Review: Aleksey’s Kingdom by John Wiltshire

Alekseys-KingdomRating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


Aleksey and Nikolai have escaped the zealotry of Aleksey’s uncles in Hesse-Davia and established themselves in the beautiful and terrible New World. Whatever their new situation lacks in courtly intrigue, kingly duties, and other such trappings, it more than makes up for by merely providing a chance for these two men to love each other openly and freely—at least within the confines of their own so-called kingdom.

Yet all is not perfect…Aleksey ventures to a nearby colony and being the sociable, utterly likable man that he is, befriends several of the soldiers and other colonists. This causes no small amount of angst for Nikolai who comes to fear that perhaps he alone is not enough to satisfy his younger lover. Things quickly head south when Aleksey volunteers the pair of them to accompany a small band of colonists to investigate a inexplicably deserted colony just a day’s ride north of the ad hoc boundary to Aleksey and Nikolai’s parcel of land.

challenge month 2016The small group is a motley crew, including a pair of trappers who seemingly know nothing about their professed trade and a mother and son who weave near perfect scenarios meant to entrap their fellow travelers in compromising positions. The group, combined with an almost tangible sense of dread upon arrival at the eerily deserted colony, all work to unsettle Aleksey and Nikolai. Strange occurrences begin happening and the suspicion slowly grows into something more sinister. Together, Aleksey and Nikolai must find a way to work through their own insecurities to focus on the real dangers…and as the bodies begin to pile up, they understand time is critical and there are no guarantees.

All told, I thought this was an excellent follow-up to the first story, A Royal Affair. Given the setting and the time-frame (and the fact that I’m an American), I found this story more relatable even though Nikolai makes a decided shift away from being a man of science into a man of certain faith. Our main characters continue to interact with that delightful spark of snarky sarcasm laced with quiet admissions of their true emotions.

For your reading pleasure, here is an example of Nikolai and Aleksey’s continued chemistry (Reminder: Stephen is Aleksey’s nephew, whom he made heir to the throne; Nikolai served as a colonel for Aleksey in the first book):

“I cannot believe that you think the only reason I do not return to Hesse-Davia is because I am afraid of hurting Stephen’s feelings. Are you really so stupid, Niko?” He hit me. “Niko? Are you?” His questions were always rhetorical; I had not realized I was actually supposed to answer this one.

“What? No. Yes? Sorry, what was the question?”

“Oh, you are—I could return to Hesse-Davia whenever I want, Nikolai. My uncles are dead. Stephen would release the throne to me willingly. I do not return because of you! Hesse-Davia is no longer my life—you are. Is this really news to you? Seriously, tell me that you had worked this out by now, being the great doctor and man of science and reasoning I once thought you were.”

“Once thought?”

“Niko!”

“Yes! I know that!” I paused and added in a low voice, “You would make it clearer, of course, by occasionally sitting with me at meal times.”

“Oh, did my poor colonel have to open his mouth and join in some conversation?”

“Yes.”

While I do enjoy seeing them making just these kinds of exchanges, it sometimes did turn me off a bit…like their connection is defined by their snark and tempered by sex and that’s about the sum total of it. Yet even as I say that, there is a wonderful set-up before the main action starts that address Aleksey’s dedication to Nikolai. Better still, there are threads picked up throughout the story that follow-up on their emotional short-comings and at least one scene where they face the lack of touchy-feely emotional closeness head-on and come out the better for it, I’d say. And that’s in spite of how often these two bump uglies—so just working on that emotional aspect of their relationship really does not inhibit their libido. I guess it’s the best of both worlds; I’m just glad we got to see them—to paraphrase Nikolai—pay attention to their hearts and not just their dicks.

The big departure for this story is how much it reads like a murder mystery thriller. At first blush, it reminded me of a sexed up (and m/m) version of something by Christopher Pike or R.L. Stein—you know, how there’s obviously something afoul going on and you’re trying to put the pieces together. It’s worth mentioning that this story is narrated exactly the same as A Royal Affair was narrated—as a written account created by Nikolai. Despite the narrator (Nikolai) obviously having the benefit of hindsight as he wrote the account, the words on the page leave you entirely with the mystery so you’re not going to figure anything out until Nikolai does on-page. (That is, unless you’re good at solving puzzles with key pieces missing or know of some true story that might be similar?)

I really enjoyed watching the relationship between Aleksey and Nikolai grow and deepen despite the atrocious situations they encounter. I enjoyed hating on the characters you’re obviously supposed to hate (that insidious mother and her wicked child!)—and yet Nikolai realized that we are all products of our environments, leaving him to wonder, wonder, wonder about that woman and her circumstances. The set-up for the main plot about investigating the suddenly deserted/abandoned colony was perfect; I thought Wiltshire did a great job starting that off as simply a fancy Aleksey had to pursue some adventure that grew into a great rope to ensnare character and reader alike. The ending wraps things up in such a way that gave me great relief. Although Nikolai definitely leaves behind any intimations of being a man of science (coming instead to favor a Great Spirit type of spirituality), the ending satisfactorily explained just what unfolded at the deserted colony.

