Rating: 4.5 stars
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If you lie with Scorpions, you’d better have a taste for poison…
I really loved this book, but I know the review is going to be as complex to unpick as the book itself. The plot is dense and convoluted, and I will definitely have to read this book over and over to fully appreciate its complexities.
Nevertheless, I will try and dissect it the only way I know how….which is rambling…
Lying with Scorpions is the second book in the Memory of Scorpions series and picks up with Kendras after Adrastes has tentatively taken the throne of Dalman, and tells the tale of the struggle for power that follows. In the previous book, Kendras and Adrastes became lovers (of sorts, as everyone in their clan of Scorpions shares some sort of sexual bond), but in this book, it’s clear from the beginning that things have moved on.
Adrastes is no longer the Officer of the Scorpions, he is now the king, and any hopes I, or indeed Kendras, may have had that his new role won’t change him, are dashed from the start.
While Kendras takes on the vacant role of Officer, Adrastes returns to the power and riches from which he came. While Kendras is uncomfortable with the lavish finery, it’s clear Adrastes isn’t….that he feels right at home. Though he and Kendras continue to share a relationship, sexual and otherwise, it doesn’t feel quite….right. And though I was upset at the demise of a relationship I’d invested in from the previous book, the subtle disintegration of their bond was very well written. I thought I expected it, I did expect it, and yet somehow, it took me by surprise.
The whole book is, as with the first, told entirely from Kendras’ POV. At the heart of the plot is his struggle to find his place as the new Officer of the Scorpions, and his deep-rooted unease with his extra role as Adrastes’ bodyguard. Kendras does not like the King Adrastes’ becomes. While he still feels the bone deep need to protect him, as the book and the political wrangles and struggle for power play out, Kendras becomes more and more disillusioned with Adrastes. The game leaves him uneasy and uncomfortable. Adrastes does things Kendras can’t live with.
And alongside this, Kendras also struggles with his own identity. With the help of some of his own blood clan, nightmares he’s never understood become real and without Adrastes to lean on, he finds himself in the arms of another.
Now, I wasn’t so sure about this at first. Though I felt instantly allured by Graukar’s uber masculine ways– the fighting, the teaching, the way his men followed him, and the way he reached out to Runner, the idea of Kendras having an actual relationship with him didn’t feel right. The tone of it didn’t resonate with me.
But, it was a slow burner, and after a while, I understood how…and why… it happened.
I couldn’t help but wish Graukar was a Scorpion, though. His character seemed to fall flat after a while, and I would’ve liked a little more interaction between Kendras and the Scorpions. I enjoyed his new love interest, and his fading fire for Adrastes, but I did feel sometimes that the point of the series – the unbreakable bond with his men/brothers/lovers –had been left by the wayside. I was disappointed when Kendras didn’t follow through with tradition when he took Kiran up to the mountain (though I understood the physical reasons he didn’t), and it kinda felt like everything Kendras went through on his own initiation was undermined. I was left wondering if Adrastes had lied to Kendras.
But, on the flip side, I am willing to believe this was just me wanting to see Kiran nekkid. Scorpions seem to have that effect on me. I love them all – Dev, Riktan, Selvan.
Selvan, sweet little Selvan. The warm hearted slave provided me with the best feels of the whole book.
From the new characters, I very much enjoyed the mystery of Runner. She is a little spitfire, and I cannot wait for the others to find out she’s a chick. I loved the way she cared for Kendras, trusted him and came back for him when he fell from his horse. She was one of my very favorite characters, which is something, because, by nature, I usually prefer the dudes. Although I have to point out, I applaud the author’s use of transgender characters in general. Amrash, the enigmatic Jaishani general who morphed from male to female from page to page was superbly written. I dug that part, hard.
There were a few occasions where the language felt a little too modern for the book. I’m not going to pick them out as they were very rare and others may not notice them, but it was something I picked up on in the previous book too.
I loved this book.
Lying with Scorpions is a fantasy novel and plays by its own rules. There is no happy ending. In fact, by the time the book draws to a close things are less clear for Kendras than when it started, but I was totally cool with that. I didn’t pick it up looking for the obligatory comforting sap I expect (and enjoy) from a contemporary romance. Multi-layered, dense, rich and wonderful, there is nothing like this out there in this genre. This book and series stands alone in a class apart and I can’t recommend it highly enough. A great book and lesson in the mystery and art of ancient war games, and I can’t wait for the next one.