blood oath coverRating: 3.5 stars
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Length: Novel

Felix is a witch who lost his entire family years ago. Though he has to hide his true identity from hunters, he has managed to find happiness with his job at the Assassins Guild and his two boyfriends, Ryder and Luka. Ryder is a fellow assassin and, when Ryder gets an impossible job, one that could lead to his death, Felix is determined not to let him go it alone.

Magic forced Ryder into accepting an impossible hit. And worse, Ryder also took a blood oath, meaning his life is on the line if he fails at the job. The target is a powerful sorcerer who runs a mega church of dark magic disciples and even getting near him is just about impossible. The only way that they have a chance of success is to work together, and that means assembling a group of helpers to take on the task, including Felix’s other boyfriend, Luka. With lives on the line, it will take everything the men have to complete the job and make it out alive.

Blood Oath is the first in A.T. Brennan’s new Legacy of the Assassins series. I have been on a bit of an urban fantasy kick lately, so I was drawn in by the set up right away. I liked the idea of a witch, human, and werewolf all banding together for a big old magical fight. This is my first book by Brennan and I think the foundation and set up to the story is strong and engaging. All the characters were likable and the author has clearly put time into developing this world with a lot of rich detail. I also appreciated that this is a polyamory story, not just with three men, but with two distinct couples (Felix/Luka and Felix/Ryder). That type of set up is rare in romance and I was interested to see it play out here. The story has some exciting moments as they all battle the bad guy and race to complete Ryder’s task. So I think there are good bones here, but I did have some issues with the way it all plays out.

First off, as I said, Brennan has given some rich world building here. However, at times, particularly early on, it feels sort of shoehorned into the conversation, with characters explaining things to each other that they would already know for the benefit of the reader. But the bigger issue for me is that so much felt unclear. There is a LOT of intricate detail here and too much is left either not explained at all, or it is explained way after I found myself wondering about it. For example, there are magics, nonhumans, citizens, noncitizens, half citizens, half-magics… and we never get a clear explanation of what all these categories mean. For example, I thought “citizens” were all the humans, but Ryder is human and he is a noncitizen. It wouldn’t be as big a deal if there weren’t tons of rules that govern these various categories, so it was confusing to not understand what they all mean. There are also a lot of rules in general — how the guilds work, how magic works, how kids are re-sorted into different families based on status, etc — and the rules are often either lengthy and confusing, or not explained well enough. I felt overwhelmed at times trying to absorb it all. As I said, Brennan clearly has put a lot of thought into the world building and it is impressively expansive. I just needed things to be more clear or addressed earlier in the story.

From an action standpoint, things were a little slower than I expected. A lot of the book is the guys gathering their team and doing some forays to check out the target’s vulnerabilities. It was interesting, but I think the pacing could maybe have been adjusted here. The final portion of the book seemed to have almost all of the action. This story is a soft cliffhanger, so there is clearly more happening, but the main resolution with this case is over.

As far as the relationship, things play out in a way I didn’t expect and I don’t think fully works. Felix and Ryder are assassins and they work together, so Felix is brought in right away to help deal with Ryder’s enchantment/blood oath problem. The two of them are working together to figure out how to make the assassination, as well as carrying on a personal sexual/romantic relationship. We know from early on that Felix has another partner in Luka, but Luka literally doesn’t appear on page before almost 3/4 of the way through the book, and is barely mentioned before that. Apparently he is off doing wolfy things that make it unsafe for him to be around Felix due to moon cycle issues, so he is non-existent as a character for most of the book. He and Felix don’t even talk on the phone (even when Felix is injured and near death). Luka feels basically there as a placeholder, but not totally a part of the story. He finally shows up just as we are hitting the climax of the book in time to pitch in, as well as to cast meaningful looks with Ryder (leading me to believe this two distinct couple, polyamorous relationship will soon be a threesome).

Luka’s late entry really threw things off for me for several reasons. First, from a romantic end, it is all Ryder all the time until so far into the book that it makes Luka and Felix’s relationship feel so minimal. We see no development and hear so little about him that when he suddenly shows up and jumps into bed with Felix, it feels totally abrupt. Again, we are 3/4 of the way through the book at this point and he is essentially a stranger to readers. We are also suddenly introduced to this whole new backstory and set of issues, such as their conflict over whether Luka really needs to hide himself away while it’s the dangerous time of his wolf cycle, and personal issues for Luka over the stress of being an alpha. And all this is happening JUST as we are hitting the climax of the main conflict regarding the assassination attempt. So the timing just felt so off here and it really threw the story out of its groove for me. Not to mention that they are literally in a life and death situation and Ryder and Luka are all heated glances and sexy thoughts about one another when they should be thinking about not dying.

So I did like a lot of this story. I think the set up is interesting and the world building, while often confusing, is rich and detailed. I liked the characters and enjoyed the various magical battles and seeing how Felix and the team sort it all out. I just needed a lot more clarity on many aspects of the world building. And I really needed Luka to either be out of the book completely, or introduced way earlier, as his 11th hour entrance just threw things off for me. Still, I am curious enough about this series to consider giving the next book a try and seeing what is next for Felix, Ryder, and Luka.

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