Despite being among the many nobles who have gifts, Ash Woodland struggles to manipulate the wind in any meaningful way. Upheaval in his personal life following the recent deaths of his parents makes it even more difficult to muster the necessary control. And when Ash’s older brother brings home a young man named Ren to be Ash’s companion, Ash is livid. Even at ten summers, Ash is adamant he does not need a bodyguard, not even one disguised as a “friend.” Ignoring Ren is easy—the youth is virtually invisible and when he must make his presence known, Ren is polite to a fault. As the years pass, Ash comes to accept Ren’s silent presence.
This tacit agreement between the two changes subtly one afternoon when a combination of foul weather and Ash’s uncontrolled wind gift land both young men in peril. That night, they are forced to share a small cave for shelter from the storm, in addition to needing one another’s body warmth. Soon, Ash begins to see Ren in a new light and wishes nothing more than to know the young man who has been at his side for so long. Before long, Ash begins to carry a torch in his heart only for Ren, but after years of ignoring Ren, what hope can there be of Ash ever earning Ren’s attention, let alone his love and affection? This fear of losing Ren intensifies when Ren is the one who must save Ash from himself after an attempt at seduction turns horribly sour. When Ren takes leave, Ash is consumed with guilt and loss. But Ash also discovers a sliver of hope that he can come to terms with what happened to him and find a way to create a path forward, hopefully with Ren at his side.
Truth in the Wind is a vaguely historical, definitely light fantasy story. It is also part of the Wild Magics series, though I read it as a standalone and felt completely okay with it (in hindsight, perhaps some of my critique about the magic would be moot if I were familiar with the rest of the series, however). Waters conveys a sense of the distant past mainly through the station of Ash’s family. They are nobles in a kingdom, horses seem to be the primary mode of transportation, female characters wear gowns. As a result, I clearly understood Ash comes from money, but both the characters and the reader are unburdened by having to figure out how much duty Ash/his family must carry out because they are not actual royalty. The fantasy aspects were also well shown on page. Ash has some ability to manipulate the wind and it often appears on page in scenes where Ash’s inability to control his talent leads to all sorts of problems. At the character level, the element of magic helps develop the plot. At the story level, I wasn’t really sure how magic was supposed to fit in. This felt like an oversight because, to me at least, it seemed like Ash’s wayward magic skills only mattered when it was convenient for the plot. The fact that this (lack of) ability didn’t seem to be wrapped up at the end of the story reinforced that idea of convenience to me.
One thing I did like is the pacing of the story. I was a bit weirded out at first when Ash is introduced to us and he is all of ten years old, but Waters picks up a few different ages to show how Ash and Ren’s relationship to one another shifts over time. As a whole, I liked seeing Ash at ten, then as a teen (specifically his coming-of-age at 15), and then as a young man because it created a deeper sense of truly knowing Ash. The events depicted on page, of course, also highlight how the dynamic between Ash and Ren changes. More specifically, it is that the reader sees how Ash’s regard for Ren changes because the narration is from Ash’s point of view (albeit in third person). The combination of timeline and major events really helped me sympathize with Ash and understand and appreciate the enormity of his (ostensibly) unrequited love for Ren. The one downside is that Ren, as mysterious and cool as he seems, didn’t really resonate with me beyond “The Love Interest.” My biggest complaint is that I never really understood why Ren seems to double-down on consciously keeping his distance from Ash after Ash’s coming-of-age party. It could have been because Ren knew Ash was betrothed to someone else (much sad) or it could have been because Ren, whose father drank himself to death, disliked Ash using alcohol to manage the stress that accompanies the expectation that Ash marry a girl whom he sees as a sister (much awkward). In short, I feel there is a dearth of understanding when it comes to what drives Ren to act.
Another interesting aspect of the story is how much time Waters spends on Ash’s feelings in the aftermath of an attempted sexual assault on Ash. For readers who are sensitive to depictions of attempted rape (shown on page through dubcon kissing that escalates to noncon touching before the assailant is stopped), I urge reading the book with caution. Personally, I appreciated reading about how deeply the attack affected Ash. It is constantly on his mind and he believes everyone and anyone who sees him and the bruise on his face will immediately know not only what happened, but will blame Ash for the fact that it happened. These thoughts are not easily expelled from Ash’s mind, either. In this, I think Waters reflects the emotions of someone who feels victimized. As Ash works through his feelings, I think he learns how to process the trauma. He eventually makes a sort of peace with it, shifting from victim to survivor. Though re-building his relationship with Ren was part of it, I liked that “getting Ren back” was not the sole element of Ash’s coping with the attack.
Overall, I’d say this is a great, shorter story for readers who like character-driven books. The official blurb sort of set me up for a frenemies-to-lovers type story. Personally, I think that the one-sided narration from Ash’s perspective, the development of a seemingly unrequited love, and the emotional fall out of a sexual assault made this a far more complex read that I was expecting. But the narrow focus helped keep the story feeling tight and I was very vested in Ash’s story—how he would deal with his feelings for Ren and cope with the shame and guilt he felt after the attack. I think this is a great title for readers who like to dive deeper into a single character and who enjoy seeing how that character grows and how that character is shaped by the events in their life.