Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating:n 4 stars
Narrator: Kirt Graves
Length: 5 hours, 31 minutes
Duking it Out is the first book in the Royal Powers multi-author collection of superhero romance series featuring characters from North and South Abarra, two antagonistic kingdoms with common origins, nestled against the western coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Sander Fiala is the reclusive Duke of Roses, fourth in line to the South Abarran throne. Like many royals, Sander has a superpower, the unfortunate ability to shut down/destroy any electrically powered device. His “power” erupted in is pre-teens and caused a catastrophe that he’s has left emotional scars. He remains on his estate, making wine, and the barrels that hold it, without the aid of any electric tools. Over the years, Sander has become a skilled wood craftsman, having built his own yacht, which he sails for pleasure. Sander is not usually involved in matters of state, but his cousin, the crowned prince, was nearly assassinated a few weeks back, and his aunt, the queen, has called on Sander to help negotiate some issues with a North Abarran noble—which goes horribly.
Tarik Jaso, Duke of Arles, is really mad that his vineyard is struggling for water. He blames a South Abarran noble with weather-working powers for stealing all the rain. He’s not pleased that the Monster of Roses, Sander Fiala, has been sent to aid negotiations, and is alerted by his own power—Tarik is also called “Wavelength” because he can overhear verbal communication over a large range—that there might be a bomb plot and that Sander might have a part in it. Tarik’s about to alert the North Abarran king when he’s kidnapped, stowed aboard Sander’s yacht, and the two end up marooned on a desert isle near Crete.
Tarik is suspicious that Sander was party to the kidnapping, at least initially. Sander really doesn’t behave like a “monster,” despite the moniker. During their stay on the island, these two must work together to survive, think Naked and Afraid, royalty edition. Tarik and Sander are both attracted to men and, well, attracted to each other, but their intimacy only grows when Tarik stops letting his prejudice against South Abarrans cloud his mind. He sees how earnest and caring Sander is as a person, and he’s struck by the lonely reality of Sander’s long exile due to his “cursed” power. Their growth depends on Tarik seeing the truth of Sander’s gifts.
Because Sander’s gift has always been considered a curse, he’s never tried to train himself to control it, but Tarik believes mastering Sander’s power will help them survive in their harsh environment, as well as get a call for assistance back home to Abarra. Of course, once they return home, they will go back to their adversarial existence, right? And the love that developed between them is entirely forbidden, borderline treasonous, due to the animosity between their kingdoms. So, Sander will have to give up the only partner he’s ever known, while Tarik will again flounder to find a suitable partner.
As far as the story goes, this enemies to lovers, forced proximity romance is really sweet. I found the pacing and circumstances to be adequate and engaging. I really liked the superpowers part of the story, and how they could be used for good or ill intentions. This story is really centered on Tarik and Sander without many other distracting side characters or storylines, which was great since this is a short novel in a bigger series.
The narration by Kirt Graves was good, rolling forward at a pace I found acceptable. Tarik and Sander have significantly different voices, with Tarik more gruff and growly to match his surly personality. Sander, a quiet and compassionate character, definitely came off as more soft-hearted and patient through this narration. I liked the dual POV, because it particularly gave Tarik a chance to show he wasn’t as big a jerk as his dialogue generally indicated. I enjoyed the audio, which had strongly emotive elements and clear enunciation. This was particularly important because some of the names were unusual, and I didn’t have any text to support my understanding. Like the name for Sander’s yacht, which is an Abarran word I still can’t imagine writing.
In any event, this is a pleasant entry point for people if they want to dive into this series. I’ve read another book that was positioned later in the series, and will point out that they are all written to stand alone. The audiobook was a fun listen, and I recommend it for folks who enjoy breezy romances, enemies-to-lovers tropes, or superhero themes.