildhouse one night, Tam knows the great man is in trouble – and only an insignificant slave boy can save him…
Review: As the first in a series, I really enjoyed it. Combining slavery—which is not a subject for everyone, I understand—with a bit of BDSM, to a small degree but mostly on the D/s line, and even then it’s questionable given that it’s slavery—another subject not for everyone—I can see how some might shy away from the books. However, I felt it was well done and fitting to the world created. In this fantasy world, slavery is very much alive and well, but it is slavery not based on race but on the rich versus those who are not. When Tam is young, he is caught stealing from a guildhouse and as such, is taken in as a slave. While it’s not the best life, it’s far better than the one he had been living as he has food, clothing, and shelter. When Master Mage Lucan shows up with a lame horse, Tam is quickly drawn to the man in black despite knowing he should fear him, not only as a Master but a Mage as well. But he doesn’t. At least, not any more than he fears the others. And Lucan seems to have taken a shine to him, keeping him at his side at most times. When the Mistress of the guild hires Lucan to help her, Tam continues to assist. He can’t hope for much more, as he belongs to the guild, but maybe, just maybe, Lucan will want him as his own.
While there is clear sex in this book, and it is hot, there seems to be little love. Affection, yes, but not romance. The lines between slave and master are clear, and they are not crossed. While Lucan may at times be indulgent to Tam, he does not stay his hand if the boy has done what he as Master perceives to be a wrong. And Tam knows his place as a slave. While he might risk a few liberties, like stealing a kiss when he feels brave enough, he is very aware of the consequences of his actions, and he often suffers for them. Brutally, at times.
That said, I enjoyed watching Tam’s affection for Lucan grow, and vice-versa. While not traditional romance, it was nevertheless a fascinating world to visit for a short time. I can understand that many people may not enjoy it given the content and rough, realistic treatment of the slaves, but if you’re interested in fantasy and a clear D/s storyline, then this is a book to check out.
Healing Heart: Tales of Amaranth #2: Coryn is the rarest of mages, a young man with the gift of healing. A chance encounter with a sick slave on the road leads to love unimagined, a match for his gentle heart, and the two to a town riven with plague. It’s too much for one inexperienced healer—but still, Coryn will break himself with trying and his new boy’s heart in the process. What will it take to heal a healer’s heart?
Review: The focus of this book is a new set of Master and slave. Coryn is a young mage, just free from training, really, when he runs into a sick slave on the road being chased by men hunting him. As a healer, Coryn is able to help the slave, claim Raff as his own, and go help a town beset by a plague. The same plague that he healed Raff from. Having been saved by the mage, Raff completely devotes himself to Coryn and his well-being. However, the mage doesn’t know his own limits and stretches himself too thin. Dangerously so. And as a result, Raff is sent away to find help in a world where a lone slave wandering is free for the taking by anyone who chooses so.
While I didn’t expect to see Lucan and Tam again, they showed up at one point and I was pleasantly surprised to see them. Though the focus is Coryn and Raff, the established Master and slave are a nice counterpoint to the fledgling pair. Coryn needs to learn more about being a Master and Raff needs to learn his place as a mage’s slave. Their affection and devotion to each other is palpable on the page, and different from that presented in Lucan and Tam.
Fans of the first book will definitely like this one. There is plenty of intrigue to go around, and I truly could not figure out what was happening with the plague spreading through the city. As with the first, there is fantasy and there is a D/s line, if not directly BDSM. That said, because this series deals with slavery, read at your risk if that is a trigger for you. I found it to be well done, as in the first book, and fitting for this world Thom Lane created.
Hidden Heart: Tales of Amaranth #3: 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.
Review: It seems like every book in this series adds a new element to it, which keeps the interest of the reader going. Tiffin is one of many slaves brought to serve at a fortress, and lucky… unlucky?… for him, he’s caught the eye of Sergeant Zander for a simple errand. What begins as a simple errand ends up keeping him in the fortress rather than the fields where he’ll be a little more at ease. Plus, at night, there’s always Sergeant Zander who can come and claim him.
Tiffin has no memory of his past. He only remembers his brand and collar, and nothing before that moment. So when he starts acting strangely, forgetting himself and wandering into places a slave should never be, touching things he never should, Zander and the others know something is wrong. But what?
Part of me was frustrated with Tiffin, but I still enjoyed his character. Zander as well. The setting is different from the first two books. While it is in the same world, it takes place mostly in a fortress that terrifies people rather than the open countryside or the city of Amaranth itself. Of course, this is Amaranth so who would show up but Master Lucan and Tam? Again, I was thrilled to see them and how they interacted with Zander and Tiffin.
