Meshia, king of Mycea and the Mycean Empire, knows what it means to sacrifice for duty. His Mycean queen, Lakeda, was chosen for the good of the kingdom, and in the ten years Meshia’s fought side by side with and wanted Third Commander Sebastian of Cardin, only once did he give in to his desires. Occasionally, having sex with a Cardin male slave is tolerated, but being in love with a free Cardin male is impossible. However, when an attack leaves the capital shaken and in tumult, the colony isn’t the only thing that changes.
Cardin by birth and originally a slave, Sebastian worked his way up in the Mycean army to become a respected commander and fierce warrior, but battle, like Meshia, only feeds part of his soul. When off the battlefield, Sebastian lives for fabulous outfits and performing and revels in his time entertaining with his childhood friend, lover, and fellow Cardinian, Leo. Although Leo and Sebastian have a special bond, Sebastian needs Meshia as well, and while both Meshia and Leo acknowledge the separate aspects of Sebastian’s nature, their individual experience with only one side of him, their disdain for one another, and Sebastian’s own habit of keeping secrets and underplaying his emotional involvement with each man creates tension. However, Sebastian is unique for more than just his earned status, and his connection with two magically gifted and powerful men from two seemingly diametrically different planets may create the bridge needed to save them all.
To me, Age of Mycea is about duality in its many forms—the duality of having power but being powerless, the duality of one’s public/professional persona and what one keeps hidden, the duality of one’s “innate nature” contrasting to one’s lived experience etc.. While there is some compelling material and the backbone of a complex, multilayered tale in Age of Mycea, the overall story is weakened by portraying the characters in variable ways and having the narrative itself be a jack of multiple ideas and tones rather than a cohesive, master of one. Jarrett’s desire to create complex characters in Meshia, Sebastian, Leo, and Lakeda and portray differing aspects of their personalities seems apparent; unfortunately, the execution (with the exception of Sebastian and Leo) is a bit lacking. Instead of creating scenes/environments/dialogue that illustrate a different aspect of the character, Meshia and Lakeda are almost completely different people when they appear in the first few chapters compared to who they later become, which is to the detriment of the characters and my enjoyment, to be honest.
When Meshia is first introduced, he’s the respected, intelligent king with an inner kindness that goes unnoticed, who rules with the skill of someone much older. He is a generous lover who makes tender passionate love to Sebastian and who “[looks] lost amidst the chaos that Sebastian’s men were creating” when they eat dinner. And while Meshia says he rules by fear, he does it by showing the consequences of greed/mistreating people (e.g. having the mayor beaten for embezzling from the widow’s fund and leaving them in poverty). Then, after Meshia’s absence from the narrative for a few chapters to focus on Sebastian and Lakeda’s relationship, he comes back as a murderous, abusive, rage monster whose jealous tantrums often leave Sebastian with broken bones and bruises. He raucously revels in humiliating Sebastian in front of their troops after brutalizing and BRANDING him in the woods. Unlike their first sexual encounter, the second is described more as an assault than the wild passion I think it was meant to be. Sebastian even admits he broke his wrist trying to keep Meshia from raping him. To be fair, “rape” is my word for what happened. Meshia “wanted to fuck [him]” but since he only lets Leo do that, Sebastian had to fight Meshia to keep it from happening. It’s downplayed as a natural consequence of arousing Meshia so extremely and them fighting for dominance. Meshia then proceeds to spend the rest of the book being a jealous, egotistical ass whose brutality against Sebastian knows no bounds and always gets excused as his “nature.”
Lakeda’s metamorphosis isn’t as dramatic or disturbing, but it’s equally problematic. At first, she’s this powerful, intelligent co-leader, equal to Meshia on and off the battlefield. Sweet! Then, after suffering an almost fatal injury, the narrative focuses on her recovery and background with Sebastian, which is interesting until it turns her into a lovesick spouse, throwing tantrums and wanting to use truth spells on her subordinates to find out what the man she’s married to and the man she wants to bone are up to. It might not have bothered me so much had her issues been resolved befitting the strength of her character. Instead her problems are solved byand she functions for the remainder of the story as the super understanding friend whose feelings for the MCs no longer matter; she is there to offer smiling support, comfort, and counsel.
I got personality whiplash from the changes and, honestly, the tonal shifts aren’t much better. The difference between the prologue and first few chapters compared to the many tones later in the story is exhausting. Moreover, I HATED Meshia and resented that I was supposed to root for this HORRIBLE abuser. Their relationship is the classic domestic abuse scenario where the abuser espouses their undying love and devotion, then beats their partner to a pulp, but because they love each other, the beatings, disrespect, and mistreatment are always forgiven. But it’s especially ok in Mycea because of genetics and sometimes Sebastian admits he drove Meshia to it/deserves it.
