Note: This book picks up directly after The Slave, and therefore this review will spoil some of the ending of that story. If you haven’t read that one yet, go grab it because it is fabulous, then head back here for more about the second book.
When Kai was captured and sold as a slave three months ago, he never imagined how much he would come to love his new life. He had a kind, gentle master, and a true friend in fellow slave, Tam. And somehow, despite never before acting on his feelings toward men, Kai managed to find a place in both their hearts and in their bed.
When Granthian mercenaries attacked their compound in Otiz, the fledgling new life Kai was building was suddenly destroyed. Now all three men are captured, Master and Tam are in a cage and nearly dead, and Kai is chained behind as he is forced to hike through the unforgiving desert. Kai knows he should be relieved to see his fellow Granthians and have a chance at freedom. But all he can do is mourn the loss of the life he barely got to live with Master and Tam, and to fear for the safety of the two men he has grown to love.
When the men arrive at the mercenaries’ fort, Master suggests Kai distance himself from him and Tam in hopes of finding favor with the mercenaries and hopefully a means for escape. But the men do not welcome Kai; in fact, they torture him for information, sure that he knows more about his master than Kai is revealing. Despite his grave injuries, Kai’s only thoughts are for Master and Tam. When an opportunity comes to potentially save them, Kai risks his life to try to get help and see them rescued, even as it nearly kills him. But even if the men can finally get free, Kai still isn’t sure if he will fit in. The love between Master and Tam is clear and he wonders if there will ever truly be a place for him. Kai finally found love and contentment with Master and Tam, but the attack may have ruined his chances for happiness and a place in their hearts.
So if you read my review of The Slave, you know I was just blown away by the first book and I could hardly wait a moment to start the second one. This story switches us to Kai’s POV and it does a great job of not just continuing the main story arc, but giving us a window into Kai himself. The Soldier is much more action oriented than the first book and we see these guys in peril pretty much the entire time. Although the mercenaries don’t fully accept Kai, he is still not a total outsider and gets a little more freedom than Tam and their Master. So Kai works hard to help take care of the men he loves, as well as desperately searching for a way to free them. This story is fast paced with lots of excitement and tension as Kai works to save his men, risking his life over and over in the process.
One thing I noticed is how cleverly Aaron matches the tone of the story to the POV character. In The Slave, the book reads very sensually. There is a lot of sex, but also just a lot of intimacy and connections forming between the men. It is about Kai learning to love these two men, and the close bond they have with one another. They live in lush surroundings, swim in the beautiful pool, and have lovely possessions. It fits perfectly with Tam as our POV character because Tam just exudes sensuality and has a need for touch and comfort. In this book, the tone shifts much more toward action, again befitting a soldier like Kai. Although the feelings between the men are very clear, there is virtually no sexual intimacy between them. Instead this story focuses much more on action, on strategy, and on fighting to save all of their lives. It is such an interesting contrast and something that is subtle but works well.
Since we are in Kai’s POV, we get to really understand him much more. Kai has always felt like an outsider, first as a child, and later in the army. We see how with Master and Tam, Kai finally felt himself fitting in and found a place where he was comfortable and loved. But even there, Kai was just learning to be a part of things, instead of always the third wheel between Master and Tam who so clearly love one another deeply. Now he is watching his people destroy his Master’s home and ruin Tam’s life yet again (Granthians were responsible for killing Tam’s family and seeing him sold into slavery as a child). Kai is sure these men can never love him in return after the attack and feels even more on the outside than ever before. He is also disfigured from the torture and thinks they will no longer find him attractive. It is a really interesting insight into a man we previously only knew through Tam’s eyes and it is so heartbreaking to see Kai’s belief that these men can never love him the way they love each other, and his fears they may not want him at all after the attack.
Things aren’t fully resolved here for Kai, or for the larger story arc. Although this one doesn’t end on a cliffhanger like The Slave, this book really is more of a bridge between the first and third books in the trilogy rather than standing fully alone. This seems to be fairly common for middle stories, so I am not too surprised. I did wish for a bit more of an ending resolution in terms of where these guys stand together, as well as some more closure on this part of the story. But I am assuming the final book will tie things up nicely and I am eagerly anticipating reading it.
So this is a great second installment in this fabulous trilogy. Aaron has created amazing characters here, a fascinating story, and a really incredible world. I am loving every minute of it and recommend it highly.
Cover Review: Oh, I love this cover too. It is a perfect match for The Slave cover and I love that they matched Kai’s gorgeous green eyes. I mean yes, he probably didn’t have his eyes lined as he is fighting enemies or trudging through the desert, but I am willing to let it go for the sake of the pretty.