Inherent Gifts is set in a dystopian future of food shortages, break-down in technological communications and other inconveniences. Many of these are offset by the appearance of many individuals with mysterious gifts; those with a speed gift often work as messengers, while others have a gift of healing. In some states, however, there is a sharp division between those with ‘mind gifts’ including healing and telepathy and ‘physical gifts’ such as speed or strength. In those states, children with a physical gift are taken from their families at age thirteen and condemned to a life of slavery, without human rights.
Jere, a young doctor with a powerful healing gift, grew up in a non-slaveholding state, Sonova. Unexpectedly, he learns that his old mentor, former lover, and professor Burghe has died and bequeathed him his lucrative practice as town doctor in Hojier. Struggling to build his career, Jere can’t refuse this opportunity, even though it means relocation to the alien world of a slave state.
Jere is even more disconcerted to find himself the owner of an assistant, Wren, who suffered horrific burns in the fire that killed his master. After healing the boy of his physical injuries, Jere finds that Wren is also deeply traumatised from sustained and horrific abuse, forcing Jere to face unpleasant facts about his old lover.
A gentle, easygoing fellow, Jere is hugely uncomfortable in the face of Wren’s flinching servility, while the damaged slave struggles to adjust to a master who insists on treating him as a human being. Gradually, however, a fragile bond of trust develops between the two of them, so that Wren feels safe enough to reveal a little of the real personality behind the shrinking slave.
This story worked perfectly for me as a hurt/comfort romance; Jere’s kindness and gentleness, his entire disinterest in the role of the master foisted on him by society offset the heartrending cruelty suffered in the novel by Wren and others, and the callousness and injustice of the society into which he is thrown.
The depiction of their relationship is sensual and enjoyable reading without ever letting you forget that Wren is still deeply damaged by what he suffered; the legacy of Burghe persists after his death. Without Jere’s sweetness, the novel would be a lot harder to read.
As well as being an erotic romance, Inherent Gifts is also a shrewd look at how abuse can become entrenched both systemically and at the level of personal relationships. While Burghe is remarkable (though not unique) in his sheer dedicated sadism, we also see cruelty and degradation in more banal form, perpetrated unthinkingly by otherwise decent individuals towards their slaves. The author shows how the system of slavery poisons and brutalises relations within families as well as between masters and slaves.
Inherent Gifts is an angsty, romantic, sad and thought-provoking read. The few loose ends in the novel leave me hopeful that a sequel may be forthcoming…