Apollo is a demi god, fathered by Zeus, and destined to one day be the god of the sun itself. The only problem — well, one of his problems — is that he doesn’t want to be a god. He loathes his father and the Olympian gods, the way they torment humans, forcing them to perform ridiculous and ostentatious acts of worship, killing at whim, raping and punishing them for no more than an afternoon’s entertainment. However, Zeus is getting impatient and has given Apollo an ultimatum: Go to Niria and sit at the feet of Prince Hyacinth, well known for his fidelity and piety, and learn what it is to be a good and devoted son. Needless to say, Apollo is less than pleased.
Hyacinth’s father is away, leaving him in charge of his siblings and his kingdom. With advisors testing him at every turn, mountains of paperwork, and a sister nervous about her upcoming debut supper, he now has the son of Zeus here, spying on him, ready to report to his father every error or flaw. The lives of Hyacinth’s people are now on the line, and the young demi god won’t give him the time of day. How is he supposed to convince Apollo to not let his father smite his kingdom if Apollo won’t even talk to him. This would all be easier if Apollo was less of a jerk.
A Veil of Gods and Kings is the first book in the Apollo Ascending series and is loosely inspired by the tragic love story of Apollo and Hyacinthus, all of which takes place in a fantasy version of ancient Greece. The author does make a note in the beginning of the book that there will be anachronisms, such as shorts, stirrups, and lipstick, choosing to focus on the characters and their story, rather than historical accuracy.
Apollo, the prophesied god of the sun, is very much the entitled son of a 1 percenter. He is privileged beyond anything — being unable to be hurt, not needing money or protection from anyone or anything (save Zeus) — he has rarely known fear or pain or consequence. He is willing to skirt the will of the gods to benefit mortals, such as shaking all of the fruit from the trees and having it drop to earth, which allows the mortals to harvest it, or tricking the priests of Ares into offering a thimbleful of oil and flower petals rather than the traditional sacrifices. Because he won’t be hurt for it. When walking through the city of Niria and seeing poverty and starving children, Apollo places it all on Hyacinth’s shoulders, as though he is the only one to blame for it. Because it’s easier to point a finger than it is to help, and easier to look down on someone who — not being a god or even a demi god — has let this horrible wrong happen.
Apollo’s hatred for Hyacinth isn’t just that Hyacinth is a prince (though that’s part of it), and isn’t just that Zeus sent him here to be babysat by the prince (though that’s another part). Mostly, Apollo’s antipathy for the young man is because, during a party some five years ago, Zeus told the then 13-year-old Apollo that he should model himself after Hyacinth. Every time Apollo tried and failed, there was Hyacinth, not trying and always succeeding. Hyacinth was perfect, and Apollo knew Zeus wished he had been his son, instead. That hurt — along with the other cruelties placed on him by his father — causes Apollo to dismiss Hyacinth without ever trying to get to know who he is as a person, let alone who he will be as a ruler.
Hyacinth remembers that celebration a bit differently. Charged by his family to impress Zeus with their piety, praying that the god would not become angry and take it out on their people, he tried to get close to the god. But no matter what he did, there was Apollo, causing a scene, doing something to get Zeus’s attention. And always with a hateful, angry sneer directed at Hyacinth. And now he has Apollo in his house, reporting directly to Olympus on how faithful and obedient he and his kingdom are. One wrong word from the demi god could lead to the slaughter of his people, and Apollo won’t even let him try to appease him.
If it weren’t for their sisters, Apollo’s Temi and Hyacinth’s Epiphany, the two young men might might never have found an understanding. But once they sit down to talk at dinner, they discover that they share a sense of humor, a concern for the welfare of the people, and a deep and burning attraction for one another. Apollo shares his darkest secrets with Hyacinth, who in turn offers his heart to Apollo, even knowing that, one day, the god of the sun will ascend … and leave him behind. But Hyacinth is a romantic, at heart. He wants those he loves to be happy, and wants to be happy, himself. And a moment with Apollo is worth the pain that will come after.
There are some moments I particularly enjoyed in this book. However, I did not connect at all with the relationship between Apollo and Hyacinth. The idea of Apollo as a prick and a jerk came across very well. His absolute entitlement, his smug condescension, the way he looked down on anything and everything having to do with his father’s religion, including how the priests worshiped their god, worked. He was a pompous ass and I wanted to see him get his comeuppance. Instead, his personality just sort of fizzled out once he got laid. Instead of growing as a character, he just stopped being one. And Hyacinth never felt fully fleshed out. He is a soft hearted and caring ruler and a romantic soul, but he is also a very passive character when it comes to Apollo. There are moments where he stands up for himself, but never with Apollo. When he’s with the demi god, he’s a wide-eyed innocent, waiting for the other person to make the first move, the second, and the third. Even at the end of the story, it’s other characters telling Hyacinth what to do, how to do it, and maybe he should go do that now rather than stand there with his mouth open?
I didn’t buy into the relationship. It just never clicked for me as a romance and, along with the languid pacing of the book, felt sleepy and listless. The writing is fine, and the author plants some seeds in the story that I expect will bear fruit in future books, but at this moment I have no interest in continuing the story. I’m sorry, but this is a pass from me.