Lorax and Dzyer are royal siblings of the queendom of Marcen, able to shift from female to male and back again as befitting their noble status. Lorax has been raised to take on the responsibilities of the crown and favors taking the form of a woman; Dzyer chose to pursue a career in the military and favors the form of a man. When their mother the queen passes, however, Dzyer stages a coup and takes the crown and the queedom for himself. Lorax must acknowledge that he has been out maneuvered by a sibling he loved above all others, yet is someone he is now realizing he never knew. Deposed from the throne, Lorax refuses to abandon Marcen or his sibling…not even when the truth behind Dzyer’s usurpation comes to light.
Dzyer has long watched and loved his elder sibling. But for the last several years, he has known his love went far beyond what siblings feel for one another; he had fallen in love. Unable to live with the torture of having his sibling so close and yet so unattainable, Dzyer focuses on his military career. And just when he has staged the perfect coup, he finds himself overcome with frustration, emotion, and passion, and acts on his feelings for Lorax. Disgusted with himself, Dzyer is convinced he has lost the only person he has ever loved…but Lorax cannot abandon his sibling or stop loving him, even after what Dzyer has done.
As Dzyer and Lorax struggle to find balance between their newly inverted roles and the utterly taboo aspect of their relationship, trouble begins to brew along the southern border with Lambia. The soldier in Dzyer is convinced war is the most efficacious way to deal with the bandits. The diplomat in Lorax knows the value of keeping peace. Now, the two siblings must find a way to balance their private power struggle for the sake of keeping their queendom from war.
First, a note about pronouns and gender and all that jazz. Based on my understanding of the book, there are people who are strictly women (i.e. they cannot and never will be able to shift genders), strictly men, and shifters (who can shift between male and female at will). Among non-shifters, males are considered the lesser or non-dominant sex, while females are considered the greater or dominant sex. In an interesting choice, non-shifter females are referred to with the pronouns he/his/him/etc. and males with the pronouns she/hers/her/etc. Different places have different expectations regarding gender, but in the MC’s homeland of Marcen, people who shift are usually nobility and the court/royalty are exclusively shifters. In Lambia, Marcen’s southern neighbors and those with whom there are some border grievances, shifters are viewed as untrustworthy and males are certainly considered second-class citizens.
It took some time for me to automatically start associating stereotypically male pronouns for female persons (and vice versa). I was VERY glad to have read the author’s note about this so I was prepared for this as the pronoun game starts early in this book…but the longer I read, the less it confused me or the less I cared. On the one had, I very much enjoyed the challenging of gender and pronoun expectations; on the other hand, it still feels like a near absolute dichotomy is being perpetuated.
Next, there’s the incest. For what it’s worth, any and all sex that occurs (and there is a lot) between Lorax and Dzyer happens while they are both shifted into their male forms. I thought Lysk did a marvelous job of sharing Lorax’s constant inner battle with understanding and explaining Dzyer’s feelings. Lorax first assumes it’s simply an attack, and yes, the concept of rape does come across the page a time or two. Dzyer is horrified for ever having acted on his feelings. There is a lot of complexity in the dynamic between these two and I thought that tension, sense of betrayal, hope, and despair all came shining through the narration. No mean feat when Lorax is the sole narrator, but I think this also works to the book’s advantage because it consistently demonstrates how well Lorax knows (or thinks he knows, or realizes he doesn’t know or can’t possibly know) his own sibling.
The relationship between Lorax and Dzyer does, however, turn into romance. There is no small amount of attention paid to Dzyer’s feelings of unworthiness, of having forced Lorax into his own bed. But there are also instances where Lorax uses Dzyer’s own desires to get what he wants from Dzyer regarding Marcen’s well being. Despite the guilt, the taboo, the excuses, and more than one attempt to force one or the other of them to realize two siblings just cannot be romantically involved…both Lorax and Dzyer come to terms with their love for each other. I was delightfully surprised at the happy ever after these long-suffering siblings received.
The one major theme running counter to the romance between Dzyer and Lorax is the trouble with their southern neighbors in Lambia. In Lambia, they address sex in a much more rigid fashion and through Lorax’s interactions with the Lambian court and nobility, we see just how different the gender constructs in these two neighboring queendoms are. While this part of the story didn’t capture my fancy like the delicious torture of siblings falling in love with one another, I certainly cannot deny that Lambia’s on-page presence really helped flesh out the gender/pronoun concepts and the status (or lack thereof) of shifters in the two nations.
On the whole, I was rather captivated by this story. I thought Lysk explored the concepts of gender and incest in a creative way that had me turning pages like crazy. There were only two points that I thought could be addressed better. One was the editing; the story is riddled with typos, which I thought were all the more noticeable because of how much attention I was paying to the words due to the pronoun swapping. The other critique is minor, but it did strike me as disappointing that the epilogue was the crucial element in tying up the loose ends of the story. More than just loose ends, actually. If there was no epilogue, the story ends in such a way that it is impossible to know what ultimately befalls the romance between Dzyer and Lorax. Given how much of the story focuses on this great conflict, it was something of a disappointment that the final resolution to the Dzyer and Lorax romance was given in the epilogue. But I suppose beggars can’t be choosers and if you hate cliffhangers, I feel like the epilogue definitively wraps up the loose ends.
Note: The author notes that ‘He’ is the standard pronoun used for both shifters and women, and so that is what I have used in this review.