As with the other books, there is some abuse, D/s, dubious consent, slavery, and more. If you dislike any of those topics or they are triggers for you, I’d advise you to keep back from this series. However, as with the other books, it is once again handled deftly. The men truly care about each other as much as their land allows Masters and slaves to care for the other, and it shows in their little nuances of daily life.
Runaway Heart: Tales of Amaranth #4: On a drunken bet, Marc broke into Baron Thiviers’ mansion to steal something precious. Discovered and almost caught, he’s being hunted by the baron and his hounds when Finn, the runaway slave boy, saves his life. Marc claims possession of Finn, to redeem that foolish bet–what’s more precious than a beautiful boy? But his so-called friends reject him, and the baron comes after him relentlessly, so he takes the boy and flees again.
Yet it’s Finn the baron can track, by means of renegade magic, and in the end, Finn has no choice. He runs from the new young master he’s come to love and confronts the chasing baron, sacrificing himself to save Marc’s life. Except that Marc too is in love, and so comes after his errant boy, throwing his own life into danger yet again.
Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: strong BDSM theme and elements, male/male sexual practices, master/slave dynamic.
Review: When I started this book, I honestly didn’t think I would like it. It’s different from the others because Marc is a cocky young Master who is so sure of himself it’s painful to watch. And then there’s Finn, who wants to please and is happy to be away from the Baron but is unsure of his new master, even as he wants to be there. As I kept reading, I liked Marc less and less and wondered if I would even be able to finish the story… but then in one well-written scene, I found myself tearing up and sympathizing with poor, foolish Marc, and my heart utterly broke for him and Finn. After that, I knew I needed to finish the story to find out if they would be okay.
Marc has been tasked with stealing something from the local Baron to prove himself to his “friends.” After nearly being caught, he runs into Finn in the forest, who has escaped the clutches of his horrible Master some weeks earlier. Torn between saving himself and helping a man the Baron is clearly after, Finn takes Marc in. As a result, he finds his hard-won freedom gone in seconds, and his future once again dictated by the whims of his Master.
But the Baron doesn’t like being stolen from, and he wants his missing slave back. He’ll stop at nothing to get them.
It took about half the story to really care about Marc, but I finally did. I thought he was a spoiled young man who fell in with a bad group and was suffering because of it. Finn, well, I wanted him to be happy and couldn’t see a way out of the mess for him. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with the resolution. I honestly though Master Lucan and Tam would come riding to the rescue, but they were sadly missing from this book. While I missed them, seeing Marc and Finn navigate their new circumstances on their own was a nice change of pace. I just wish there was more to see what would happen to them next.
Gambling Heart: Tales of Amaranth #5: Jay should be a very happy slave boy. His new master is young, hot, affectionate, and no stricter than he needs to be. Also rich now, thanks to one night’s hectic gambling. But the man who lost all that money – and his slave boy too – wants his revenge. He wants everything back, including Jay, and he’ll do whatever it takes to achieve his goal.
It’s dangerous to challenge so much wealth and influence, let alone to defeat them – and that’s only the start of the trouble for Jay and his master Jensen. Jay has a secret that he’s kept hidden from all the men who’ve owned him. Now that’s going to lead him and his master too down strange roads in stranger company, and into deadly danger, eventually into Hell itself…
Review: It’s hard to pick favorites in this series, but I honestly think this one might be it. There’s so much more to the Master/slave relationship than with the others. Jay is not your typical slave boy, and his Master isn’t as careful as one should be, especially one who has just won a lot of money and a young slave to boot.
Jay has had his fair share of unpleasant Masters, but he’s finally found the one he wants in Jensen. Though his new Master is rather lazy and has a bad habit of gambling, he’s been won and that’s the way he wants to keep it. Of course, he should have known his former owner would want him back. It’s a matter of pride, and the wealthy young man does not want to be shown up by a wastrel like Jensen. But Jay has a way of keeping the odds in his favor, and he’ll do what he has to in order to keep himself and his new Master safe.
Jay was such a pleasant change to the other slaves. While I liked each of them, Jay is different from the rest, and no one really knows how. At least, no one does until, you guessed it, Master Lucan and Tam show up. I was thrilled to see them make a return after their absence from the previous book, and I was intrigued by how Jay and Jensen would get out of their mess. As with the others, I wish this story was longer. There is so much left to explore where it concerns Jensen and Jay and the new road before them.
Same warnings apply to this one as with the other books. I won’t be too repetitive here.
