Prince Joron is the younger son of King Oxys, and a shining light in the kingdom of Blade Rain. His father is a debauched and corrupt king, often forcing the smallfolk who come to him for help to pay for the aid that should rightfully be theirs with their wives, sisters, or even daughters. Erora, Oxys’ Queen and Joron’s stepmother, is just as vile as her husband. Her taste, however, leads to extramarital affairs and the occasional murder. It’s a combination of both of these things that leaves the kingdom of Blade Rain in its current state. Erora’s child Diagus, heir to the kingdom, is not King Oryx’s child. This knowledge has already cost the lives of two men, soon to be three… as soon as her poison finishes taking its toll on the king. And once King Oxys dies, Diagus is free to inherit the crown and rule the kingdom of Blade Rain.
Joron knows nothing of his stepmother’s schemes; he only knows that he must do something to help his people. He spies on his father’s audiences when he can, sneaking food, money, medicines, and anything else he can to the people who look to their king for protection and help. He and a small army of palace staff work together to try to make the world just a little better for the other people in it. But when his father finally dies and Diagus comes to take the throne, Joron feels a small glimmer of hope. Perhaps Diagus will be a better king. Certainly he would be hard pressed to do worse. But between Diagus’ unhealthy and frightening fixation on Joron, and his father’s gift of the Ice Dragon Pass to his second son, the castle of Blade Rain is suddenly a place Joron doesn’t think he can stay in much longer.
If it weren’t for his sister Liarta’s timely interference, Diagus might have gotten what he wanted out of Joron, a fact that still makes him shudder. But Diagus’ obsession threatens to interfere with Joron’s efforts to spirit out medicine for a local farmer. His brother’s eyes are always on him and keeping out of his way becomes an effort in and of itself. It’s Liarta who has the clever idea to dress Joron as a woman; Diagus has no interest in women, which means Joron should be safe. Or would have been, had he not been attacked on the road. Thanks to the timely intervention of a stranger, Joron is saved. His rescuer asks for only one thing in reward… a kiss. A kiss that sets Joron’s blood flaming and heart beating. A kiss which, for king Aric of Claymoor Doom, ignites a lust that must be quenched. He must have this woman and, thinking her to be Princess Liarta, he arranges with Diagus for her hand in marriage.
To save his sister from an unwanted marriage — she is, after all, already engaged to a powerful Lord — Joron offers Prince Aric the one thing he wants more than Liarta: he offers himself. Aric is unable to refuse the request and takes Joron for his own then and there, with no intention of ever giving him up. But neither counted on Diagus, whose own obsession and pride lead him — with an army at his back — to castle Claymoor Doom. He will have his brother back, no matter the cost!
I’m always up for a good fantasy romance, the more swords and castles and knights the better. Add in politics, intrigue, and complex characters and I’m not putting the book down until it’s been fully devoured!
The book opens well with Queen Erora taking the center stage. She exudes that intelligent practicality of a good villain. Unfortunately, the book is set up for Diagus to be the primary antagonist and he’s just not as interesting as his mother. His obsession with Joron is based on two things: Joron’s beauty and the desire to take something people tell him he shouldn’t take. His lust for his brother, though they aren’t related by blood, obscures rationality and common sense and he ends up frightening Joron and chasing him away rather than wooing him, something he’s aware of but unable to keep from doing.
Aric’s own obsession for Joron is just as shallow. It’s lust at first sight and the desire to own something beautiful, to possess it and make it his. As he gets to know Joron better, Aric comes to respect the young prince a little more. However, I don’t get the feeling that, no matter what Ric says, he’s falling in love. He’s obsessed and trying to find justifications for his obsession as Joron becomes more of a person and less of an ideal.
Joron is right up against the edge of “too stupid to live.” Almost there, but not quite. He has a big heart and feels keenly that his people need a better king. When his father dies and his brother becomes king, Joron decides to overlook the two attempted rapes because… he wants to give his brother a chance. When Aric makes it clear that in order to protect his sister Joron has to take her place, and that if Joron refuses Aric will have her kidnapped and brought to him, Joron goes along with it. After all, Aric is a good king, unlike Oryx.
Again and again people are obsessed with Joron, driven to madness by his beauty. Even Aric’s own brother schemes to take Joron for his own. Joron’s servant even fantasizes about him while dressing him; not because he’s in love with his prince, but because his prince is beautiful. It made me a bit uncomfortable, to be honest. Stalking isn’t romantic, wanting to own someone isn’t love, and forcing someone to do what you want through coersion or threats to their safety isn’t charming.
It’s implied that Joron tries to see the best in people, but I think he’s either oblivious or, raised in a hyper-masculine castle where he’s witness to his father routinely raping women, views it as the natural progression. And yet, each time he’s shocked that people want to sleep with him because he’s a man. He knows his own brother prefers men to women and is quite open about it, so it’s not a societal issue, it’s just Joron being oh-so-innocent.
But — and there is a but! — no matter the issues I had with Joron’s reactions to attempted rape and someone blackmailing him into bed, Joron isn’t a complete idiot. He’s been raised as a prince and is aware of the politics of the world. He wants to help his people, he wants to build an infirmary, he’s interested in graineries and the logistics of feeding a kingdom. He weighs matters and makes what he honestly thinks are the best decisions to benefit his people.
Aric is more shallow, for all that we’re in his POV for a good portion of the book. He’s obsessed with Joron. He’s obsessed with Joron and he hates paperwork and tedious king-related tasks, and he’s obsessed with Joron. He has no plans to let Joron go home to serve his people; he barely wants to let him out of the room! It’s not healthy but, based on the story, it’s at least in character. Towards the end of the book, there’s a scene between Diagus and Aric that goes a fair way to explaining both of them. It’s noteworthy that this is a scene that Joron and all his beauty aren’t a part of. They posture, they argue, they act like two alphas fighting over the same bone, and it isn’t a bad scene.
The society these two men are raised in seems a rather toxic one, but I’m hard-pressed to say much more about it. Normally you see the world through the eyes of the characters, but none of the characters in this book were interested in looking at anything other than Joron. Sometimes the details come in small ways — the way a cup looks, the quality of glass in a window, the chance dialogue of characters. Not this time, though. There are castles with rooms, Lords and Dukes, but precious little beyond that.
There’s no flavor to the world, no sense of culture. It was like watching a TV show where there was no set, just characters coming in an out of the scene as needed. However, this is only part one of a three part story so I have hopes that there will be more to discover both about the world and the people within it. The writing is simple, the story is a relatively quick read, but go keep in mind that, as a part one, this book ends on a cliffhanger.