Tatsu has given up everything — betrayed his people, his queen, his friends — to save Yudai, the Runon prince whose very magic threatened to destroy the kingdom of Chayd. When he discovered that the Queen of Chayd wanted to use Yudai’s corrupted and dangerous magic against Runon in vengeance, Tatsu had no choice. Even if he hadn’t been half in love with the tormented prince, he wouldn’t let anyone suffer such pain and misery again, not when he could do something to stop it.
Now the two of them are running, hunted by the armies of both Chayd and Runon. Mercenaries have been hired to capture Prince Yudai, to return him to a life of perpetual torture and pain so that others may make use of his magic, turning the deadly power of the life siphon on to rival kingdoms. With little hope and in blind desperation, Tatsu and Yudai head across the mountains into the kingdom of Joesar, plunging into the unfamiliar deserts in the hopes of finding help. Help for a prince in exile and perhaps answers for the dangerous magic, which is only growing stronger.
With Jotin, son of a ranking member of Joesar’s High Council, as their guide through the desert, the Runon mage Leil, and the sisters Ral and Alesh, there’s almost enough of them to have a chance of survival, but the mercenaries are everywhere and time is running out. If Yudai can’t learn to control his magic, his magic will control him. The Life Siphon is powerful, dangerous, and hungry.
This is the second book in the Life Siphon duology, and while it can be read on it’s own, reading the first book helps you gain greater understanding of the story and the characters, as well as explaining in a little more detail how the magic of this world actually works. While I did enjoy the first book, the second book is much stronger, allowing us to truly get to know and understand both Tatsu and Yuai. In a sense, this is a coming of age story, for all that Yudai and Tatsu are grown men, as both the prince and the hunter have to learn to look past themselves to see and sympathize with other people.
When Tatsu is struck down by venomous scorpions in the middle of a dangerous sand storm, Yudai is forced to face his inability to do anything. His magic has been so strongly warped as it did everything it could to save him from the poisons and torture Nota, his father’s high mage, put him through. It’s no longer something he can control; only when he’s hurt or in danger himself will the magic come forth. When Tatsu is injured, nearly dead… Yudai can do nothing but watch.
Again and again Yudai acknowledges that he says things in anger that he doesn’t mean, like yelling at Tatsu, threatening people, or just being a bit of a jerk. He doesn’t exactly apologize, but Yudai does have a right to his anger. When he was a young man, he was the heir, the crown prince, the favored and favorite until his father and the mage Nota chained him to a chair and dosed him with potions and poisons, torturing him until his magic rose to protect him. They humiliated him, used him, turned him into a thing that was only aware of pain and more pain rather than a person and it’s only been weeks — at most a few months — since he was first freed from that chair. He’s angry, he’s hurt, and he is struggling to work past and through everything that’s happened to him.
Tatsu knows this and forgives Yudai again and again. He’s not angry when Yudai lashes out, though he does get hurt. He made his choice to follow the Runion Prince, and he’d make it again. Tatsu watches Yudai whenever he gets the chance, wants to be in his company, and — when others suggest sleeping in a different tent or at a distance away, afraid of his power — Tatsu is confident enough to stay beside Yudai. Even while doting on the prince Tatsu is grieving himself; like Yudai, he’s lost a father. His father, however, was already dead. It’s the memory of the man, a man who lied to him about everything, that he has to accept.
Both his mother and father were ideals held in Tatsu’s heart: a perfect father who loved him and wanted to protect him from the dangers of a world that wouldn’t understand a half-breed child, a mother who surely didn’t mean to give him away, but did so for his own safety. Instead, his father was a bitter man who, lost in his own pain, lied to Tatsu and kept him isolated from anyone and everyone in their small city so that he and only he could have power over his son. His mother is a horrible, cruel monster who tortured Yudai and cares nothing for Tatsu who, unlike his half brother, was born without magic. She threw him away because he wasn’t perfect, and that’s a pain and a shame he doesn’t know quite how to deal with.
Both Tatsu and Yudai turn to each other for balm, for someone to ease the pain of solitude they have both been shrouded in as they both wrestle with their pain. While the story is told from Tatsu’s point of view, we still see signs of what Yudai feels for him in the way Yudai looks at him, hovers near him, reaches for him. The two of them are so careful with each other, each not wanting to cause the other more pain, and yet Tatsu shows, again and again — through words and actions — that he is Yudai’s, will always be Yudai’s. When others try to make decisions for Yudai, Tatsu reminds them it’s the prince’s choice, the prince’s body, and Tatsu won’t let them take that autonomy away from him.
It’s a slow build up from friendship to something more, but even when they fight there is no doubt that Tatsu and Yudai love one another. Both of them still carry so much pain, but together they have the ability to heal. They are flawed men and they are in no way finished overcoming their personal pain, which is why I regret that there isn’t likely to be a third book. I loved the world building, the writing, and the characters. If you enjoyed the first book you need to give the sequel a try.