The Queen’s husband schemed and plotted to murder her and take her queendom for his own. However, on the evening that plan was to come to fruition, a lone Knight of the Queen named Ezra single-handedly turned the tides. Ezra succeeded for two reasons: First, he was an unconditional champion of his queen; second, he secretly harbors heavenly powers that may ring with emotion or with thunderously destructive vibrations. In other words, Ezra is a mythical Elysian bell in the flesh. Though Ezra managed to save his queen, his role in vanquishing the king meant he had to be punished. And so the queen banished Ezra to a far off province.
Eleven years later, the Queen has finally summoned Ezra back to her side. Except when Ezra arrives in the capital, there is precious little to actually see of the Queen. Instead, he learns of her wishes and orders through a great many missives, some of which seem contradictory. What’s more, the capital of today is far different from the one Ezra left more than a decade ago. Now, there are groups of malcontents who openly scorn the Queen and all her efforts to secure her people’s welfare and livelihood. While Ezra is nothing but sympathetic to the demands of the Queen’s job, a growing number of people have grown suspicious of her behavior. While some protest every plan she has for the public good, others now accuse her of being a man-killing vampire. Once again, it is up to Ezra to save his queen. With the help of his best friend and fellow knight, Marigold, Ezra seeks to unravel the source of these wild claims. And in the process, he learns more about his nature as an Elysian Bell and manages to build a connection to his enigmatic queen. This connection is deeper than he ever thought possible and forged not on this plane, but in the mystical realm called Eydos. But will this connection last once the unrest comes to a head?
A Bed of Rose and Thorns is a standalone fantasy novel from author Lee Hunt. The story is an exploration and contemplation of love in many forms, though Hunt indicates it is not a romance. Given the plots against the Queen, there is a thriller-like quality to the prose. And Ezra not only embracing his status as an Elysian bell, but exploring the other worldly Eydos if not in the flesh, then at least in his subconscious, gives the book an alternate reality theme. But all of this only matters because at the core is the obsessive, virtually unrequited, unconditional love Ezra bears for the Queen. This level of utter devotion was a pretty limiting factor in the book. It was a given that everything Ezra did was for the Queen. With his special powers, it was also pretty obvious he was always going to win, and there would always be people around to make sure he didn’t die while doing it. The real suspense was whether or not the Queen would return a modicum of Ezra’s feelings.
Ezra’s nature as an Elysian bell was a fun twist. As I understood it, he managed to completely contain this aspect of his nature until the Queen was attacked 11 years ago. But Hunt carefully lays out the timeline and details. There may have been mentions of Ezra vibrating or ringing, but that only felt like it was in line with someone livid over one thing or another. The first time it was explicitly clear Ezra was actually making a sound like a bell was admittedly thrilling. Given that Ezra apparently kept this power completely secret his entire life, it seemed a bit incongruous to me that during the bulk of the book, Ezra’s bell tones resound time and again. He rings when he feels many different forms of love and he rings when he feels rage. With several women trying to seduce him and one succeeding in a very dub-con way and one slight after another hurled at his Queen (to say nothing of the several times people actually posed a threat to her or her power), there was a lot of ringing going on.
The plot against the Queen was fairly straightforward, at least where non-principal characters are concerned. It was easy to see how and why they disliked the Queen’s efforts at public works (it involved a sort of eminent domain situation in this world where people were compensated for the land the crown took, regardless of whether or not they wanted to sell). The accusations of the Queen being a vampire were more ambiguous. Hunt gives plausible credibility to the idea both in the waking world and in Eydos. But Ezra’s exploration of Eydos is what really gives the story a sense of the other worldly. Often, when Ezra falls asleep, he awakes (if only in his subconscious) in Eydos and engages with some permutation of the Queen. If you like symbolism, you’ll probably appreciate the forms she takes: iceburg, pumpa, tornado, vampire. But I felt like these trips to Eydos are a further exploration and development in Ezra and the Queen’s relationship at least as much as they are an element of parallel universes. Without these vignettes, Ezra could be boiled down to the Queen’s biggest simp. With them, there is at least an inkling that she might return his regard in some form.
And what fantasy book is complete without epic battles. Of course, because Ezra is the only known Elysian bell, meaning he has the power to vibrate in ways that can sunder steel and stone, he also has exceptional healing abilities. Taken together, it’s sort of a foregone conclusion that Ezra will win whatever battles he engages in. Still, it was fun to read about how Ezra wields vibration to bring about destruction. And being a trained Knight of the Queen, he has some fun moves that cause a great deal of carnage and severed limbs.
As a final note, the book was listed as having some “gay, but subtle” representation, which is why we thought it might be a good fit for review. While there is an apparently gay character named Pontes, his role in the book fails the Vito Russo test and, to me, falls far short of the mark of offering any sort of LGBTQ representation. If Marigold did not jealously accuse Pontes of wanting to bone Ezra, it would not have been clear that Pontes was even gay. Furthermore, Pontes fails to have any impact on the plot. There was a brief hope that Pontes was going to provide irrefutable proof the throngs plotting against the Queen were bad actors, but Pontes fails to bring the goods before the battle of the bad actors begins. In short, if Pontes were never in the book, nothing would have changed. If you’re looking for LGBTQ rep in fantasy, this ain’t it is all I’m saying.
Overall, A Bed of Rose and Thorns is a pretty good fantasy book. I must say, the kind of utter abnegation Ezra embodies for nearly anything and everything that wasn’t the Queen was a unique vector along which to drive a story. The use of a world in another dimension as a vehicle to develop Ezra and the Queen’s relationship was a fun break in Ezra’s endless task to be the Queen’s champion and helped tease some interest into what otherwise felt like a categorically unrequited love. If you’re looking for a book that takes acts of love to the extreme, then this is the book for you. If you want some LGBTQ themes or characters, however, you’re better off looking elsewhere.