Wren Lofthouse is existing, but not really living. He had aspirations once and a supposed group of friends, but that’s all over now. Wren’s law clerk job puts a roof over his head, but he doesn’t have much else. Until a stranger walks into the office and declares that Wren is destined to help save his life. The stranger, Shrike, offers Wren the chance to escape the ordinary and step into a world of myth and folklore.
Since the death of his mentor, Shrike has been alone, without status and at the mercy of those who deem themselves better. In an effort to carve a space for himself, he fights in the Queen’s tourney in the hopes that a strong performance will afford him a title. And it does, but not the one he wants. Christened the Oak King, he is destined to fight and die in the span of a year. Refusing to become a puppet of tradition, Shrike finds that a human may be the key to salvation. Now, Shrike and Wren must challenge a tangle of politics, a brutal Queen, and Fate itself, and do so before both are crushed beneath the Court of the Silver Wheel.
The story of the Oak King and the Holly King is an old one. Stemming from Celtic and pagan myths, it’s ultimately an explanation for seasonal change and the stark opposition of winter from summer. Author Sebastian Nothwell has given readers a sweet but serious version of this centuries old myth.
Wren and Shrike pretty much steal the show here. While their romance evolves a bit too quickly, there’s a depth and warmth to it that gave it a measure of realism. Both men are vibrant and well developed enough to stand as individuals, which I appreciated, but they excel as a duo. They’re a compelling couple and tend to demand the reader’s attention when together. Despite the fact Shrike isn’t human, Wren’s acceptance of him and all his differences is absolute and heart warming.
The story on the whole is a bit bonkers and I’m not sure the author ever fully explains how Wren and Shrike hope to skirt the Queen’s plan, but sufficed to say, their final “battle” is decidedly public and eye opening. It was an unusual solution and left me laughing at the boldness of it. Really, my only complaint with the book is that the overall ending felt rushed. Given how relaxed the pacing is throughout the rest of Oak King Holly King, the end seemed crammed into place and lacking in the grace and ease I’ve come to expect from this author. The abruptness of it just left me frustrated as a reader. There are also some mild typos and these would have been resolved with better editing, but this is a minor issue for me.
Oak King Holly King is another strong entry by this author. Sebastian Nothwell is one of my auto-buys because the author consistently produces lengthy romances between well-developed protagonists. If you’re looking for a Yule themed holiday romance and enjoy historicals, you’ll probably enjoy this one.