Jem is sheltered prince from the beautiful southern land of Neuvelle. He has no interest in politics and has been lucky enough to spend most of his days reading and caring for his beloved birds. Now that he is older, however, Jem is joining his family in attending a gathering of representatives from all four countries in the land. It is there that Jem sees the Ergh people for the first time. It has been years since the clan from the frozen north has come to a gathering and they are just as huge and fearsome as Jem has heard. So Jem is horrified to learn that he is being forced into a political marriage with one of the “barbarians.” Jem can admit that the man is handsome, and Jem has long desired a big, strong man who will sweep him away into passion. But fantasy is one thing; the reality is that he is now married to a terrifying stranger who is quite clear he has nothing but disdain for Jem.
Cador has come to the summit with a plan in mind. His nation needs this marriage, as they desperately need the resources that the southern countries can provide. That doesn’t mean he is happy to be married to Jem; Cador just knows it is a necessary evil. Jem seems spoiled and pampered and not at all suited for life in the harsh Ergh climate. Cador just needs to bide his time until they can enact their plan, and that means putting up with the young prince for at least a few months.
Jem and Cador manage an awkward existence in Cador’s home together. Cador has zero patience for Jem and treats him mostly with disdain and irritation. Jem, on the other hand, is used to a much softer life in Neuvelle and finds life in Ergh much too rough and barbaric. But with time, the men begin to grow closer. Cador realizes that he has judged Jem too harshly, that he cares about people and is a natural healer. Underneath Jem’s privileged life, he has a spine of steel and fights for what he believes in. And when Cador lets down his guard with Jem, he is sweet and caring. As the men come to understand each other better, they begin to have something like a real marriage, including finally indulging in bedding each other. But as much as Cador has grown to care for Jem, he still harbors some huge secrets, ones that could destroy all the men have built together.
Wed to the Barbarian is the first book in Keira Andrews Barbarians duet, so this is the first half of a continuing story. I went crazy when I saw this cover and couldn’t wait to pick this one up. I love that Andrews went with a full on, old-school, bodice-ripper style and used it for a gay romance. I find something appealing about reclaiming this stereotypical romance cover for something other than the traditional heterosexual romance. And this story is exactly what you would expect when you look at this cover. It is full on spoiled, virgin prince who fantasizes about being taken by the lusty, strong barbarian. It is old school and over the top and tropey and just so much fun. You have to know what you are getting here, as this story has a very vintage feel to it, but I really loved the style and found it so entertaining.
This story has an interesting set up because these guys are in an arranged marriage that neither wants, but Cador is much more in the know than Jem. Jem’s family realizes this is a political match designed to bring Ergh back into the fold. But they have no idea that the Ergh has some very specific goals in mind and that there is much more going on than they realize. So Cador is in on the plan, and we as readers are let into it fairly early on in the book. It adds to the conflict so nicely because even as we see Jem and Cador slowly come to a place where they are truly starting to care about each other, we know there is a big anvil hanging over their happiness. But while we know the Ergh plan, Andrews also makes the wise choice to hold off on the reveal of exactly why all of this happening until late in the book. That allows the reader to have some inside information, but also keep some key elements a mystery, and it was a nice balance.
Things are a fairly slow burn here for Jem and Cador, though when they finally heat up, it is super intense. It’s all the lusty, young virgin and his barbarian lover that you could possibly want and I was all in. Of course, it works because we know that Cador is not truly barbaric; he is gentle and kind and cares about Jem, even before he wants to admit it. Both of these men are guilty of making snap judgements about the other, and both need to learn to be more open and accepting, which they do throughout the book. So while neither man is without fault, they do each have a nice amount of growth and come to a place where they truly care for one another. That said, this is the first part in the duet and this book leaves things unresolved on many levels, including the relationship. So this story isn’t going to stand alone and you will want to read the second, but that comes out in just a couple of weeks, so the set will be complete soon.
Overall, I found this one a lot of fun and it delivers exactly on what’s promised. It is a light fantasy, with enough world building and politics to give the story substance. There is a bit of action, some intrigue, and a lot of drama and entertainment. I think this book leaves off in just the right place to set Jem and Cador up for the next stage in their adventure and I can’t wait for the second book.