Monday, November 21, 2016

Learning to Want by Tami Veldura Blog Tour

Khoram is an enforcer, a bodyguard, but his boss has just betrayed him. Now he's stranded on a desert planet he's never heard of, chained to the only other human around.

Atash grew up in the cracks of Dulia's complex social structure, where dominance and submission are a man's worth. He's struggled for years on a lower caste but Khoram could be his ticket to a better life if they can find common ground.

Atash wants to teach Khoram the art of submitting by choice and maybe make a name for himself along the way. Khoram, however, isn't here to play Atash's political games. He's going to escape, if his former employer doesn't see him killed first.

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Khoram was still suspicious. It was the promise of new clothing, proper clothing, that eventually coaxed him into the water. He did want to scratch the grime and dust off his skin—and the feeling of the auctioneer’s hand—Khoram yanked his pants off in defiance. He wasn’t going to let their presumption make a prisoner of him in his own skin. The chains and collar did that well enough. He might be a slave, but that was only temporary. He didn’t need to navigate this sand-backward society any longer than a day or so.

The water was lukewarm, an oddly satisfying temperature given the searing heat outside. He submerged several times. The desire for soap spiked, and he spent minutes scratching a coarse bar around his body. It didn’t foam much, but when Khoram rinsed, his skin was tight and clean. He sighed in relief. With the first rush of the bath behind him, he surveyed the tray of cleaning items for a moment and decided the majority were unnecessary. He stepped out of the bath, the chain cold on his back as it followed him out.

A towel had joined the new clothing. Khoram rubbed himself down, knowing his hair would be wild with spikes. He didn’t have anyone here to impress. Unfortunately, the clothing proved to be an unexpected obstacle. He spent several minutes turning the fabric over in his hands, unable to make sense of it.

Atash spoke from just behind him, “You could go naked if you prefer.”

Khoram tensed. Go naked. Like the Ohiri pets. And no doubt be available for anyone with a spare hand. Khoram twisted his mouth into a frown and turned to face Atash, only to see a smile playing around Atash’s lips. He was joking. Khoram huffed. The man held out his hand for the cloth, and Khoram reluctantly turned it over. He wanted clothing more than he was wary of Atash fondling him.

He oriented it and spread the woven, white fabric. “Step through here.”

Khoram did so with minimal hesitation. Except for that moment at the slave block when Atash had claimed him with a hand on his shoulder, this was the closest they’d been. Hot air billowed between them. Khoram outweighed his master by twice at least, but he wasn’t going to risk an escape attempt just yet. Not with this chain sunk into the ground. He also didn’t know enough about Atash to predict how he would react. And there was still the matter of his electric prod to consider.

Khoram placed his much larger hand on Atash’s shoulder for balance and stepped through. If his master was surprised at the contact, none of it translated through the firm muscle Khoram gripped. Atash slid the fabric up. A series of layers nestled between his legs. “Hold that up.” Khoram held.

Then Atash tightened a series of folded loops around Khoram’s abs and torso. He tossed the fabric over one shoulder and wove it back down until it was secure. Whatever he was wearing, it was not at all like the Ohiri slaves’ dress.

“If you need to go to the bathroom, tug a bit, here.” Atash indicated a sash without invading any more of Khoram’s space.

Khoram touched the fold, noticing its give. A convenience if it took two people to dress him.

“Are you still hungry?”

Khoram narrowed his eyes, his curiosity finally overriding his better sense. “Why are you treating me like a prize rather than a slave?”

Atash clasped his hands gently in front of himself. “The two are not mutually exclusive.”

So he was a slave. And for some reason, a valuable one. “What do you want with me?”

“Right now? Nothing except to see to your needs.” Atash recovered the chain key and unlocked Khoram from the stone in the ground. “Tonight I’m hosting the quad Serket. You met them at the auction.”

Khoram remembered the Frea’s black hand on his chest and wasn’t eager to repeat the occasion.

“During dinner I need you to stand quietly at my side. I don’t expect it will be much of a hardship.”

“Stand there?” There had to be a catch.

“Serket took a liking to you at the auction, as did a number of other Frea. You may have noticed you’re different in every way to the popular slave species of choice.” Atash gestured out of the baths, holding Khoram’s chain leash in one hand. “Serket and others will pay handsomely just to have a good look at you. If you learn how to entertain them, I might be able to secure the attention of a quorum Frea. My status would rise significantly.”

Which meant Khoram was a political piece in some depraved game. He didn’t want to know what entertaining a Frea entailed. In his experience with the kingpin, depravity only worsened the higher in status he went. If the lizardmen were willing to assault him on the auction block in public, the Frea obviously participated in more degrading activities in private.

