Rune Saint John, scion of the Sun Throne, is attending a party — a party to which he wasn’t invited, at least, not by the hosts — rubbing elbows with lords, ladies, and hangers on of the Lover’s Throne. Drinks flow like water, the food is almost more art than appetizing, and there is music, there is dancing, there is laughter and light and life. It’s a party much like the one, some twenty years ago, when Rune’s own family was slain, where his father, his throne, his entire life was taken from him. Tonight, though, it’s someone else’s turn to bleed.
Here at the Lord Tower’s request, Rune is part of a collection of Arcana, guarda, and warriors sent to take down the Lovers. Several houses have decided to cripple the Lovers, to redistribute their assets and teach them humility; but unlike the fall of the Sun Throne, this is to be a civilized affair. When Rune manages to come face to face with Elena, Arcana of the Lover’s Throne, Rune makes a decision that will change his life.
All but begging, Elena asks him for a favor, to take ownership of a … package, and to protect it until it can be delivered to its new owner. When the powerful Arcana offers him a magical sigil, something worth more than money, something that will give him more power, greater ability to protect himself, Rune agrees. Little does he know that the package will be a seventeen-year-old boy he has to babysit for four years until he comes of age.
On top of this, there’s the matter of the Tower’s next mission for Rune, a personal request by the man who took him in after the fall of his house, who trained him, protected him, and who now uses him as one of his more discrete tools. Addam Saint Nicholas, scion of the Justice Throne, godson to Lord Tower, has gone missing and the Tower is asking Rune to find him. Of course Rune agrees. It’s not a week for smart decisions for Rune …
Rune is a wonderful narrator of his own life. He’s blunt, opinionated, and he doesn’t shy away from commenting on his own flaws. He’s not exactly snarky, but there is a bit of an edge to his humor, and there are times where his voice can get dark. For all that he’s gone through, Rune doesn’t live in the past. He is always looking forward, looking for the next task, the next challenge — perhaps to keep himself from having to face that night, and the gossip and truths that Atlantean society mutters about him. Say this about the Atlanteans, they’re just as willing to say it to his face as they are to his back. Only when they say it to his face, they’re trying to make him bleed.
Rune comments several times that Atlanteans don’t coddle their victims. Instead, they trot them out like object lessons, to remind their children not to be weak, not to be vulnerable, not to be so foolish as to lose their entire house. Day after day, he has to face this, and if it weren’t for Brand, his companion, he might not have had the strength.
Brand was, as an infant, kept in the same cradle as Rune. Their souls are bound and they feel one another’s emotions and hurts. Brand helped him escape from his torturers, and Brand would do anything to keep him safe. Yes, in a given situation, he might do his best to prevent an innocent from getting hurt … unless it would cost Rune his life. Then, all bets are off. They’re closer than lovers, closer than brothers, and Brand is aware of the dark, sucking pit in the center of Rune’s soul. He’s just not going to let him fall into it.
Addam Saint Nicholas is, as all Atlanteans are, handsome and magically gifted. He’s also emotionally open and loving, good hearted, and aware of his power without coveting it. And yet, for all that, there’s an edge beneath it, the hard, cold burn of the Justice Throne that promises retribution to those who hurt his brother, to those who kidnapped him, and to those threatening the people he cares for. Addam, at first, seems like everything Rune might have been. But that’s a little like saying a tangerine and an orange are the same because they share a color. Yes, Addam, too, is a scion of a powerful house; he is the son of the Justice Throne, godson of Lord Tower, a man with a wardrobe of sigils (not just the seven Rune has to his name) and a bank account filled with cash. But Addam is deceptively lazy, he is subtle and cautious where Rune is active, curious and bold.
Addam makes it clear he wants Rune; Brand makes it clear he’ll kill Addam if Addam hurts Rune but, to Rune, all but gives his permission for Rune to accept what Addam is offering. And Rune … Rune is a bit confused. There’s attraction, yes, but Rune is a bit of an emotional minefield. When Rune is looking at people, interacting with them, there’s very little notice of their physicality. Living in a world of beautiful people, he’s gotten used to seeing handsome men around him, and owing to Atlantean mores, he’s also used to naked, half naked, jeweled, and oiled beautiful men and women. But with Addam, Rune has moments where he looks to see if Addam has noticed him. It’s subtle, but it’s there, and when yes, Addam does notice him, Rune is left more flustered than flattered.
There is so much in this book to gush about, and so much more to say about the characters, but this review has already gone on a bit long, so I’ll try to be succinct. The world building in this book is amazing. It reminds me a bit of the Chronicles of Amber by Zelazny; not so much the writing, though Edwards does have a nice clean, crisp writing style that I found easy and absorbing to read, but in the deft, deceptively easy way his world blends magic and modern technology. Flip phones and fire breathing dragons, briefcases and cars exist alongside goblins and faeries. People who use magic to whiten their teeth while riding in an elevator. And that’s only touching the surface. There is a lot of depth to this world, a lot of subtlety and care went into the Atlantean culture and their history, and it’s all parceled out in bite sized scenes so you never feel overwhelmed.
Because the focus is so tightly focused on Rune, we get a feel for what he thinks is dangerous. Being shot at? Not so much. Facing a gargoyle? Yes, dangerous. The Lord Tower? Very dangerous. And yet, at the same time, Rune trusts Tower to protect him and to play fair with him. It also means that when Rune sees The Tower showing concern or even fear over events, Rune feels the shadow of terror. And because the author uses emotion so skillfully, we feel that terror, as well. We feel the weight of the danger, of the threat to Atlantis because for the characters it is an honest and overwhelming threat.
Where this book truly shines (well, another place this book shines because the world building is really top notch) is the dialogue. Between Rune and Brand, Rune and Addam — especially when Addam is being all Atlantean and thinks he’s being charming — even when it’s Tower or Max or any of a half dozen other people, the writing is snappy. I would love to see a talented narrator be given this for an audio book. I am also pleased to say that I’ll be reviewing the second book in this series, so keep an eye out for that while you quickly rush off to go buy this book. Because it’s well worth the reading, and I expect this series to be in my Best of 2020 list, next year.
Note: This story has some honestly dark moments that some people may not find to their taste or their comfort. When he was 15, while his house was being destroyed, Rune was tortured and raped by a group of nine men. This event is well known in Atlantean society, and because of this — and because Rune is a beautiful young man taken into the protection of the powerful Lord Tower — he has been called the Catamite Prince. Later on in the book, during a psychic attack, Rune relives some of those painful memories and while it isn’t graphic, it is well written and packs a bit of an emotional gut punch. So, sensitive readers may want to be careful.