Moranthus was on the losing side of a coup. He watched as the man he loved fell dead while being unable to lift so much as a finger to stop him, and found himself obliged to swear fealty to the woman who caused his Primarch’s death. The new ruler, the Matriarch, has reasons to both doubt and dislike Moranthus and has kept him exiled in all but name on the fringes of Moonridge. Now, though, he has a chance to redeem himself. If he can rescue a human prince before the goblins get to him, and return him to his human father, Moranthus will be welcomed back. It’s not as though there’s much of a choice — impossible quests are called impossible for a reason — but it’s a chance. He’s been alone so long he barely remembers what it’s like to belong, anymore.
Gerrik is a soldier, like any and every soldier in Dawn’s Gate. The only difference is that Gerrik looks just enough like Prince Orthenn to be able to stand in as his body double. So, Gerrik was pulled from the ranks of the common man at arms and given the cushy job as personal guard and target for Orthenn. The extra money is nice. It helps keep his growing daughter in clothes, it allows him to afford better equipment, and, maybe one day, a better life for the both of them. Even so, he has to deal with the side-long comments from certain people about his daughter, and the constant good-natured ribbing of his friends who also think he should settle down with a good woman.
When Gerrik is mistaken by the elf for the prince and spirited away, he isn’t happy at the prospect of dying. He can’t believe anything an elf says, even if the elf is telling him he’s going to be given back alive and whole to the king (who probably won’t be thrilled to be presented with the body double instead of the prince). But once the secret it out, Moranthus must now go back the way he came to get the real prince. Only, the prince isn’t there anymore. What is left is a growing mystery about who really wants Prince Orthenn, and what, exactly, they intend to do with him when they have him.
At it’s heart, this is a fantasy adventure story with humans, elves, goblins, and a great deal of world building. And it’s strength is in its world building. Moranthus and Gerrik work well as a pair, both when they work in opposition and when they slowly begin to work together. Their banter and growing friendship, especially when they get to the goblin town, is entertaining and well-written. But their relationship is slow to advance beyond that for much of the book, and when it does show up, it feels sudden. Moranthus doesn’t see Gerrik as anything more than a hostage and then a potential ally until halfway through the book when, for one brief moment, he is caught by how blue Gerrik’s eyes are.
Gerrik, for his part, has never even given a thought to taking a lover — male or female — since his daughter’s birth. His reaction to Moranthus is wary, and only when the two of them begin to be friends, and only when Moranthus casually brings up his preference for males, be they elf, goblin, or human, does Gerrik even think of his own preferences. Gerrik, in my opinion, is probably demisexual, needing that emotional connection, that personal rapport before he begins to feel any sexual attraction.
Moranthus’s previous lover was a man of high rank and power, older and in a position of authority over Moranthus. If it weren’t for Ryllorin, he wouldn’t have risen as high in rank as he did. He knows he loved Ryllorin more than the other man loved him, and knows that he feels more attachment to Gerrik than the human feels for him, but he’s willing to accept the hurt. Moranthus isn’t afraid of love — giving it or losing it — he’s only afraid of being alone.
Overall, this is a very entertaining story with well-crafted world building and a nice, bright pace. The writing is solid and the characterizations are good, and while it works very well as a fantasy story for me, I didn’t quite feel as connected to the romance aspect. This is the first book in a series and I am very curious to see where Moranthus and Gerrik’s relationship goes from here.