The reality of war has hit the northern realm of Salenne with a vengeance. The heir to the realm is dead and the two remaining princes are now prisoners of Arturus, the king of the conquering Cortesians. Reve, grieving the loss of his elder brother and his county, finds himself bound into slavery while Leal, his youngest sibling, is made ward to the king. Reve knows to keep Leal safe he must act the slave to his enemies, no matter how he wishes to rebel.
Mathias is Commander of the Cortesian army and resolutely loyal to his king. He used to believe in Arturus’ vision of a vast empire, but now he would rather spend time on his horse farm than fighting wars. When Arturus makes a gift of a captured slave, Mathias finds himself resistant to the break the obviously proud Reve.
As the months pass, Mathias and Reve look past their respective roles and come to care for one another. But a rebellion in Salenne and a growing uneasiness in Cortesa threatens to shatter both countries and destroy whatever chance at happiness Mathias and Reve might achieve.
I’ll be honest, my blurb of In Allegiance, doesn’t do it justice. This book captured my attention from page one and never let me go. It was an excellent, character-driven piece, about the complexities of loyalty, humanity, and the sacrifices that must be made in the midst of war. I suppose this is technically a fantasy, but it absolutely has a Roman flavor and it was easy to visualize this creation of Kate Islay’s as something close to historical. It feels alive and real and the characters, both main and secondary, exist in a world where the consequences are profound and believable.
Mathias and Reve are men from opposite worlds, but together they have a companionable, passionate connection that resonates. Their relationship evolves naturally and even when they are apart, the reader senses their desire to be with one another and away from the horrors developing around them. Mathias’ loyalty to his king is strong, but he is not blind to the man’s flaws and as Arturus slips further and further away from the man he once was, Mathias’ desperation and pain is palpable. He is a man forced to choose between dedication and damnation and you can’t help wishing his path could be easier. Reve is no less conflicted and having been ripped away from his family and home, his duty to protect his youngest brother and return home reads as true devotion without seeming facile. He wrestles with guilt at having fallen for his enemy, but neither he nor Mathias becomes so blinded by love as to forget the heavy burdens they bear. That they are willing to sacrifice what they have to save their respective countries makes their quiet moments together more beautiful.
In Allegiance was an amazing read, with two fantastic main characters and an equally strong cast of supporting players. The plot plays out with a sense of realism and emotive weight that I found thoroughly satisfying. There are no easy choices for Mathias and Reve and as readers it is hard to watch our heroes struggle to find even a measure of the happiness they deserve. But their journey is made more memorable by the realities of the world in which they live. If you enjoyed the Captive Prince series or just want to read a great book with an addictive plot, you will definitely want to grab In Allegiance.