Rating: 3 stars
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Sully is a Rider—part of the king’s army but outside of their command structure, a group tasked with bringing law and order to the land through unquestionable judgments of guilt and almost limitless power over the common citizens. Sully’s life is simple and uncomplicated. He’s universally respected everywhere he goes because of his position and there’s always a free tankard of ale and a willing bed partner for him wherever he goes between assignments. It’s a life filled with intense periods of action and excitement bracketed with simple pleasures and Sully’s content and satisfied. Until one night in a local tavern spent breaking up a brawl and rescuing a bright-eyed, beguiling boy who should in no way arouse his interest but does, irrevocably complicating his life in the process.
Tylan’s used to hiding who and what he is from everyone around him, so it’s not difficult to hide his true identity from the sexy Rider who saves him during the fight in the tavern. What is difficult, however, is hiding the strong attraction he feels for the other man. But that doesn’t seem to be much of a concern when Sully makes it clear that he’s just as attracted to Tylan—a situation that leads to a hayloft, a few bruises, and a night of unforgettable passion. Both men are content in the knowledge that they will likely not see each other again after their one night together despite how much they might wish it differently, until Sully is summoned by the king.
The king wants Sully to train his clumsy, shy, weakling son to ride a horse and fight with a sword before his impending marriage to a princess from neighboring lands, fearing that if her family sees his son as he is now that they will call off the marriage treaty. Though Sully thinks his skills as a Rider are wasted on such trivial pursuits, he’s committed to serving his king in any way required of him. He’s far less committed when he discovers the king’s son, the prince, is actually the boy he bedded in the hayloft.
Sully wonders how the confident, beautiful boy he met in that tavern can be the same shy, sullen, withdrawn figure the king presents to him. Sully only understands when Tylan reveals that his shy incompetence is just an act to keep his father from discovering his darkest secret, a secret which their laws would see him executed for—Tylan is a sorcerer. Despite his numerous misgivings and all his instincts telling him to back away from this situation, Sully stays in the castle and begins trying to teach Tylan some control over his magic so he doesn’t accidentally out himself, but the constant contact renews their passion and they fall back into bed with each other. Now Sully must keep not only his growing feelings for Tylan under wraps, but the secret of his magic as well, or the consequences for both men could be fatal.
Everything comes to a head when Tylan ends up spending his wedding night in Sully’s arms rather than those of his new wife and their secret relationship is discovered. When Sully is taken into custody and sentenced to be executed, Tylan reveals his magic in an attempt to save him. Sully must figure out a way to get both of them out of danger before they’re both executed—all for the crime of falling in love.
I think this is another case of a great idea being hampered by the length of the book. I loved the setup for this book and even the conflict/climax was dramatic and entertaining, but there just felt like there was so much missing from this story that I could never fully invest in it. The characters were a little flat because there wasn’t really any time devoted to developing them before everything fell apart around them and consequently when everything did go to hell, I wasn’t nearly as concerned about their fates as I might have been otherwise.
Sully was the biggest example of this. Despite the fact that we were in his POV throughout the entire book, I never got a feel for who he was beyond a mindless brute. There’s only one aspect to his personality—he’s a Rider. It’s almost like he’s convinced himself that being a Rider isn’t just a vocation, it’s an entire set of behaviors he must adhere to. He’s rough and callous with Tylan their first time together because that’s just how Riders are with their sexual conquests, and he expects special treatment from the townspeople because he’s a Rider, and he’s distant and cold to Tylan when he arrives at the castle because a Rider can’t afford to get attached. Every single thing in his life revolves around him being a Rider and that could have been a fascinating concept had it been explored and not just presented as ‘fact.’
On the other hand, Tylan was the same way in the opposite direction. His life is a fascinating dance of hiding who he is with this constant ruse of being useless as a son and a prince and finding time away to be his true self, which again, would have been so fascinating but wasn’t ever really explored either. He also never really comes into his own. He starts the story as the nervous, frightened boy relying completely on Sully to protect him and he ends the story the same way. There is no growth for either of these characters.
The romance between them was sweet at times, but it was definitely instalove and without really knowing who either of these characters really were, it all felt a little hollow. Sully goes from wanting nothing to do with Tylan to professing his love for him in the space of a few days and it just felt really insincere. I think more time developing the characters and their relationship would have improved this story greatly.
Conversely, I did enjoy the fantasy elements of this story. Tylan’s magic and the way it worked felt like the most developed part of this story and was definitely the most enjoyable. His efforts to control it and the inevitable point when his secret is discovered were the only part of this story I was invested in. The descriptive language used in these segments painted a much more vivid picture than anywhere else in the story.
I was however very disappointed with the ending as it was far too abrupt. It just ended, with several questions left unanswered about the character’s safety, what’s in store for them, where they go next, and their relationship. I’m hoping for a sequel to answer some of these questions, because honestly that’s the only plausible explanation for why this book ended in the place it did.
Lovers of fantasy tales might be able to look past the other anemic parts of this book and enjoy the well-crafted fantasy elements here. For everyone else I’d suggest giving this one a pass.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.