Kei's Gift (Darshian Tales #1)

Adult
Rated 4.85/5 based on 15 reviews
War brings Kei, a gentle healer from an isolated village, into collision with Arman, an embittered, honourable general, a man trapped in a loveless marriage and joylessly wedded to duty. The fate of two nations will rest on these two men–and somehow they must not only learn to overcome their own personal difficulties, but bring peace with honour to their countries. If they fail...many will die.

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Words: 305,950
Language: English
ISBN: 9781452305097
About Ann Somerville

Ann Somerville grew up in one of Australia’s prettiest small cities. In 1989, she left Australia with a BA and a burning ambition to see more of the world and its people, and to discover this ‘culture’ thing people kept telling her about. In 2006, she returned home to Southeast Queensland with two more degrees, an English husband, and a staggering case of homesickness, vowing never to leave Australia again.

Her long, plot-driven fiction featuring gay and bisexual characters has been professionally published, although copious free full length stories and novels are also available on her website. She blogs about writing, publishing, her life and many shiny distracting things.

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Also by This Author

Reviews

Review by: LG on March 18, 2014 :
Just based on the number of times I've seen it recommended, I think this might be Somerville's best-loved book. I've owned it for a while and decided I was finally in the mood to read it.

When I start reading e-books, I usually dive right in without bothering to check their descriptions or genres. I thought at first that this was m/m fantasy romance. Sixty pages in, I decided I needed to reset my expectations, because Kei and Arman hadn't even met yet. Plus, the book's earliest (and, for the next several hundred pages, only) sex scenes involved Kei and Arman with other people. Now that I've read the whole thing, I think it might best be called fantasy (epic fantasy?) with strong m/m romantic aspects.

Arman is a general in the Prijian Empire, ordered to begin the invasion of northern Darshian – the Prij have already conquered southern Darshian. Kei is a healer in the small village of Ai-Albon, in northern Darshian. Both men view each others' peoples as savages. To Kei, the Prij are greedy, war-like, and stupidly superstitious. To Arman, the Darshianese are simple, weak, and inferior. With time, they might even be grateful to their Prijian invaders, once they learn how superior the Prijian Empire is.

When Kei is made one of the Darshianese hostages and assigned to be a slave in Arman's household, the two men gradually learn more about each other and even become friends. However, they're still on opposite sides of a war, and their friendship is a fragile and complicated thing. Kei's people have good cause to hate Arman's, and Arman's people have the power of life and death over the Darshianese hostages.

I am the kind of person who stresses out over the lives of characters I care about. This book stressed me out so much, and there were times when I had to take a break because I was afraid to see how things were going to turn out. For readers who are like me, here's a bit of reassurance: yes, the ending is a happy one.

Although I called this fantasy fiction, the fantasy aspects are very light. The Prijian Empire and Darshian both have what appears to be a fairly high percentage of infertile people, so both societies are very concerned with fertility and successful births. Among the Darshianese, some of these “infertiles” have gifts, like being able to move things with their minds or speak telepathically. The Prij view tales of Darshianese gifts as fantastic stories. At least in this book, no Prijian infertiles are gifted.

This is a very long, slow-paced book, and it takes a while for events to move forward. Sometimes I noticed the length and felt vaguely like certain parts of the story could have been condensed, and sometimes I sank into the story and barely noticed how long it was. I was a little impatient with how long it took for Arman and Kei to finally meet, but I appreciated their slow-building relationship. At the time Kei was forced to be a part of Arman's household, Arman was filled with grief and hatred. Their friendship and the eventual hints of attraction they felt for each other were complicated by their respective positions. It was wonderful, intense, emotional stuff. I'm a fan of slow-developing relationships and romance, and this book gave me that in spades.

There were times when the story went outside my comfort zone. For example, the relationship between Kei, Reji, and Arman bothered me for a while. When reading romance, I prefer it when the characters are emotionally and physically involved with one person. After Kei and Arman became a couple, I wasn't sure how things were going to go. Early on, some of Reji's comments made me think that he was perhaps more content to have a long-term relationship with Kei than Kei realized, and I dreaded the “break up” scene.

It went better than I expected, but it bothered me that Kei viewed Reji as the lover he no longer had sex with and Arman as the lover he did. I saw it as unfair to both Reji and Arman, although they mostly seemed fine with that setup. I wanted Reji to be able to move on, and I wanted Arman to know he had a lover who cared for him and would never leave him for someone else. After the years Arman spent married to Mayl, I felt he needed that. All of this was dealt with in a way that worked better for me by the end, but, like everything else, it took a while.

