Rating: 3.25 stars
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Prince Severin of Arcathia knows he needs to marry and produce an heir. Yet he has no interest in the princesses being brought before him. When touring the neighboring country of Oscia with his tutor, the wizard Ildar, Severin comes across a slave auction. Slavery is illegal in his home country and Severin hates its practice in Oscia. He has enough money to purchase one slave, and so he does, planning to set him free as soon as they are back within Arcathia’s borders. He doesn’t have enough money to save them all, but at least he can help this one man, Havyn.
Havyn has been a slave all his life, and he is now near starved, as well as weak and injured. Ildar helps to heal Havyn, and during the journey home, the men discover that Havyn has magical powers all his own. He is a Truth Seeker, someone who can tell a person’s true motivations or know when he is lying. Ildar offers to take Havyn on as an apprentice wizard, training him to one day take over as the royal wizard. Havyn can hardly believe his luck to not only find a master who will free him, but also to find himself someone with magical abilities as well as with an opportunity to have a new, good life. He also finds himself attracted to Severin, but Ildar makes it clear that spilling his seed will ruin his magical abilities and so he mustn’t get involved with the handsome prince.
When the men return home to Arcathia, Severin learns that his father has arranged a marriage for him with the niece of the Oscian king. The two countries used to be one, but they have been separated and at war for years. The kings both hope that a union in marriage will bring about peace for the countries. Severin has no interest in marrying a woman, but knows he must for the good of his people. He is drawn to Havyn, and would much rather spend his life with the young wizard, but he knows that is impossible as he needs an heir. However, things don’t go smoothly as the group travels to Oscia for the wedding, and more trouble finds them when they arrive. Along the way they learn more about Havyn’s past and secrets about Oscia, as well as about the magical beings the Aldari. In the midst of it all, Severin and Havyn hope to find a way to be together and find the happiness they both seek.
Gisby creates a well developed (if somewhat traditional) fantasy world in this story full of royalty, magic, political marriages, and countries at war. The various lands are distinct and the story has a nice epic feel as the men follow along their journey throughout the book. I liked the incorporation of the magical world with the political one and thought that Havyn’s transition from slave to wizard was an interesting twist. The plot definitely took some turns I wasn’t expecting which helped pull the story away from its more traditional beginnings.
However, this story just fell somewhat flat for me and I am not quite sure why. I think I just had a hard time feeling engaged with any of these characters and especially getting any spark between Severin and Hayvn. We are told what they are thinking and feeling, but I never really got a good sense of them. I think it is just a case of too much telling and not enough showing. We know that Severin likes men and doesn’t want to marry. But I never felt any real emotion from him, even when he learns a marriage with a woman has been arranged. And Havyn has had these horrific life experiences as a slave. He should have been so sympathetic and as a reader I should have really felt his painful past, and the joy of his new life. But again, there was just not enough emotion there to make me feel engaged. The relationship between them felt similarly bland. All I could get from them was a mutual attraction. To be honest, the men spend almost no time alone together, and during the time Havyn is training with Ildar in the castle they rarely see each other at all. So I had a hard time feeling anything between them other than physical, and even that felt somewhat muted. These guys were both likeable, along with the many other characters, but I just couldn’t feel anything for them. So without the emotional investment in these characters, I had somewhat of a hard time maintaining my interest in the story.
As I said, I think Gisby does a nice job of creating an epic feel for this story with some interesting twists. However, at times I felt there were a lot of ideas that never really connected or things that happen that aren’t really explained. For example, while some aspects of the prologue become clear over the course of the story, the connection between it and what happens later in the book is never fully clear. At one point Havyn gets ill, but I didn’t really understand what caused it (it seemed to be seasickness, but then suddenly something different). The king of Oscia is strangely evil and makes totally crazy decisions (both in the past and present), but it was never clear to me why. We get detail on the rules of magic, but then I did not always find them consistent. I think in many ways the author has created an interesting world here, but it just needed a lot tighter development to tie things together.
Overall I found this an interesting setup with a nice epic journey, but I needed more to make this story fully come together for me.