The Barbarian’s Vow is the second book in Keira Andrews’ Barbarian Duet and continues the story started in Wed to the Barbarian. The books need to be read in order and this review will spoil some things revealed in the first story.
Now that Jem knows the truth about Ergh’s plans to kidnap him and chop off his hand to start a war, he can no longer trust his husband, Cador. Jem had believed the man truly loved him, and he is devastated at the betrayal. Even as Cador apologizes and explains why the people of Ergh were so desperate, Jem knows he can’t ever forgive him. As they sail for Neuvelle, Jem is determined to reveal Ergh’s plans to his mother, the queen, and see them all locked away, including Cador.
Cador knows he should never have gone along with his father’s plans. It is hard to even remember what it was like before he loved Jem, when he saw Jem as just a pawn to save the children of Ergh from the horrible disease. He has tried to show Jem just how sorry he is, but Jem wants nothing to do with him. All Cador can hope is that he can find a way to earn back Jem’s love and trust.
When they arrive on the shores of Neuvelle, nothing is as expected. While Jem is thrilled to be back in his homeland, it is clear that things are unsettled. Wildfires are raging, scouts are disappearing, the clerics seem to have gained more control, and everyone is acting strangely. Even making it to the palace safely is proving impossible. It is clear that the land is in turmoil and Jem is uncertain what is going on and who is really on his side. As the situation escalates and war looms on the horizon, Jem finds himself turning to Cador as a source of strength and comfort. While his mind doesn’t want to forgive Cador, Jem’s heart still yearns for him. Now Jem must decide if he can truly forgive Cador, and if together they can fight for the lives of the children of Ergh, as well as the safety of both their countries.
The Barbarian’s Vow picks up pretty much where we left off at the end of the first book with the group journeying back to Neuvelle. Things are tense between Jem and Cador, and all Jem wants is to return home to the embrace of his family and put Cador and his life in Ergh behind him. But that is not to be, as there seems to be danger and conflicts at every turn. And Cador vows he will do whatever it takes to protect Jem, even as Jem is uncertain if he can forgive him. Things take a little while to really set up here, as there are a lot of moving parts. We have characters in a variety of locations with people coming and going. After the excitement at the end of the first book, I found this one a little slow to get started. But as the pieces come together, the story gains speed and there is a lot of intrigue and uncertainty that adds to the excitement. Jem is never quite sure who to trust and, as a reader, I never was quite sure either, which I enjoyed. So having the stability of Cador by his side, a man who loves him and wants to protect him, really helps Jem navigate the difficult situation.
One thing I particularly liked here is how we see both men gain some independence over the course of the two books. Cador very much has wanted the approval of his brother and father his whole life, and he finds himself often seeking their validation. It is part of what got him mixed up in the whole kidnapping mess in the first place, and even as he has broken with his brother, part of Cador still seeks his father’s good opinion, even as he disagrees with the man’s choices. Jem grew up sheltered and pampered, and he longs to return home and just let his mother take care of everything, to turn all his problems over to her. But both of these men have stand for what they believe it, to not rely on their parents, but on themselves and each other. It is a nice growth arc for both characters and a nice parallel journey for them.
On the romance end, it takes some time for things to thaw between Jem and Cador, as Jem is justifiably angry and hurt. He finally believed Cador really loved him and wanted him, and he is crushed at the betrayal. But Cador is steadfast in his determination to prove his love and loyalty and slowly Jem realizes he can trust him. One of the only ways Jem can let himself go with Cador at first is to engage in some sexual role play that allows him to imagine they are both other people (virgin prince and marauding woodsman). It helps the men to find a way together as they are slowly coming to rebuild that trust. So I will note that there are some very light tones of Jem being captive and forced by the “woodsman.” It is all totally consensual and part of the play between them, but be aware if this is a sensitive area for you.
I loved the way this story comes together at the end, and there is a lot of excitement, plus a really lovely happy ending for Cador and Jem. This duet delivers on exactly what it promises: an old school bodice-ripper style (or breaches-ripper in this case), with a lot of sexiness and sweeping fantasy, along with an exciting adventure. I enjoyed this one a lot and found it to be great fun. Definitely recommended.