Lots of things went more smoothly than I would have expected. This is not exactly a complaint, but I did spend a good portion of the book expecting horrible things that never happened. I tensed up before Kei's “break up” with Reji, before the trial at Ai-Darbin, and all throughout the events at the end. I won't say that everything was resolved easily, but it did all go much more smoothly than I expected, which left me feeling kind of...disappointed? Which is weird, because it's not like I wanted the characters to suffer more.

Probably my biggest complaint about this book was how black-and-white some things were. The Prijian Empire was warlike, superstitious, and arrogant. I struggle to think of a single good to say about it. Kei, a hostage and slave, had no reason to like it, and even Arman didn't seem to like anything about his home country besides Loke, his friend and servant, and Karus, his teacher. Darshian, meanwhile, was positively presented. It wasn't 100% perfect, but it was definitely better than the Prijian Empire, to the point that several Prij wanted to move there by the end.

I had similar issues with the way Mayl was depicted. At first, I thought she might end up being a more nuanced character. I thought her and Arman's marriage had started off well and then soured, but later it was confirmed that Arman had dreaded his marriage to Mayl right from the start. There was never any attempt to present motivations for her behavior, beyond “she's a horrible person.” Considering the very balanced way in which Arman was characterized, this bugged me. I didn't necessarily need Mayl to be likable, I just wanted her not to be such a flat character.

All in all, I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of this series. I loved these characters and am a little sad that Book 2 jumps 16 years into the future, but I'm hoping that the focus on Karik will allow for a more balanced look at both Prijian and Darshianese societies.

Additional Comments:

This was not an error-free book. There were occasional typos and missing words. They came up often enough that I felt I should mention it, but not so often that they interfered with my enjoyment of the story.

(Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
(reviewed long after purchase)

Review by: Chrissy on April 14, 2013 :
I've read this series so many times and yet it never fails to make me smile. Thank you Ann for writing wonderful, captivating tales. I hope someday you will receive all the recognition you deserve.

I just want to share the reason for why I'm re-reading this for the 3rd or 4th time(...has actually lost count XD) I started reading Lynn Flewelling's "Nightrunner" series which is really action pack but was getting a little frustrated at the lack of intimacy between the main characters. Bluntly, I just can't find many other writers in the genre (m/m fantasy) who have such a lovely writing style with the perfect balance of story and sex. This should definitely be taken as a compliment :)

Thank you again! Sorry this is not much of a proper review. I'll try to do better next time.
(reviewed long after purchase)

Review by: Seline on Jan. 25, 2013 :
This book took me awhile to read. Mostly 'cause it's so long, but also because at times it was heartbreaking. Overal it was a wonderful book, or should I say books. It really read more like 4 books than one divided into 4 parts.
Kei was such an amazing character. He's to kind of person, anyone can't help but like. And if they don't there's something seriously wrong with them.
This book is one of the best I've read in a long time. Definitely one to recommend.
(reviewed long after purchase)

Review by: Fallen93 on March 16, 2012 :
Just finished this sucker last night and...yeah, I really enjoyed it. The first third of the book is really good. I couldn't put it down--read through the night, despite putting the book down a couple of times to sleep, then giving up on the idea. Terrible, when a book is that good. After that, it's still great, but less...tight--for lack of a better word. The editing gets progressively worse as you go through, until the mistakes are on every page, and the plotting gets bogged down with talk.

Overall, very well-written for the genre--much more professional than most. The men are less girly than most in the genre as well, though that devolves after the first half of the book. After the first sex scene, the sex is not outstanding, but there's also not a whole lot of it, so it's not a big deal. There are some interesting ideas here (in terms of politics and ethics), though they're a bit heavy-handed.

Still, definitely recommend it. I'm willing to check out the next volume after reading some other stuff.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)

Review by: julio-alexi genao on Jan. 24, 2012 :
i inhaled this sucker. dithering between beginning on the second volume in the series or stabbing out into something else by the author; safe to say i can't go wrong in either case.

buy. this. book. it's a delight.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)

Review by: julio-alexi genao on Jan. 24, 2012 : (no rating)
i inhaled this sucker. dithering between beginning on the second volume in the series or stabbing out into something else by the author; safe to say i can't go wrong in either case.

buy. this. book. it's a delight.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)

Review by: Michael Joseph on Dec. 02, 2011 :
The best word I can think of to describe Kei’s Gift is "epic" – in the very classical sense of the word. This is a broad tale of the clash of two cultures, set in an alternate world not far removed from Earth’s ancient antiquity. The ‘clash’ is actually an all out war, and against this background our two heroes struggle to find peace, and each other.

On the one side, we have Arman, a general in the Prij army. The Prij seemed to be loosely based on the ancient romans, a militaristic society with a thirst for expansion by conquest, ruled by a capricious young monarch advised by a senate of decrepit old men. The Prij believe they are the only civilized society, and that the peoples they conquer are all barbarians. Arman is an intelligent and honorable man, whose life, especially his evil bitch of a wife, brings him no happiness.