Heart’s Hunt: Tales of Amaranth #6: Once Martel was a thieftaker, an honourable young man working an honourable profession with his father, keeping the city safe. Then came revolution and chaos. Now he’s alone and living as a bounty hunter, as low as he can fall. Rumour says the last of the overthrown royal family is hiding in the forest that borders Amaranth. Prince Joslyn would be a better prize than runaway slaves and murderers; the price on that boy’s head would make Martel for life, and give him a chance to rebuild his reputation.
When he rides into the charcoal-burner’s clearing, he doesn’t find a depraved young aristocrat hiding out with his loyal servant. Rather, he finds a displaced old man doing the best he can with only a slave to help. A willing, beautiful, poorly trained slave. From their first encounter, Martel can’t keep his hands off the boy – and sees no reason to, when the master doesn’t care and the inexperienced boy is sullen and frightened and eager all at once. This is the last thing he was looking for – but can one hot night change the course of a life, of two lives…?
Review: This book is a part of the Tales of Amaranth, but is more loosely related. Set in a neighboring country where the monarchy has been deposed and they are looking for a remaining heir, Martel is a former thieftaker who is looking for the lost Princeling Joslyn. When he runs into an old charcoal burner and his young slave, he gives them some advice to get out of the country while they can, before the Counsel descends on them and thinks the nameless slave boy is the lost Prince Joslyn.
Much shorter than the other stories, this one is told solely from Martel’s POV, which left some intrigue as to who the slave boy was. Of course, in the end it becomes clear, and I liked not knowing everything about him, but as with the others, I wanted to know what would become of them once Martel made up his mind and took his new slave away.
Sadly, Master Lucan and Tam do not show up in this story, but after reading it I wondered if Martel and his slave boy show up in another book in this series. Part of me feels like I had read about them before, but I can’t be sure.
Same warnings of the first five books apply.
Overall: I loved this series as a whole. The world building was excellent, as were the characterizations. I like that Thom Lane managed to work Master Mage Lucan and Tam into most of the other books because they were what drew me into the series.
While each book can stand alone and be read separately, it’s fun to read them in order because you see the small progression of Lucan and Tam’s relationship while other couples are being established.
As for the slavery, it’s handled well. There are cruel owners, yes, but the main characters are not the cruel ones, and it fits in this world where mages exist and some can open the door between this plane and hell.
If you like historical-like worlds with fantasy and do not mind characters who are slaves, or you like BDSM or D/s, then I highly recommend this entire series. Not a single book disappoints, and I honestly hope there are more books—or at least short stories—that will come out eventually, because I am not ready to leave Amaranth.
"I almost forgot to be scared. Not quite, because slaves never do quite forget, and if we did the collar’s weight around our necks would remind us. By the time he turned to face me, though, it was his hands and strength and temper I was scared of, not his powers: the master, not the mage. As it should be."
If like me, your tastes run towards some well written master/slave fantasy then I believe you will be in for a treat with this gem of a collection. Admittedly this is probably a niche market, but for those who like gritty fantasy, this is erotica with bite.
I was captured by the artistry of the stories depicting a harsh a world where neither slavery nor magic is uncommon. The world building is immersive and depicts cruel pragmatism, without being overblown or angsty. I think these tales are clever in their weft of texture and nuance drawing the experiences of flawed characters living in a disturbing world.
Each of the six tales (of various lengths and perspectives) combine to create a satisfying and thought provoking read. Indeed it feels strange to be back in the real world now that my visit to Amaranth is complete...
Whether you are a returning visitor to Amaranth or a completely new traveller to this world as I was, I highly recommend the journey. The narrators make good travel guides to a world and culture different from our own.
Let me give fair warning that in Amaranth the approach to slavery is unyielding, and that these tales do not fall close to the tropes in which slavery is consensual or where a 'reasonable' Master and his slave strive for equality at least in private. If a non consensual lifestyle creates a moral stumbling block for your reading preferences, my advice is do not enter these pages.
The Tales of Amaranth is distinctly unusual, the genre of slave fiction often depicts an emotional journey between Master and slave towards some fundamental recognition of equality even a subtle shift. The beauty of Amaranth is the starkness of the Master/slave dynamic.
The static nature of the Master/slave dynamic is disconcerting to accept, slavery is not varnished or easily dismissed. It brings a piquancy to the books around the fragility and uncertainty of autonomy. Once a slave in Amaranth there is no option but to accept the situation. Some slaves are born into the life, others become slaves when found guilty of a crime and some find their freedom lost via nefarious means.
