Lucan is one of the last knights of the round table. He is ancient, trapped by an ancient vow to protect the world from the evils unleashed by Mordred and Morgaine in that final, fateful battle. Like the other knights, those few that still survive sane and unbroken, Lucan is bound to live half a life with half a soul until he bonds to his Tresor, his soul mate, his other half. Lucan found his Tresor in the form of a sixteen-year-old boy and saved Tom from leaping to his death from a bridge. No matter how drawn to the young man he is, Lucan is not going to lay a hand on a child, on an innocent, on someone so pure he would be defiled by his touch. And so Lucan condemns them both to pain and unhappiness.
Tom, however, has just turned 18 and has decided that he isn’t going to wait any longer. Ever since childhood — of which he has fragmented memories of pain and neglect — he has felt the presence of the demonic Ursus. They caused (and still cause) horrible, crippling migraines that leave him weak and ill. Only with the knights, with whom he’s lived for the past two years, does Tom feel safe. Not only do they care about his pain and believe in it, they put an end to it by killing the creatures whose very existence causes it.
Raised by adoptive parents who never touched him, never sought to soothe him or hug him or even touch hands to him, Tom basks in the easy camaraderie of the knights. But it isn’t enough. He wants his knight to touch him, to soothe away the pain, to acknowledge that the two of them — Tom and Lucan — are two halves of the same whole. If only Lucan would see him as something other than a tragic victim, as a child who needs to be protected from the hurts and horrors of the world. Tom has lived in the world long enough, suffered long enough. He’s done with that crap. He wants his happily ever after, dammit.
Dead of Knight is book two in the Guardians of Camelot series, and you really should read book one first. This story has some honestly, wonderfully flawed characters. They’re stubborn, foolish, blind, thick-skulled, and some of them — like Lance (who met his soul mate, Mel, in the previous book) and Lucan and, well, okay all of them — are so sure they know what’s right. They make mistakes. They say stupid things that cause other people pain and then they don’t know how to make up for it. And yet, somehow, they do. Lucan is one of those better with actions than words. He wears his heart on his sleeve, but then he shoves that hand behind his back so no one can see it … he’s self-deprecating, unsure why someone as beautiful as Tom, both in body and soul, could want him. He knows they’re bound together, he and Tom, but he doesn’t know how to accept the possibility that he might be the one to cause Tom pain.
Lucan is far from selfish, to his credit. He’s also so tight-lipped and prone to avoiding things that cause him too much trouble or pain, and things that cause him too much thought, and that it leads to a number of mixed messages for poor Tom. Lucan would take every sling and arrow for his Tresor, never giving his soul mate the credit that maybe, just like Lucan, Tom has enough strength within himself to take a few for Lucan.
Tom grew up with cold, religious parents who used the rod liberally. Not because he was adopted — they wanted a child, never denied that he was their son — but because their beliefs overcame their lives. Well, that and the fact that Tom was a strange child. He was often sick, had a strange gift that caused his mother no end of fear, and was gay, and in the end, the rod wasn’t enough. When Lance came to tell them their son would no longer be living in their home, they gave him away with no further thought or argument. And Tom has accepted that. He’s accepted that his place is in Lucan’s world.
After such cold parents and their determined message of control and propriety, the less than orderly knights were like a haven for Tom. There’s laughter and affection, there’s belief — in him. When he says he has a headache, there’s attention and concern instead of a beating. When he wanted to go to school, they sent him. When he’s hungry, there’s food, and yet they also don’t let him get out of his turn to cook. It’s family, a found family, and the only problem is Lucan. Lucan’s hot and cold, loving and protective one minute, running away and rebuffing him the next. Is it any wonder Tom is at his wit’s end? And yet we’re never left to doubt (unlike poor Tom) that Lucan wants Tom, loves him, and is so afraid and confused by all of it, himself.
In Lucan’s own words:
Lucan’s lips parted to say that it was nothing. That it didn’t mean anything. That it had taken him no time at all, but he would’ve been lying. He knew it— Tom certainly knew it. “You’re welcome.” He didn’t know what else to say. No, that was a lie as well. “I love you” would be a good start. “I’m obsessed with you” might have been closer to the truth. “I can’t live— don’t want to live— without you” would also have been near the mark. But of course, Lucan didn’t say any of that because Tom’s life, Tom’s living, was way more important than his, and he mustn’t ever forget that.
The subtle humor, the emotional awareness of the author, and the equally emotional vulnerability of the characters makes this one of my new favorite series. Lucan knows he’s jerking Tom along and yet he can’t help himself because Lucan wants to protect Tom at all costs. He wants so much to give in, and yet he wants permission, a sign from Tom that Tom wants it to. That it’s not just Merlin’s magic that’s drawing them together.
This is a fun adventure with a depth of characters that feel so very human. The writing is good, the pacing is so quick and bright, and I did not expect parts of the ending at all. (One I guessed at, the other two came out of left field, which was fun). I can’t wait for the next book and I already know this series is going to be on my “Best of 2020.”