Kei is a gentle healer in a small village in Darshian. He has what the Darshianese call a ‘gift’, the ability to see into people’s souls and know what they’re feeling. People with gifts are rare and highly respected, but the gifts are not always a blessing to the person that has them.

The two men are enemies, on opposite sides of a very unjust war, yet it seems like they are somehow destined to be together. But circumstances, their differences, and their honor, seems to be constantly pulling them apart. At times, it really looks like they will never find happiness.

This is what I would call a very ‘dense’ book, and by that I don’t mean it’s difficult to read. It’s actually quite readable. But unlike many other books of such length, there’s no fluff of unnecessary prose, no lengthy tirades. There are plenty of tirades, against war and stupidity for the most part, but they’re short and to the point. Every word on every page is important and adds to the story. It’s a very rich tale, with sadness, humor, and some real tear-jerking moments near the end.
(reviewed long after purchase)

Review by: tomwild on Oct. 01, 2011 :
Haven't quite finished this book but will highly recommend it. It took me to a completely different world yet a familiar one. Love the characters and have already purchased the sequel . "Falling from the Tree". Excellent story teller.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: Amanda Beyerlein on March 24, 2011 :
I loved the world-building and character development in this book. At times, my eyes prickled with unshed tears at the hardships the two main characters faced, as well as the difficulties the entire cast dealt with, but the overall ending made all the angst worth it. Definitely a book that leaves you feeling that you've left friends behind when you finish it.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: Estara Swanberg on March 08, 2011 :
The Darshian Tales are excellent fantasy (with only a slight touch of the m/m that Ann Somerville is best known for). They explore racism, actions that have consequences even years later, family and community, different forms of government, learning and ignorance, mistakes and how to deal with them, love and growing up - all within a family&friend circle of characters whose focus are two men from very different cultures eventually falling in love and really having to work at making a life for both together.

In this first book there are actually truly evil characters, too (without motivation - Mykis and Senator Medus) - but as her writing gets ever better, all the other bad things that happen naturally evolve out of what has come before and it's an emotionally very satisfying story seeing how the heroes and their friends deal with life and rebuild again and again when circumstances yank security out from under them.

If you've enjoyed reading Sherwood Smith's Inda series, you'll enjoy this book, focusing mostly on Kei's point of view, but with other points-of-view occasionally as needed. The world is logical in itself, with a renaissance fantasy feel and only small but lovely psychic powers included. The focus is on the characters and dialogue, which I very much appreciate.

The book is huge but you never get bored (at medium size font on my Sony PRS505 I have 2000 pages), so I bought the second one right away and read it, too.

Don't buy this for sexxoring, the love is shown, but you get as much in romance books - which I basically see this as - long epic fantasy romance. Think McMaster Bujold Sharing Knife, I think that is even closer than Sherwood Smith.
(reviewed the day of purchase)

Review by: Duane Colwell on March 05, 2011 :
Wow. Ann is terrific. I haven't even finished this book yet but it is wonderful. I read Ann's book 'Remastering Jerna" and was so empressed that I turned around and read it over again from the beginning. She is an amazing story teller. Highly recommended
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: DarkSunshine on March 01, 2011 :
I read by chance some months ago a book wrote by Ann Somerville and loved it. This one didn’t disappoint me.

The story is excellent, full of suspense, with a profound and touching lovestory. The characters are unique and their strong emotions and inner struggles so well described you can’t help falling in love with the story. Once you began reading it, you won’t be able to put it down, a feeling you get how many times you read it !

I highly recommend this book and the other ones related (Bearing Fruit, Homeground and Staying Power).
(reviewed long after purchase)

Review by: Suong Doan on Sep. 28, 2010 :
This is an amazing book, the author creates a fantasy world that draws you in from the start to finish. Despite it's length I found every single moment in this story enjoyable.

I loved the main characters, Kei and Arman are so well written, you will empathize with them throughout the story.

Definitely a wonderful story to read when you have a good amount of time on you hands, you won't want to put it down!
(reviewed long after purchase)

Review by: aoiyume on Sep. 05, 2010 :
i found this by chance a number of years ago and i've read it many times since. i find Ann Somerville to be an imaginative storyteller with well-developed characters and lovely plots. No matter how many times i read it, i get a warm feeling.
(reviewed the day of purchase)

Review by: stine on May 13, 2010 : (no rating)
Kei`s Gift was my first book from this author and I found it so enchanting, that I will read all her other books as well. The Charakters are very vibrant, you can imagine them before your eyes. The story is full of suspense as well as a tender lovestory, that is very touchy without beeing cheap or sappy. I loved very much the charakter of Kei, his gentle but strong soul and his view of live. If you like fantasy and romance, I recommend this book very much.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

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