The Blacksmith’s Apprentice, Bey Deckard
Rating: 4 Stars
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Fantasy, Non Human MCs, Age Gap. *TW: Slavery, Rape, Bigotry
Length: You Pick – Amazon says 274, Goodreads says 372
Purchase At: amazon
Eyck didn’t need anyone.
Eyck lived a good life in South Galetsy. A respected blacksmith, he spent long days making swords for the Border War, and even though he ached by day’s end, the last thing he thought he needed was an apprentice. He had his work and his best friend, Pash, and that was fine.
When Wex showed up on his stoop asking for work, Eyck agreed to take him on—no matter that Wex turned out to be prickly and secretive and an absolute bloody pain in the tail to work with. Well… mostly.
Wex didn’t want anyone.
Wex was tired of just scraping by. A freed slave and ex-convict, Wex was stubbornly determined not to let his breed caste or muteness stop him from carving out a decent life for himself. All he needed was a little help getting there.
Words like “trust”, “love, or even “desire” weren’t part of Wex’s vocabulary, and he didn’t want them to be—those words could enslave just as easily as iron. He was using the blacksmith to learn a skill, nothing more. Problem was, Wex couldn’t get Eyck out of his head.
I believe it’s been a while between books for Bey Deckard. I’ve read quite a few of Deckard’s stories and what I’ve always enjoyed and admired is the sheer diversity of his writing. Check out the catalogue here. I’ve reviewed a fair few of the author’s books as well.
I guess The Blacksmith’s Apprentice is a little different to what I normally read inasmuch as the MCs are not humans, they are Kat’hoondeman. Furry men and women with different colourings, striping or markings to distinguish them. While they’re furry, complete with tails, the emotions are the same as any human. The Kat’hoondemen have a caste system with nine breeds within that system. Xenophobia exists. The Kirman are the lowest caste and are owned as slaves, although we’re told the world is changing. The church wields moral power within the society, the king is for law.
Eyckmigh Stromsmith runs a smithy in South Galetsy. It’s outside his shop talking to his best friend Pash, a priest of the Three Suns, when he first sees Wex, a (part) Kirman slave, being beaten by his owner. Eyck is pissed off but pays the man to get Wex away from him. Wex is young, around “maturity -” whatever that equals in Kat’hoondeman years – when Eyck pays to make him a free man. Eyck doesn’t agree with the religious or cultural take on slavery. He wants to give Wex a bit of security but not long after he’s there, when Eyck has been drinking, Wex offers himself up to a dismayed but also guard-down Eyck who holds Wex’s tail, tails display a lot of meaning in this society. Eyck is appalled at himself. Wex has other ideas about staying in one place and leaves for 5 sun-cycles, which I gathered equated to 5 years, until he then finds his way back to South Galetsy and to Eyck’s forge again.
When Wex comes back he’s grown into a good sized young man, during the absent sun-cycles, and Eyck sees an opportunity to offer him to learn to be a smithy under his tutelage. Wex decides it’s practical to stay and learn the trade. He isn’t interested in Eyck. He isn’t. He isn’t interested in sharing much of his story, and no Kat’hoondeman is to be trusted. While South Galetsy has decent men and women it also has those who aren’t. His slave caste/heritage can be mocked, disparagingly ridiculed.
“That’s a Kirmen, Della. They’re poor and dirty, and he probably has fleas,” the woman said, pitched so Wex would hear. Wex sighed to himself but kept smiling, waving at the little girl. She stuck her tongue out at him and looked away.
Great. Another town full of fucking bigots.
What to say about this book. What to say… It’s a slow, slow burn yet you know there’s an attraction from the outset. Wex has trauma and that trauma is hinted at more than shown on page but what there is on page and what is intimated at is very potent. Wex’s mutism is certainly borne of trauma but it’s more often than not displayed by demeanour – facial tells, body language. Wex has been deeply hurt – physically and emotionally. He’s scared of any and all emotion, so anger is the easiest for him to find and also display. He can’t puzzle out kindness without something required in return. In particular, he’s scared of feeling attached for more than perfunctory needs. Food, a roof over his head, learning a skill, maybe sex, these are all things of a pragmatic, even biological nature. The heart, feelings, they lead you into pain and suffering and stress-inducing mental and somatic experiences. He would rather give himself to men who use him than to someone where there is… something he can’t puzzle out. You can’t concentrate on the strange sensation of this ‘something’ – connection to someone – when you’re concentrating on degradation or on multiple men sexually using you when you don’t even need to get off, or you don’t especially know them. When there is also some money involved it’s a transaction, that is a known quantity.
Eyck is a kind man. An older man, although age is never mentioned. His wife, Manya, died a little while ago. He’s been grieving that loss at the bottom of a bottle. This is one of the areas that existed and then, poof, suddenly didn’t. Once Wex comes back from his sojourn in another part of their world, the beginning of their friendship into something more begins its journey. Wex gives little when Eyck tries to learn bits about him. Clearly the language divide has some effect here. Wex teaches Eyck sign language so they can at least communicate as required, although Wex never makes anything super easy. Eyck likes to have someone to talk to and while he and Pash are friends, Pash goes away on a mission to the frontline of the war for diplomatic purposes. Wex gradually means more and more to Eyck but Eyck isn’t sure that any feelings or desires he has are reciprocated in kind by Wex, and he doesn’t want to upset him or appear like he wants sex, or more. There was that bit of a mix up in the beginning, before Wex left, so Eyck keeps his wants battened down while also being helpful and patient.
Pash and Eyck used to be more than friends before Pash chose priesthood, then Eyck married, but now Pash has some issues with the feelings he sees growing in Eyck toward Wex. It could have caused a lot of drama but Deckard didn’t go full throttle around that. I felt it was pretty realistic, given the characters.
The reason this book doesn’t get 5 stars is because there’s just a bit lacking to the full depth of the MCs. They’re all interesting enough and the feelings about caring and needing common connection in this big old world of ours and in theirs is definitely thought out by Deckard, but it could have been deeper. The other reason it isn’t 5 stars is that from the 80(ish)% mark this story takes a strange, if not interesting, twist. It happened and I was like, ‘uh, that’s… weird’. We go off into an origins tangent.
I liked this story because –
It’s just a little different but, also, the author poured a lot into the similarities between what we know as humans about religious meddling and scriptures used against many over the years, including slavery, same-sex marriage, and people’s behaviour. There is enough relatable writing – feelings, jobs, life’s curveballs, our ability to empathise, or not, and our ability to look down on someone because of their
skin colouring fur, our preconceived ideas, our ability to be wonderful or cruel, written from a different angle to help us invest in this world. So the world building and characters were enough to give the reader a sense of a different time and place.
The characters were worth investing both time and real emotion in. Eyck is a nice man. Kind and open. He tries to be aware. Wex is easy to feel sympathy for but not always the easiest to like, but why would he be? He self-harms through some activities, and other’s harm him. Slave. Traumatised. Mute. Wex’s complexity felt real. His slowly coming to the conclusion that these feelings he has for Eyck are fine, natural, safe was nice to see. It has a good ending.
Just because Eyck was married to a female does not make this a bi awakening storyline, something I’m not teribbly fond of. Wex was with Pash (M) before Manya (F) and Wex after that. He’s fluid. It’s not made a fuss of. It feels organic. I was so glad.
Welcome back, Bey Deckard. You’re an author I like to read. I hope you have more books in store for readers because your storytelling is appreciated. For The Blacksmith’s Apprentice it’s 4 Stars!
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