Wizards, witches, and warlocks, oh my. Aquilon is the Champion of the North, a powerful wizard who, unknown to any — even his bonded sentinel, Ranoolf, and his magical guardian mind seer — is existing under a curse that prevents him from finding love. Any man or woman Aquilon does more than flirt with is sent fleeing by the angry attacks of his mind seer, leaving him untouched, unloved, and resigned to a life focused on magic and duty.
After on attack on the northern council of wizards leaves Aquilon’s own mentor torn to pieces by magical cats that sniff out and feed upon mind seers, Aquilon and Ranoolf are sent by their king on a quest to find the person who controls the cats and destroy them. In order to protect their mind seers from being harmed, Aquilon seeks out a witch powerful enough to weave the threads of Aquilon’s soul into a bag of holding. He hadn’t expected the witch to be quite so beautiful, quite so intoxicating, or to find himself falling quite so hard for the man.
Lucien’s husband is dead, and as a black feather epicine, the elders of his tribe want to see him married off to a man capable of protecting him. The tribe’s warleader has made an offer — not to Lucien, but for Lucien — and the elders have accepted, which leaves Lucien looking for a way, any way, to escape. When a handsome stranger asks for Lucien’s help, the witch is only too willing to reach for the chance of freedom. But as Lucien’s powers grow under the wizard’s careful eye, so do his feelings for the other man.
In Lucien’s tribe, men who favor men are called black feathers, tattooed (or otherwise marked) on their necks. As an epicine, Lucien is a black feather who prefers or takes the receptive role in their relationship. As a widower, he has some freedom, but even though he’s a witch, his powers aren’t enough to either gain him respect or the right to refuse when the powerful warleader says he wants him. Lucien could easily have become a Mary Sue; he’s gorgeous, tragic, and could have been written as the traditional damsel in distress. Instead of being a saintly, perfect, and perfectly sweet love interest, he’s petty, mocking, snide, selfish, and even aggressive; he has moments of cruelty as well as kindness. He’s a fully rounded, three-dimensional person with a personality, with wants and needs and he makes mistakes. He’s self-sacrificing, he’s clever, he has moments of great stupidity, and he’s my favorite POV character.
Aquilon is noble, patient, patronizing, and smugly all knowing, especially where it concerns magic or the world beyond the tribes. Imagine his surprise when, especially in matters of magic, Lucien proves not only to be a keen student, but has the potential to surpass him, even if it’s only in his own small focus. Watching Lucien seduce Aquilon is amusing because we see Aquilon go from confident and brash to shy and sweet, eagerly following Lucien’s lead rather than trying to take charge.
This is a 500+ page book with, in my opinion, a 350 page story. The writing is stiff and awkward, and there is so much telling. For example:
“Why?” he asked again, demonstrating his want of a serious answer.
The king’s humor disappeared in a blink, and the lord shouldered the deadly weight of the wizard king’s gaze.
It isn’t that the writing is bad, but it’s clumsy in parts, stilted in others, and I found it hard to engage with the story. It’s a shame, too, because the world building shows great promise and creativity, but the delivery of much of the details and characters made it hard for me to connect with them and limited my enjoyment of the story overall.
And yet … then there’s Lucien and Aquillon. For all my personal reservations on the pacing, on the repetition, on the writing, and the climactic battle between good and evil, Lucien and Aquilon were the best part of this book. Their relationship felt real. The connection between them felt real. Every time the two of them were together, I found my attention drawn back to the book. Even when apart, the actions they took in trying to find one another, or thinking about one another, or even being angry at one another worked so well. For them, and them alone I recommend this book.