Reviewed by Elizabetta
TITLE: The Adorned
AUTHOR: John Tristan
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: 280 pages
BLURB: My name is Etan, and I am Adorned.
A living piece of art, I exist to please the divine rulers of Kered. With nowhere to turn after my father died, I tried my luck in the capital city. Little did I know how quickly I would be robbed, beaten and forced to sell myself into servitude. But I was lucky enough to gain the attention of Roberd Tallisk, an irascible but intriguing tattoo artist who offered to mark me with enchanted ink for the enjoyment of the nobles. I was given a chance to better my station in life, and I could not refuse.
But the divine rulers want not only the art but the body that bears it. In their company I can rise above the dregs of society and experience a life most only dream of, at the cost of suffering their every desire as a pawn in games of lavish intrigue. Their attention is flattering, but I find I’d rather have Tallisk’s.
Caught between factions, I learn that a revolution is brewing, one that could ruin Kered—and Roberd and myself along with it…
I’ve been looking forward to reading another fantasy work by this author after having enjoyed his “Forest of Glass” some time ago. I remember that work for its richly descriptive writing and world building, and “The Adorned” doesn’t disappoint. The story is laid down like a carefully crafted painting as brush stroke by brush stroke, this other world is revealed. Vivid and haunting, more than anything, it is the storytelling that sets it apart.
“When we do our work well, no one sees our bodies as bared flesh. We are moving art.”
The Adorned are youths chosen for their flawless, physical beauty. They are blank canvases for master tattoo artists, known for their exquisite and highly sought after designs. Those lucky enough to become indentured to these masters can also enter into a patronage by members of the ruling class, the Blooded. This mysterious clan, set apart and rumored to have descended from the gods, has an insatiable appreciation for beauty, and their pursuit of decadent pleasure and debauchery can make the reputation of an Adorned.
An Adorned is contracted by these wealthy patrons for display– as well as other carnal services– as their body art progresses. There is a mysterious something else that sets their tattoos apart and distinguishes them as ‘adorned’ but the story must be read to discover what that is. This is an outrageously rarified world these tattooed youths move in. And it’s risky stuff, considering the troubled times where many in the populace eke out meager subsistence and often go hungry– in fact, the story has a feeling of the last days of Marie Antoinette’s French court.
Nineteen-year-old Etan Dairan has nothing left in the world. His father has suddenly died and left debts that have eaten up Etan’s legacy. He has been softly reared and well educated but his options are limited and he finds himself on the street. Luckily for Etan, he comes to the notice of Roberd guild-Meret Tallisk, perhaps the finest tattoo-master in the country. Etan, becomes Etan writ-Tallisk, and over the course of a five-year indenture, turns his body over to the artist’s incredible designs… to become Adorned.
“I was like a midnight garden, my Adornments almost glowing green… here and there a barely-opening blossom in blue…”
Etan earns his keep by display contracts for the Blooded and in particular, Count Helsin Karan, a primary patron.
“There were men in the fine clothes of the Blooded and their companions, and with them were the Adorned, flashes of moving color in the dark crowd… the men laughed, loosened by wine, and their hands were freer with the Adorned than they would have been with ladies… I felt suddenly like a minnow in a pond of sharks, their toothy grins all turned on me… I saw the Count at last, and he—the sleekest, swiftest shark in the pond—saw me.”
Even though Etan can also be contracted for sex there is very little of it in the story. The story’s sensuality mostly exists in the writing and in the description of this world and the unfolding interaction between Etan, Tallisk and Count Karan. It would seem that Etan is set-up for life; he will be well cared for and be able to make a very lucrative living after his service to Tallisk is completed. But these are troubled times and Etan finds himself pulled between loyalty to Master Tallisk and the machinations of the Blooded.
The story moves sedately, carefully building the relationships and tension. There is intrigue, political scheming, and violence. And there is romance. Etan’s journey from penniless orphan to courtier and beyond is captivating. This was a treat to read, itself a work of art, and is highly recommended.
Elizabetta is one of the official reviewers on The Blog of Sid Love.
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