There was just one thing that irked me and it was more writing style than actual content of the story/portrayal of the characters. Time after time after time after time we are given these blunt-as-a-butter-knife snippets of foreshadowing. One or two well-placed “…and if I’d know that BEFORE…” can be an effective way to bate the reader. I felt like every break in prose (not even just ends of chapters, but those scene-breaks or whatever within chapters) ended with these clunky allusions to future actions. I found them distracting and exasperating and thankfully, they dropped off once we got into the thick of the action.

That said, if you liked the first story, you’re sure to enjoy this second one just as much. I thought it was great that the change in setting gave us a change in style (again, more of a mystery thriller set up). The main characters are just a deliciously involved with one another (yeah, they have sex about three times per page in some chapters). The main supporting cast (i.e. that woman and her hellspawn) are trope-y but memorable; the others are much less-so, but then I’m not reading this book to find out about them so I was okay with that. All in all, this is a highly entertaining read.

camille sig

Comments

  1. This does sound like an intriguing pair of books. Thanks for the balanced review, Camille.

    • I really liked how we get to see more of the same two lovers in a completely new situation, and one that challenges them to reconsider the status quo of their relationship. Plus, there’s fun-fun horror-mystery!

  2. Thanks for the informative and detailed review.  This is a new series to me, so will have to go check it out.

    • The interaction between the two main characters was a huge draw for me–there are plenty of book where the characters, individually, are interesting but fizzle out together. Both books in this two-book series highlight the interplay between Niko and Aleksey.

  3. Love this reading challenge month, i haven’t heard of this serie but after reading your review on book two i’m definitely intrigued so thank you.

    • The first book kept me on pins and needles about a HEA and I thought the second book worked hard to develop more emotional connection (without sacrificing the MCs physical connection, *winkwink*)

    • Glad you are enjoying the challenge! And I haven’t read this either but Camilles reviews totally make me want to give it a go!

  4. I actually didn’t know about this series, but it does sound really fun! The blend of genres looks intriguing, too…

    • I was taken by surprise at the blend of genres, too. Historical fiction with a bit of mysticism (this gets more throughly explored in book 2), plus MCs that I thought paired well together–not just two attractive, hornbills (I mean, there is that) but I liked their dynamic, too.

  5. Great review. I like real series with a continuation in the plot and Wiltshire is a new author for me so maybe I should give it a try.

    • To be clear, the plot doesn’t really “continue.” That is to say, if you’re thinking it’ll be like Harry Potter or Whyborne and Griffin where elements resurface at strategic locations…then I’m afraid I’ve given the wrong impression. They face similar dilemmas–like how to be the devoted couple can be just as hard to figure out in the ever-shrinking New World as it was in the Old World and their world-view (and self-image, too). Just be aware that the specifics of book 1 only extend to book 2 insofar as they pertain to our two MCs.

  6. I haven’t read this series — well, I tried book #1 and ended up DNF-ing it. I guess Wiltshire’s style isn’t for me. But then again, maybe I can try his other works and see whether it’s true or that I need a different theme? Anyway, thanks for the review :)

    • I think I get where you’re coming from…I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish the first book last year, I was constantly worried a horrible end would befall one of the two MCs (just because the world seemed that harsh as Wiltshire wrote it). I’ve yet to try his other stuff, but I’d be game to give it a go!

  7. I haven’t read this series yet either, but have enjoyed the other books from John Wiltshire I have read. Thanks for your review.

  8. I’ve never heard of this series but it sounds so good. I wish I’d known about it yesterday when Dreamspinner had everything on sale…but I’m definitely putting it on my wish list. :-)

    • We’ve all been there, missing things but thismuch. I really enjoyed these two books, the chemistry between the MCs is something I’ve not encountered in many books so if that’s something you like to see, I think you’ll be satisfied!

  9. Thanks for this review!  I’m already a huge fan of John Wiltshire as his More Heat Than the Sun series is one of my favorite series of all time.  I’ll need to add these to my TBR pile!  

    • I liked this series so much, another Wiltshire made it into my TBR pile…by the time I got serious, though, I realized it was #8 of More Heat than the Sun series (and being the lazy person that I am, I never reconfirmed if these needed to be read in order). I’d be curious to see what non-historical Wiltshire reads like, though!

      • They definitely have to be read in order. I know reading an 8 book series seems daunting, but Ben & Nik are worth it. Every book is an adventure and their love story is truly epic. I really can’t put into words how amazing MHTTS is.