In each of the tales, slaves resolve to make the best of bad situations and find joy in the littlest of things, a smile, a stroke of the hair, enjoying a morsel of food slipped to them by their master (slaves here often eat only one meal of gruel per day). You might expect these tales to be grim reading instead the writing is crafted beautifully and glisters with insight. Amaranth is magnificent in its starkness. In this world, slaves are insignificant and of shockingly little value, less most probably than a stick of furniture. The callousness is incredibly well depicted and yet these stories are not dark, they sparkle with ingenuity and close observation of human interaction.
Most definitely not romance; but certainly erotic. The moments of tenderness are remarkably hot with elements of BDSM (though by default none of it safe, sane or consensual).
Some slave fiction has me curling my lip and walking away, not so with Tales of Amaranth, I found each of these stories intriguing. I was greedy for more. As for the cover art it deserves a mention all on its own, as beautifully emotive as the stories themselves.
The Tales are told from differing perspectives, sometimes from the slave's perspective alone, sometimes only the master's point of view is given and in one story the tale has a dual perspective. All of the telling shares integrity, it may be skewed and a million miles away from what is acceptable in a non fantasy world but I found the characters believable, the plotting intense and the world of Amaranth immersive.
Let me give you just a flavour of what to expect, each of the books could be read a standalone pieces:
Dark Heart (Tales of Amaranth #1) - Five Hearts
'I waited. So did he. I thought time itself had paused, all the world hung still on the poise of that moment, elegant and cruel...'
Told from the perspective of Tam a slave owned by the Wayfarers’ Guild. He describes himself as 'broken to the collar', meaning he has come to accept life as slave. Having spent his young life on the streets, Tam was caught and collared for thieving, 'All inside an hour, my life taken from me and my freedom too...'
Tam now behaves with almost blind obedience, but glimpses of his irrepressible personality shine through bringing optimism and vibrancy. He plays down his intelligence and independence to avoid punishment, but is easily adaptable when circumstances arise.
Assigned to serve Master Mage Lucan who is staying temporarily at the Guild, an attraction builds between them. Lucan is hired by the Guildmistress to solve the mystery of who is maliciously targeting guild houses. Lucan uses Tam as a resource in this task.
Most people fear Lucan, but Tam sees much to be admired in his stern new master. The writing is subtle and seamlessly weaves complex ideas about conformity, expectations and social structure.
Some readers believe Tam to be dumb and compliant, I do not agree; I think he is realistic and resourceful and it is his strength of character that eventually draws the notice of the darkly mysterious and formidable Lucan to Tam.
The competent writing brews complex flawed characters and the use of magical elements exquisitely captures the dangers and nuances of an unpredictable world.
Tam craves the domination of a single Master, but Lucan may not be anything close to what he imagined.
Healing Heart (Tales of Amaranth #2) - Four Hearts
This brings a whole different vibe from 'Dark Heart'
'No slave escapes the whip, but sometimes the hand that holds it can prove not only strict but tender too. Maybe no slave escapes dreaming, either. I wasn't fool enough to dream of freedom, but perhaps I'd dared to dream of love...
Told from the mixed point of views of Master and slave this explores the life and relationship between two young men who have their lives just starting out.
Coryn is finding his place as a Master Mage, having only graduated. People may not yet fear him as much as they might although his powers are formidable.
He literally bumps into Raff a fleeing slave running for his life, a victim of plague and hunted by some thugs who want to kill him to ensure the plague does not spread. Coryn heals the slave and decides to claim ownership, he names his new slave Raff.
Raff's previous Master and Mistress are dead from the plague, he and Coryn are contemporaries, both in their early twenties. Coryn has never owned a slave before so there is a fraction of leeway in their roles especially as Coryn becomes preoccupied with curing the town's citizens from plague. Not wishing to be as brutal as his father, Coryn sends some mixed messages to his slave whose unfortunate route to slavery is highly questionable. Coryn's naivety and lack of experience unwittingly places Raff in real danger when times become desperate, creating a matter of life and death for both master and slave.
The complexities and intricate relationship between master and slave is explored via various characters and pairings within the book. This begins to examine in some more detail the dynamic, rivalries and sometime camaraderie between slaves. The exploration adds to the overall depth of world building.
There are moments of raw sensuality and shocking brutality too that mixes magic and morality with aplomb.
Old friends from Dark Heart appear and assist in saving the day, and lend a hand in solving the mystery at the source of the plague.
I found this to be a really intriguing read with more elements of mystery than the previous book.
Hidden Heart (Tales of Amaranth #3) - Four Hearts
'...Head up, eyes down: it’s a trick you have to learn, not to slouch and not to stare around you, not to catch anyone’s eye. If you’re born slave, you learn it by instinct, growing up; if not, your first owner will usually beat it into you. Me—well. Who knew? I had the art of it now; that was what mattered...'