Atash guided him to a hallway pocketed with doors. They entered one of the last. It was not a holding cell; it was an office. Atash locked him to a ring in true stone among what appeared to be a reference library. Shelves lined the corner and two plush chairs were within the reach of his chain.

Khoram sat. He put his bare feet up on the low table and laced his fingers in his lap. He only needed to last for a day, maybe two, but he couldn’t let Atash catch any hint of a plan. He cleared his throat and asked the obvious question, “Entertain, how?”

Atash glided behind his broad desk. “The Ohiri are pleasureslaves. Frea enjoy their delicate skin and submissive constitution.”

Khoram blinked. “I am neither delicate nor submissive.”

“Indeed.” Atash smiled without looking up from the slate on his desk. “I don’t believe turning you over my breaking horse will win anyone any favors, myself least of all.”

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

I’m rather impressed with how much story Veldura packed into less than 100 pages, especially as Learning to Want is a sci-fi romance with a strong plot. When Khoram’s boss betrays him, he finds himself on an auction block on Dulia. Although one of Khoram’s duties was transporting slaves, he has no knowledge that Dulia’s slave class is made up entirely of pleasure slaves (at least that’s how I read it) and he is unlike any slave they’ve seen before. It’s his differences that call to Atash, not as a slave trainer, but as a man, a man who is half Frea, as a man who has spent his life fearing that he’d never find another to link with and was therefore destined to live a life unfulfilled by a partner. So even as Khoram’s purchase and potential training represents an opportunity for elevating his status in Dulia society, Atash realizes that the personal connection he’s found with Khoram may be even more important.

Even though Atash bought Khoram with the hope of training him to be a pleasure slave, the focus on sex is actually less than I expected, and that’s not a complaint. The Ohiri, the slaves that Khoram was transporting, are the beings that seem to make up most of Dulia’s slave class. What Khoram doesn’t understand, and what is a large part of the story, is that the Ohiri are a natural born breed of submissives. Their main purpose and goal in life is to serve a dominant master, so much so that they see failure as a shame upon their family line. As a free man, Khoram cannot comprehend that the Ohiri are willing slaves because they find pleasure in their service. This is because for Khoram, slavery is imprisonment, a removal of his freedom, and a restriction of his rights. Because of this, Atash has an unexpected challenge on his hands as he has to show Khoram that spankings and giving one’s self over to the control of a master is not something to be tolerated, but something that can be desired, so much so that the submissive will beg for it. In truth, the author has done a very nice job of demonstrating the difference between “traditional slavery” (the abhorrent practice of owning other persons) and the sexual slavery of a submissive, an often misunderstood concept. Sadly, the people who condemn BDSM erotica because of incorrect assumptions regarding the master/slave dynamic won’t benefit from the author’s subtle lesson because they’re unlikely to read Learning to Want.

The main reason I’m not giving the novella five stars is because there are is an incomplete thread of significance with no indication that this is the first book in a series and because the world building felt incomplete. It is never made clear as to why Khoram’s boss turned on him. Khoram shares his suspicions with Atash, but even when Khoram is once again in Zoya’s presence, the issue is not raised – granted, more important events are unfolding and other betrayals being revealed, but the question was left unanswered. My other issue is with the world building. Initially, it felt as though the reader wasn’t supposed to know much about Dulia’s society because Khoram didn’t, and I was on board with that because it allows an author to introduce the world over the course of the book as opposed to an initial info dump. However, when the story was being told from Atash’s point of view, the author missed several opportunities to fill in the blanks for the reader, especially when the scenes allowed for it. Unlike Khoram, I didn’t have access to a library about Dulia, its people, or its societal structure, so this left me struggling at times to understand what was taking place and why things were playing out as they did. As I’m a big fan of sci-fi romances and am able to go with the flow as an author builds the world their characters inhabit, the inability to do so left me frustrated at times when I should not have been, particularly when it was clear that Khoram had gained the knowledge he needed to navigate his new world. Fortunately, the chemistry and connection between Khoram and Atash, and the twist in the story that I didn’t see coming until it was too late, made up for my occasional frustrations. With that said, should Veldura be inspired to write a sequel to Learning to Want, I’ll be bumping it up on my to-read list because I enjoyed her writing and would love to spend more time with Khoram and Atash.

Queer romance, science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and YA fiction author. I’m only here until I reach escape velocity. Artist. Gardener. Gamer. Raynauds. Asexual.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Learning to Want by Tami Veldura to read and review for this tour.

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