Rating: 3.75 stars
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On a mission to search for anti-virals that will protect his village, Darragh Fergus Anluan is taken by surprise when a group of men find him and take him to the man they called the King of Dublin. Unaware of such a monarchy before the world had fallen around him, Darragh is skeptical at first, but still afraid. When the king offers the medication in exchange for Darragh’s service, he agrees—not that he has a choice.
Ciaran Daly is the king’s Boy. Grand ideals brought him to Dublin years ago, but the tyrant who ruled the city imprisoned him, holding him for ransom. Used by the king and his men, Ciaran’s hope for a better future fled quite some time ago. When the massive man enters the king’s service, Ciaran knows there’s something different about him, and even finds himself opening up intimately and personally to Darragh. He finds his ideals and hope refreshing, even if impossible. But Ciaran’s skepticism keeps him from wanting more from Darragh. After all, the man is only a means to an end.
Darragh’s innocence is rare and Ciaran finds himself attracted to it but also fighting against it as well. As much as he wants to have hope, he knows it’s impossible in Dublin. After their tryst is discovered, Darragh and Ciaran are marked for death, but what the king doesn’t know is that factions are plotting against him and not even he can trust the members of his own court. When the rebels rise up, Darragh and Ciaran escape, but in a world of no certainties, Darragh is constantly trying to discern whether Ciaran’s intentions are true or whether he is using Darragh for his own gain. In a land of hoplessness, will they be able to find hope, or at least trust in their hunt for freedom?
It’s taken me a while to sit down and write this review because I had a lot to think about when this book ended. This one hurt. I was afraid. It made me nauseous at times, disgusted at times, and just plain fearful. But wow… it was a ride. This book is intriguing—not my usual fare, but still interesting. I’ll give it that.
What worked for me best was the contrast between light and dark. Darragh is a ray of sunshine in a world of hopelessness. The feeling of dismay and defeat runs rampant throughout this story, yet there’s this innocence and positivity that shone through Darragh. It’s that contrast that set the tone for this book.
Darragh and Ciaran couldn’t be more different. Like I said earlier, Darragh is everything that is good and honorable in the world. Even in his dark times, when he’s trying to fit into a scary new world, he’s still noble. Ciaran is the jaded cookie in this story. Beaten but not broken—that’s how I like to see him. He’s had a tough go of it, but still fights. He has the heart of a survivor. He knows when to bow to the will of the king and he knows when to fight. And he is definitely a fighter—strong-willed and stubborn. These guys are oil and water, yet they save one another and become a powerful partnership. It took a while, but I ended up really liking these two.
This dystopian society is hard to read. It’s gritty and violent and scary. The men of this story are jaded and fearful. The world that these authors build is amazing. The physical world is one that has been ravished by the elements after a plague that took most of its population along with it. But it’s the emotional world building that is the most spectacular here. The palpable fear and loss that these authors create are fantastic. If nothing else, the world kept me glued to the pages.
I’m not a prude by any means. I don’t discount books for rape or dub-con, but this book has a lot of it—like a lot a lot—and after a while, it was difficult to read. The content was not the problem for me, but the overabundance of the act was disturbing. The one thing I did appreciate in the midst of it was Ciaran’s refusal to ignore it. Regardless of what he’s been through and how he is forced to act in order to survive, Ciaran acknowledges the act and calls it what it is. He hates himself for who he has become, but deep down hopes for better.
Violence and gore are prevalent in this book, so if those subjects turn your stomach this is probably not the book for you. And honestly, it’s usually not my thing, but when used to strengthen this world, I found it relevant. Like a said, it was hard to read those scenes, yet that were impertinent to the storyline and never gratuitous.
I think my biggest problem with this story was the lack of connection between Darragh and Ciaran throughout most of the story. More than once, I wondered if these guys would ever get together. And other times, I wondered if I even wanted them too. Their story ended well for them, and I was pleased with the ending, but the push and pull of their relationship that spanned almost the entirety of the book wore on me after a while.
But these authors are two of my favorites and I couldn’t pass up their first collaboration together. Regardless of my issues with the story the writing of Henry and Belleau engaged me, keeping me locked into this difficult story. Technically speaking, it’s a gem. Written not only in a way that shows readers the meaning of every character, place, and intent in this story, but also written in a way that projects emotions from the page, giving readers no choice but to feel what Darragh and Ciara felt, experience what they experienced.
Overall, this book was good. It was obviously not a normal read for me and one I will probably not pick up again. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it was so hard, so taxing on every piece of my mind. These authors match well, and I look forward to any future collaboration between them. If you like difficult books that make you think, books that aren’t the norm, or angsty, gritty books, this book is definitely for you.