It was supposed to be the crime to end all crimes. Well, the crime to end their crimes, at least, as Raphius and his gang decide to kidnap the prince of Aurusia for a prince’s ransom. It would be enough money to retire, with enough change left over to keep their pockets full. The only problem is that no one knows what the prince looks like. Even so, the prince has a bedroom, which means he’s likely to be found there around bedtime. But the person Raphius discovers in the prince’s room isn’t dressed like a prince at all, and seems all too willing to be kidnapped.
Arlo is wealthy, titled, and wants out of the palace. He’s also willing to flirt and more than a little handsy. When Raphius claims to be the prince’s lover, to hide why he’s really there, Arlo drawls out that he, too, is the prince’s lover. But that doesn’t stop him from offering to warm Raphius’ sheets as the two men sneak their way out of the castle.
And maybe the flirtation would have led to something else, something more, if the Queen’s guards didn’t come chasing after them to rescue the prince from their nefarious clutches. It turns out Arlo isn’t Arlo, but the prince Aurien, and being a prince isn’t the only secret he’s keeping.
I chose this book for the Judge a Book By Its Cover Week because I liked the hand-drawn design. The smirk on Raphius’ face matched by Aurien’s amused expression, and the “Not” in bold letters across the cover. This looked like it was destined to be a fun adventure with comedy and humor, maybe with feats of derring-do and some nice banter. Honestly, it’s a great cover.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t live up to it. This is, I believe, the author’s debut book and it shows. Reading any book requires a suspension of disbelief. This one, though, even more than others as Raphius finds a strange and noble man in the prince’s room — a prince whose face no one has seen — and buys his story about being some random paramour rather than the prince himself. And then, when the truth is out, Raphius, the kidnapper, is upset that his victim, the man he was sent to and did inadvertently kidnap, lied to him about who he was in order to not be kidnapped. And then, of course, he falls in love with the man he and his gang are keeping tied up and gagged because he’s hot. It’s so mechanical, dry, and lifeless and just felt out of place to me. Why is Raphius suddenly in love? Just because the prince he kidnapped is hot and flirted with him? Because they touched a few times? It’s a reliable if overused trope, the “he’s hot so I think I can fall in love with him”, but here, in this book, it fell flat and left me unmoved.
Scattered through the book are odd, stilted, and forced word choices, such as “Morzo and Raphius made a quick job of untying and descending the big man onto the grass,” which made the reading stutter. The sentences don’t flow naturally and they often come across contrived and clumsy. Along with overwrought, poetic turns of phrase and the fact that no one seems to react to anything, I found that I had to force myself to keep making my way through the book. And, on a very personal note, the constant use of simpering and tittering … I just find it hard to take a dramatic or romantic moment seriously when one of the characters is tittering or simpering at the other.
Raphius behaves the same no matter what, be it climbing into a prince’s room and being caught, flirting with a man in the woods, tying up the same man, watching the man he kidnapped burn a squad of soldiers alive, or eating with the queen of a rival country … Raphius doesn’t seem to care. He has no character growth, no character arc, and, frankly, no character. The plot of the story happens around him and while he witnesses it, he doesn’t really react to any of it beyond a few token protests or maybe a faint “grr” as he listlessly shakes his fist.
Aurien goes from hot to cold and back again at a moment’s notice, sometimes to advance the plot, but at others it just feels as though the author loses track of the character. The grand reveal of the first of his secrets goes by with a shrug by everybody, and the second secret — revealed to Aurien by his mother, the Queen — gets a brief moment of anger. However, the secret and the way it is revealed just didn’t work for me.
The world building is a bare sketch and, while the writing isn’t to my taste at all, the pacing is good and I think the idea behind the Sorcerer’s Guild to be interesting enough that, if the author wrote a second book about the Guild and the people in it, I’d be happy enough to pick it up. But this book, with these characters, it just didn’t work. I suggest you pass on this book.
This review is part of our 2021 Reading Challenge Month for Judge a Book By Its Cover Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of five $20 JMS store gift cards from JMS Books (you can see the details on the bundle in our Prize Preview post)! Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing Grand Prize sponsored by NineStar Press: a Kindle Paperwhite loaded with 50 NineStar Press books! And don’t forget if you read along with your own challenge book this week, you can earn ten contest entries for writing a mini-review on our wrap up post on Friday! You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Judge a Book By Its Cover Week here.