Born into the unforgiving and unrelenting Deilian nobility, Nathan took it all to heart. His devotion to these societal trappings never faltered, not even after his official presentation to the Deilian court ended in catastrophe. Nathan’s father, on the other hand, lept at the first opportunity to reasonably off load Nathan onto another by way of arranged marriage. In the space of twenty-four hours, Nathan went from discovering he had a betrothed to boarding an airship that whisked him away to the foreign land of Marisol—his new homeland.
Regardless of the utterly tactless manner in which Nathan’s nuptials were executed, he is determined to be the best husband he can. Yet the flashy, informal ways of Marisol rub Nathan’s sense of propriety the wrong way just as much as his perceived judgmental attitude irks his new Marisol household. To make matters worse, his new husband, Rother, cares little for Nathan beyond what they might get up to in bed. In fact, the longer Nathan is in Marisol, the more he learns he very much is second fiddle to his own husband’s appetite for money and power. Unless Rother is feeling jealous, in which case Nathan quickly learns he isn’t even worth that much. Still, Nathan finds a modicum of comfort in his gruff bodyguard and the mistress of the house. And the more Nathan learns—and falls prey to—Rother’s growing paranoia about his business, the more Nathan relies on his new friends to survive.
If Veerkamp hammers one point home in this story, it’s that our poor hero, Nathan, gets the shit end of all the sticks. First, Nathan gets outed as being gay in his home country where being gay is very much a taboo and Nathan’s father and brothers are absolute pricks about it. Then, his marriage to Rother fails to conform to a single one of Deilian’s own rules when it comes to marriages of the nobility (of which Nathan is a member). After that, there is a brief reprieve where Nathan is damn chipper about making his marriage work despite not knowing a thing about his husband—and that quickly evaporates when Nathan learns Rother not only has a temper, but egregious double standards and a mean streak a mile wide.
Suffice to say, a major component of this story is watching Nathan deal with injustice after injustice and try not to lose every bit of himself in the process. Veerkamp does a sublime job juxtaposing the incredibly inflexible social mores ingrained in Nathan since birth with the faster and looser ones of his new home. Nathan frequently points out when he has been forced to sacrifice his sense of what is right in order to achieve some goal…and when he outright plans it. Even as Nathan juggles these conflicting cultural values, by the end of the book, I thought he reached a happy compromise.
For me, Rother was an utterly intriguing character. His metamorphosis during the story feels less subtle than Nathan’s. Even from his first introduction, I wasn’t sure if I should try to like him or prepare to hate him. For approximately the first half of the book, I thought there was a delicate balance of Rother being cruelly unattentive to his foreign-born husband one moment, then utterly smitten with him the next. This behavior kept me on tenterhooks for a long time for two reasons: first, the “woke up married” trope primes me to root for their marriage to work; and second, there seemed to be a paucity of other possible love interests.
In point of fact, the nature of Nathan and Rother’s marriage was a bit of a point of contention for me. Nathan’s upbringing seems to color the narration of Nathan’s feelings about and towards his situation, specifically that Nathan’s honor bound to his marital vows and he feels obligated to be a good husband. It wasn’t until halfway through the book when there is a very specific and very pointed comment from Nathan that I finally understood how he felt.
As far as the storytelling goes, I loved the pacing of everything. From early on, Nathan realizes that he might have escaped his father, but marriage and moving to a foreign country haven’t exactly set him free. While we watch Rother devolve into an increasingly desperate man, Nathan slowly learns how to survive life according to Marisolian rules. The build up towards the climax centered around the appearance of a rival businessman who wants Rother’s business empire for his own, or to destroy it if he cannot have it. This man is the also the source of a lot of angsty drama for Nathan, who ends up getting nearly killed and ultimately realizes where his affections truly lie. As all this is unfolding, there are just the slightest references to a subplot that Nathan is carrying out…but it is this very subplot that makes the climactic scene between Nathan and Rother the most utterly satisfying.
On the whole, this is an excellently crafted story featuring interesting characters that are inextricably woven together by obligation or honor or blackmail. Readers who enjoy court intrigue style stories would probably enjoy the layers of machinations from Nathan, Rother, and Rother’s business rival—all of which come together (or perhaps unravel is a better term?) in a spectacular finish. And for the romantics out there, after the dust settles, there is a delicious happily ever after.
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.