Being a King in Transylvania county North Carolina carries a legacy of monster hunting spanning generations, and Grady and Dawson King have been best friends and hunting partners since Grady was fifteen and Dawson seventeen. Even at so young an age, Grady knew that Dawson was his forever guy. When Dawson realizes he has strong feelings for Grady as well, Grady’s years of innocent flirtation no longer seem so innocent and, fearing Grady is too young to make the kind of lifetime commitment Dawson wants, he enlists in the army to give them space to mature, leaving Grady furious and devastated.
As the years pass, Grady and Dawson renew their friendship and decide to give a relationship a try upon Dawson’s return home. Instead of the joyous reunion and the beginning of his forever with Grady, Dawson’s met with the news that his Uncle Aaron died during a werewolf hunt and that Grady is traumatized by what happened to his father. Dawson feels that Grady needs a friend now more than a new lover, and dedicates himself to being whatever Grady requires. Soon, the two men are hunting again, but no matter how easy the case is supposed to be, Dawson and Grady find themselves in mortal danger. This only strengthens Dawson’s resolve to remain just friends as Dawson keeps dreaming of death omens that convince him Grady is in danger and that it’ll be easier to protect Grady if they remain friends only. Unfortunately, Dawson’s need to protect Grady at all costs, while keeping him in the dark feeds all the nagging insecurities and fear Grady has struggled with for years. Fueled by Dawson’s secrecy, these depressing thoughts combine with Grady’s sorrow to create a whirlwind of frustration and pain that leaves the men vulnerable in ways neither can see and on the brink of losing everything.
The few of Morgan Brice’s other works that I have read always bring to mind the show Supernatural in one way or another, and Kings of the Mountain is the most reminiscent in feel and tone to that show. You have Grady and Dawson King who, although raised as cousins, aren’t related by blood since Aaron is adopted, coming close enough to the incest line to satisfy hardcore Winchester boy shippers with a Kings boys ship that doesn’t have two brothers smashing. And, as Dawson helpfully points out early in the story, cousin marrying is no big thing in North Carolina so, ship away! There’s also the King boy’s last living uncle, Denny to fulfill the gruff, caretaking Bobby role, a lovingly tended muscle car, and a friend named Colt. I can’t say for certain Colt was named for the infamous demon killing revolver in the show, but it’s hard to believe it’s an accident.
At its best, Supernatural was full of cool lore, exciting action, and familial love and Kings of the Mountain takes those concepts and runs with them, adding depth and drama to the relationship between Sam and Dean Grady and Dawson by having them pine for one another throughout the years. In addition, not only is Dawson struggling with PTSD from his tour in Afghanistan, Grady is awash in fresh trauma from watching his father die and feeling guilty for not preventing it. The narrative also provides flashbacks of the events that led them to where they are in the present emotionally, which at times don’t flow well, but do provide necessary backstory. The family love is solidified by the care and concern conveyed by Denny, even amidst his own grief at losing his last remaining sibling. The hunts Dawson and Grady go on and the accompanying lore is interesting and the action dynamic as well. All these elements combine to make a fun and engaging supernatural story.
What doesn’t work as well for me is how the pining is executed. The fact that the majority of the angst comes about because they fail to have a conversation about what they want or where they stand is a bit exhausting. They make decisions or judgments and mentally circle the same excuses and reasons for being miserably horny and not dating to create the tension between them. Frankly, this conceit drives me crazy; it feels contrived. If you want there to be drama and tension and angsty pining between the characters, cool—just let it be earned. Dawson doesn’t tell Grady why he thinks they should just be friends because he feels like however he says it will upset Grady. Ok, but after more than a month, Grady is still upset and now hurt by Dawson’s holding back. Am I really supposed to believe that Dawson saying, “Hey, I’m kinda messed up; you’re kinda messed up. How about we wait to start dating until we get back on solid ground?” would be taken any more poorly than Dawson’s treatment, especially with Dawson’s screaming in the night speaking clearly of his PTSD? Dawson doesn’t want to talk about the death omens because “at some point [he’d been told] that to speak of an omen was to bring it about”. Fine, but after all the near misses and continued death omens, it becomes clear that Grady is still in danger, but after 10 weeks still no research into death omens or maybe risking it to warn Grady since not talking about it hasn’t changed anything? Moreover, when dealing with myth and legend, hard and fast rules don’t always apply. But nope, Dawson decides he still knows best and damsels Grady as opposed to treating him like a qualified hunter who can help Dawson keep him safe if he knows he’s in danger.
Additionally, while Dawson’s enlistment was to give them time to grow and mature, each man falls back into the same unhealthy patterns. Dawson enlisted ostensibly for Grady’s own good and because he felt like Grady was too young and immature to make a real commitment. Dawson comes home and immediately makes choices for Grady without discussing it with Grady and treating him, as if “he still [sees] Grady as too young, too fragile, or too immature to handle getting involved”. On the flip side, we have Grady who acts as immaturely as he did when he was fifteen by trying to get Dawson’s attention without coming out and saying anything. After about a month, Grady expresses frustration that he is “doing all the work to get this off the ground”; yet the “work” seems to consist entirely of flirting and incessantly waiting for Dawson to make the first move, again, among other questionable choices. Just because the narrative is filled with acknowledgements for the need for a conversation in both characters’ internal monologues doesn’t make the flimsy reasoning behind not doing it any better. If you want drama, let them have the conversation and let it go bad or still have Grady frustrated with Dawson’s pace—you still get the angst and pining without making both characters seem ridiculous and immature.
This behavior and certain factors involving the antagonist and contradictions in established character traits is what put a dint in my enjoyment of Kings.
However, while the lack of communication and seeming character breaking bothers me, I can see this not being an issue for others who enjoy paranormal adventures, especially those established around hunters. Given that overall, Kings of the Mountain is sweet, piny (sometimes whiny), supernatural, monster-killing fun and a solid series opener that has the potential to get better as Dawson and Grady learn to trust each and establish an equal partnership, I can see it being very enjoyable for some readers.