A much briefer story told from the perspective of Tiffin who finds himself learning life as a slave in a military fortress.
Tiffin has no memory of his former life or what brought him to this place. The fortress guards a great source of magic, and Tiffin may be the unwitting pawn in an attempt to seize power.
What is exceptionally unsettling is that the concept of slavery allows an individual no autonomy over their body, but this goes one stage further.
Tiffin does his best to be a good and obedient slave and yet even this intention is removed from his control when he loses track of time and location.
Meanwhile Tiffin falls under the sometime protection of Zander one of the soldiers at the base, but their relationship is in jeopardy if Tiffin cannot give his complete devotion.
A short story with a great deal of complexity hidden in some really artful writing and of course elements of kink just waiting in the wings to lighten the load...
This is interesting plot full of twists, my only complaint is that it is very short and I would have liked more.
There is a welcome glimpse of characters from the first book Dark Heart.
Runaway Heart (Tales of Amaranth #4) - Three Hearts
'...all the resistance left him in a rush and he stood as still as any slave, mute and surrendered, starkly terrified...'
Yet another aspect of the Master/slave dynamic is explored this time told from the perspective of a free person Marc he recounts how Finn came into his possession. I liked this tale least of all of the Amaranth stories most probably because Marc shows very few redeeming qualities.
Having agreed to a prank to steal something of value from the baron, Marc must make his escape or face capture (and if caught endure a life of likely slavery). He is rescued by a runaway who knows how to evade the chasing hounds.
Whilst owing his freedom to his rescuer, Marc concocts a daring plan to get them both off the baron's land. Regrettably he has no compunction in claiming the slave and naming him Finn.
Clearly Finn does not wish for the life of slavery he was born to, however a lifetime of servitude makes it impossible for him to resist Marc. Slavery has an element of safety where the boundaries are very clear compared to the vagaries and uncertainties of freedom.
Finn readjusts almost immediately to life once more as a slave. "...You’re way too lovely to be free.”
I found this story particularly unsettling and yet it is full of rescue, betrayal and adventure. Definitely an interesting exploration of entitlement; and there remains a ray of hope that having taken responsibility for Finn, Marc may properly re-evaluate his priorities and eventually be a worthy Master of his slave.
Gambling Heart (Tales of Amaranth #5) - Five Hearts
'... In that moment, I think I loved him: for his courage, of course, and for the sheer casual grace in him. He must have known just how deadly this trouble was, the mage was a guarantee of that; he must have been afraid, deep down; his face showed nothing but a savage contempt...'
This is one of my favourite tales of the series with the added delight of catching up again with characters from Dark Heart. Jensen is a rather charming wastrel and gambler who awakens to discover his luck has changed for the better and he has won both some money and a handsome body slave in a drunken game.
Jensen names his new slave Jay, but fears he will not be able to afford to keep him. Jay has other ideas.
Told entirely from Jay's perspective this tale provides more insights into the life and expectations of a slave. Jay believes that if he can make himself indispensable to his laid back new master, he can help secure a brighter future for them both.
Jay has always been a slave, but he senses in Jensen a kindness and (he believes that although his new master has a penchant for risk, gambling and drink) that they could build a good life together if Jensen agrees to keep him and if they can escape the clutches of Jay's former master who wants him back.
There is a mystery to solve full of dark magic that endangers not just them, but the world they live in. It will take the skills of both men as they come to rely on each other. Tam and Lucan are also make a welcome appearance to lend a hand and to thwart an evil plan of sorcery and magic.
Heart's Hunt (Tales of Amaranth #6) - Three Hearts
'The right slave could be a lifetime’s commitment, the way I saw it: like a good dog, or a good horse. You’d never choose to sell them.'
Possibly the briefest of The Tales of Amaranth series, this is told from Martel's perspective. He has plans afoot and his quarry is in sight.
Martel has been displaced due to civil war and intends to move to neighbouring Amaranth and begin a new life there.
This tale explores an interesting concept of whether someone might actually choose slavery over death. It also begins to explore the contrast between consensual and non-consensual slavery.
Once more brevity of words do not prevent an insightful exploration of the skewed morality of slavery in the Amaranth universe, where there is a stern and brutal logic to slavery. The consistent implementation of rules and expected behaviour leaves little room for misunderstanding.
Martel believes the young slave he finds in the woods is likely to be Prince Jocelyn who has a price on his head. He eventually confides his analysis of the situation to the slave allowing him to make one final decision.