        • Oh, i’m usually just fine with extended series! Cut & Run, Whyborne & Griffin, Nightrunner, Harry Potter! I’ll def look into MHTTS

  10. I chose the first book as reading challenge book with my friends and they all eventually DNFed, probably because of the writing style and length of story. I enjoyed these two books a lot though. Aleksey’s Kingdom read as more of an adventure slash pioneer story for me, like Little House on the Prairie met Robinson Crusoe.  

    • A few times, I’ve gone to Amazon to read the negative reviews of books I’ve read and rather liked. This series was one of them. I honestly don’t get how people feel the MCs are lacking in the “they’re good for each other” department, but…no one thinks their opinion is wrong, do they? I never would have thought to compare this to LHOTP or Robinson Crusoe (but then, I’ve never read them). It didn’t feel as old-time Americana as all that to me (but again…opinions!)

  11. I haven’t read this series yet, in fact I haven’t read anything by this author as of date. I’m on the bend about this. it sounds intriguing but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get too into the book. Thank you for the review!

  12. I hadn’t heard of this series before but I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the review.

  13. I haven’t read any of Wiltshire’s before, but I’m a fan of Christopher Pike and the journal storytelling method, so maybe I should check this series out. 

    • Both the first and second books are told via letters written by Nikolai, but it’s not in journal form per se (definitely not like Ella Minnow Pea, if you know that book, which felt like charming reimagining of the basics in Animal Farm…anyway, Ella Minnow Pea is entirely told in correspondents between residents of an island nation off the coast of NC, i think it was?).

      That said, I definitely thought the suspense was spun out like Pike’s work. Let me know if you agree!

      • Oh, letters are great too. I’m just a fan of the epistolary form, so if it’s letter or journals or emails or IMs or tweets…there’s this one book I love that’s told in all the ways, with newspaper clippings and telegrams (yes, it’s an old book), so that’s all cool to me. I haven’t read Ella Minnow Pea (such a cute title), but I’m intrigued by how someone took Animal Farm and made it charming!

  14. Great review, Camille. I must recognise I purchased the first book in this series some time ago, but I could not bring myself to read it yet. Your review has changed my mind about it. I have one question. Is this series complete already or is John still working on it? Because I hate waiting for the next book…

    • I hate waiting for the next books in any series, too! Especially if you’ve managed to start a series and you don’t know if the author will or won’t continue it! (I have one like that…er, actually, two.)

      As far as I know, there are only 2 books in the Royal Affair Series. Amazon states this is a 2-book series, and John Wiltshire’s own website only lists 2 books. You should be good to go! (I wouldn’t mind more books with these characters! As they are, the plots for each book are entirely self-contained. In my own opinion, there are no cliff-hangers)

  15. This has been on my TBR pile ever since I read the first book in the series a few years back. I loved “A Royal Affair” – so much so I was kind of reluctant to read any of the rest of the series in case they didn’t match up! Maybe it’s time to give the next one a try…

    • Oh, I hear you! I was definitely wary of A Royal Affair…those first chapters before Nikolai meets Aleksey, but sees how hideously rough Hesse-Davia is towards homosexuals. I was reluctant to get into it because I thought there was no way Niko and Aleksey would end up together (to be perfectly honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure it was even M/M when I first started)

      I’d say the writing styles and characterizations are definite matches. The stories themselves feel almost wildly different–the first one felt like a romance adventure, and rightly so since it takes place in a European kingdom at said kingdom’s royal court. The second one was definitely felt like a suspense/horror story and with the rough-and-wild New World (i.e. colonial not-yet-America) and new cast of supporting characters, a bit more insular.

      But, like I’ve said in both reviews, the Aleksey/Nikolai dynamic continues in almost exactly the sam vein, but it grows in gratifyingly emotional ways in the second book…so that kept me, at least, very satisfied.

  16. I’ve never heard of this series before but your review makes it sound really interesting! I’ll have to add the 1st book to my TBR pile.

  17. I’ve never heard of this series, but I love me a good fantasy–especially if there’s a mystery involved!

    • Oh, oh, oh! I am so sorry if I gave the impression this book or it’s predecessor (A Royal Affair) are fantasy. They are not really fantasy (the second book has some vague gestures towards Native American spiritualism, but not out and out fantasy. More accurately, these ought to be considered historical fiction…the locale in book one is a fictitious European kingdom called Hesse-Davia, but I don’t think that’s enough to qualify for a “fantasy” label. The sequel takes place in colonial not-quite-America-yet.

      That said, if you like mystery types, the second book would probably appeal. You could probably read it as a stand-alone because of the near complete division of settings/characters (save the MC…they’re an established couple; that couple-ness gets established in book one).

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