Besides the unstable characters, the narrative itself suffers from a bit of instability as it seems to want to tell a sci-fi/space opera and fantasy without doing much to develop the underpinnings/tropes of either; the fantasy element is handled the best, as its main contribution is simply to add magic to the world building. It seems that most people can conjure spells with the max proficiency being wizardry level. The spells are mostly used for healing, but can be as complex as sharing energy and teleportation. I guess spells are also used to scan a person’s energy to determine their social standing, since “royalty status” can be seen/imprinted on a person’s energy. How the magic works, whether it pulls from a person’s own energy/nature/both/other, if only royalty have special energy signatures, and other questions are not answered. There’s just suddenly an ability to do something to let you know ‘hey, fantasy’ (or a random attack from the one fantastical beast on Mycea).
As for the sci-fi/space opera, Mycea does the minimum to establish that it takes place in space and has an interplanetary component with different planetary political/social orders. I understand not all books want to do extensive world,building, and I’m fine with that as long as what little knowledge added is consistent and/or placed early enough in the story to matter and not be an afterthought. However, if the narrative incorporates large scale concepts like an interplanetary empire overseen by some higher powered council, politics, and planets composed of only one race of humanoids/people that all share distinctive genetic traits that denote what planet a being is from, structured world,building and plotting is a must. For example, it’s established early on that the planet of Mycea is the heart of an interplanetary empire; Meshia is king of said empire; and there is a “Supreme Council” [that oversees] the broader legalities for the entire empire.” Cool. Enough background info…until the Council is used as a plot device for Sebastian to go Super Saiyan, and that’s it. Maybe since this is the beginning of a trilogy, their background machinations will be unveiled, which is fine, but can I get some information on who they are? What are these “broader legalities,” because in this book they have a fuck-ton of power, then just disappear.
Early on, Sebastian and Leo use a book called “Ancient Theory and Machinery” to indicate use of the lost technology trope. Again fine, if that’s all the world building you want to do, but at about 80% in, there’s a stab at developing the wider world and history that only highlights the limited world building provided previously and raises more questions the narrative doesn’t seem inclined to answer. My favorite add-on, which basically provides an in-universe pass for Meshia, is:
It’s in the Mycean genetics for you to become overly agitated and aggressive. You can’t help it. That is why someone from my race has always been paired with a monarch from yours. It’s not a sign of weakness to accept our help.
So, almost 90% in, the story makes Meshia mostly above reproach because of genetics. Mmmkay. Also, my dude, where were you and your innate, genetic calming mojo when Meshia had two guards murdered because of, what else, a jealous tantrum? Why weren’t you already guarding the king instead of Lakeda or why wasn’t someone else tapped for this earlier? This muthereffer has been wilding out for most of the story, and NOW at the end he needs a keeper? GTFOH.
This genetic determinism is problematic on its own, but it also makes the opaque political structure of this universe and the social/hierarchical commentary interwoven in the main plot murkier. For although this is an interplanetary empire, all the planets involved have humanoid populations that seem to have been created in the Adam and Eve/laboratory style—breed a male and female, then breed their offspring with one another to create a genetically homogenous population. The planets are more D&D/fantasy game races, and to me at least, proxies for grouping nations by “accepted” physical/genetic traits. Planet Nar: big folks who can deflect spells—used for foot soldiers/bodyguards; Planet Mycea: regimented, intelligent, orderly people, but prone to extreme aggression—rulers?? Planet Cardin: tiny seducers who are incapable of conjuring and naturally submissive—slaves. The way the Cardinians are written, I actually started to wonder if they are some type of siren/incubus-like creature with their purportedly high sexual drive, high charisma, physical beauty, etc. since they can apparently seduce just by breathing. While Age of Mycea isn’t the only book to reduce whole planets to a singular genetic species, I’ve never been a fan of this device/shortcut. If you’re going to do it, a least toss in a sentence or two à la Ringworld for how/why it makes sense.
Not going to lie, the whole colonizer vibes this book gives off in its characters and conventions, especially the sexually deviant, uneducated savage “other,” makes me uncomfortable. I’m guessing how the Cardinians are perceived and treated is a social commentary the story is making that will be used in future stories, which is great, but if no one in the current story, neither Cardinian nor the Mycean “hero” I’m supposed to be rooting for, says maybe what we’re taught is wrong or needs to change, but is simply accepted as genetic fact, there’s a problem. The Cardinians’ beauty, “pure animalistic . . . nature” and lack of intelligence are not questioned. It makes it seem like the population being used as slaves and expendable soldiers and test subjects is what they’re destined for because genetics…except for the occasional, exceptional “good ones” like Leo and Sebastian.
Age of Mycea does not lack for interesting ideas or concepts—just focus and structure. Sebastian is an intriguing character, even if the way he engages with the narrative is not. To me, Mycea reads like a large epic with bigger than life characters that lived in the author’s mind for so long before being written down that certain arcs and developments understood by Jarret were lost in translation. Maybe by the end of the trilogy, all the structural/world building problems will be fixed, but I won’t continue reading to find out. Even if Age of Mycea didn’t feel like a spin-off for a series that assumes prior knowledge, I personally could not see Sebastian and Meshia’s relationship as anything other than toxic, obsessive (on Meshia’s end) and unhealthy. And between the partner violence, some victim-blamey elements, the weird tiered-love poly relationship, uneven pacing (ugh, the “proving his love/contrition” quest) and other factors, this book just wasn’t for me, and I can’t really recommend it.
*Note: this is a revised edition from a previously published work.