I’ve wanted to pick up a book by Rowan Speedwell for a while now, so when I learned Bitterwood was being re-released, I begged Jay for the chance to review it during New-to-Me-Author Week for our Reading Challenge Month (I didn’t read the previous version so I cannot comment on changes.) This is a fantastic high fantasy M/M romance with not one, but TWO romances! YAY!!
Meric is a 17 year-old mage with lots of secrets, but the biggest one is he’s dying. If he cannot find the great Golden Cat and a powerful mage to heal him before he turns 18 he’ll die, according to the prophesy. Also, Meric’s pretty important in his world, and that garners him protection in his quest by Captain Faran of the King’s Guard. They have less than a fortnight to save Meric’s life, and his health is failing when they seek refuge from a winter storm at Bitterwood Manor.
Lord Joss Daene of Bitterwood Manor never expected his youngest son, Eissa, to clap eyes on Meric and immediately feel the pull of deep love. He also never expected to find Captain Faran so attractive. Joss has been celibate since his wife died ten years ago, but he had favored men before he was pressed into a marriage with his late-brother’s betrothed. Joss does know the legend of the great golden cat on his family’s standard. Daenes have been protecting the northern border of their kingdom for hundreds of years, after all. And, he’s heard talk of recent sightings of the cat within a day’s travel, but there’s a blizzard coming and no one’s gong anywhere for a bit.
While the men bunk down at Bitterwood, Joss and Faran explore their lust, and Meric and Eissa deepen their bond. It turns out Eissa is a healer, like his father. They are only considered hedge-wizards, but Eissa and Joss are able to boost Meric’s ailing health, for a time. The march moves forward and the hunt of the golden cat is on. Desperate searches leads to injuries and problems, but deep within the darkest, most wild and magical part of the Daenewood—as it’s been called—Meric finds more than his salvation.
I really loved this world. I felt like I was completely immersed in a new place with histories and mysteries that were lush and captivating. Faran and Meric tell this story, though most of it is filtered through Faran. He’s a good soldier, and sworn to protect Meric at all cost—even if it means hiding important information from Joss. The magic is constant and yet never overwhelming. There are no cheap parlor tricks, just a deep understanding of the energies in this world and how humanity can shape them. Joss is a good and constant man. He cares for his people in the Daenewood with compassion and justice, which is clearly demonstrated on their travels; Joss is highly esteemed by all of his tenants. The resolution to Meric’s illness was fantastic, with the right amount of drama, menace, and realism. I must admit that great golden cats always conjure Aslan in my brain, so I was 75% expectant that this cat would talk. Alas, that’s not gonna happen, but I wasn’t disappointed.
The love stories range from sweet, between Meric and Eissa, to sexy, between Joss and Faran. Joss is a dominant man, and Faran’s thankful to drop the yoke of responsibility for tender moments with a considerate lover. While this story ends in a manner that feels complete, I’d eagerly read another book set in this world. Perhaps it will be my second Speedwell title.
A bibliophile can dream…
This review is part of our September Reading Challenge Month for New-to-Me Author Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a fabulous prize from Interlude Press. One lucky winner will receive a selection of signed print books, as well as a variety of ebooks by authors new to Interlude Press this year. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on New-to-Me Author Week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more about the awesome prizes!