Prince Petre is in love. In an effort to keep his ancestral vineyard afloat — his family home, his duty and obligation, his prison, and his palace — he put out an ad on The List offering his labor in exchange for fertilizer. Mickey, whose family owns a chicken farm, is more than willing to get some free work out of Pete in exchange for help with fixing the roof. What starts as a heated glance continues in texts as the two young people start up a friendship with both of them hoping it might grow into something else.
When Mickey’s father — whose magic power is the ability to turn into a hen — is stolen by people who’ve mistaken Lulu for a goose, it’s Pete to whom Mickey reaches out. Dropping everything and risking his mother’s rage, Pete is willing to do anything and everything to help Mickey and their family. Even going so far as to use his own power, the same time power that nearly killed his father.
While this is book five in the Royal Powers universe, it’s able to be read as a standalone. Each book takes place in the same universe, one where super powers exist, as well as two new countries that happen to fit in somewhere between Spain and France. Each book in the series is written by a different author, which means you can probably read them in any order you want.
Mickey is an interesting character, someone who is both genderfluid and a shape shifter — though, like their father, a shifter of limited shapes. Mickey’s body switches between male and female. When in the male body, Mickey uses he and him pronouns; when in the female body, they use she and her. I’m uncertain if Mickey is able to be any shape between one and the other, or if it’s limited to the two primary forms. However, even with that, Mickey is Mickey in any shape. Friendly, warm, playful, and kind. Having grown up being treated as, well, unusual, they faced bullying, teasing, and ostracization. It’s left Mickey more sympathetic to others, and more shy about themselves both physically and emotionally.
When Pete was 10, his father, a powerful superhero with time powers, went missing. When he returned he was — and remains, even now — catatonic. With only his mother as a parent, Pete has been raised to fear his own powers. Told again and again how useless they are, how useless he is, how dangerous time is … he’s overly cautious. Pete’s life is one of flinching and obedience, where the wrong word — the wrong look — could unleash his mother’s anger, not only at him, but at everyone else. His mother’s powers are to shape the weather and she has chosen to avoid control. When Pete got her angry as a young man, she created a tornado that killed several people and destroyed property and somehow managed to get Pete to be the one to apologize, to take responsibility. She has been a toxic, vile, and horrible guardian to Pete and yet, somehow, he manages to look past the fear, to look past the limits she has placed on him as a person and see the chains she’s bound him with. It doesn’t mean it’s easy to get past that, or to get over it. She’s his mother, and even though he knows — when she touches his cheek in front of visitors — that every brief moment of affection is staged and fake, he can’t help but treasure them.
While the plot is whimsical and the super powers are amusing and interesting in equal measure, I was more caught by Pete’s story. His pain, the horrible burden his mother placed on him as her perpetual scapegoat, blaming him for everything and anything and how inured he was to it, how brittle and fragile and worn down he is … I felt for him. That his dream was to have a family that he could care for and love and watch grow spoke how how badly he wanted love in his life. It makes sense that he fell head over heels in love with Mickey, the first person to really see him smile, something easier to do when he was away from his mother’s wrathful regard, when he was away from the vineyard that was, straw by straw, breaking his back.
I enjoyed seeing Pete go from someone hurt and hurting to someone happy and loving, someone who knew they were worthy of that love. On it’s own, the book is kind of adorable, but Pete is the selling point, at least for me.