Jack is a farmer who has rarely traveled from his small village. But when his sister disappears, Jack is determined to find her. Given that she has striking red hair, Jack figures it shouldn’t take long to trace her path, but it has been weeks with no luck and Jack’s money is running low. So when a monkey appears in the tavern where Jack is having a drink and steals all his gold, Jack goes running after it. Much to his surprise, he finds his coin with a gorgeous, blond, shirtless man who has taken his money seemingly without the slightest remorse. Jack is outraged to have been so blatantly robbed, but he has no idea how to get the money back. When the thief, Sebastian, promises to return the funds — after using them to stake his entry into a card tournament so he can win a larger prize — Jack doesn’t see much choice but to agree.
Sebastian can admit to being intrigued by Jack. The young man may be somewhat sheltered and naive, but he is also fiesty, stubborn, strong willed, and unwilling to back down to Sebastian. In fact, Sebastian would be more than happy to spend a little private time with Jack, but Jack is quite clear he wants nothing to do with Sebastian, who infuriates him. Yet after the tournament, neither man is quite willing to separate, so they decide to work together. Jack needs help finding his sister, and Sebastian has his eyes on a big prize. A prince from a neighboring kingdom has been kidnapped and is being held in a tower. Whoever rescues him will be given the prince’s hand in marriage. So the men agree to help each other out in their quests.
The journey is not easy, as the men are beset by a vengeful orc, dangerous bandits, murderous basilisks, and more along the way. On top of that, Jack and Sebastian are at each other’s throats every minute — until they aren’t and they finally act on the attraction between them. But rescuing the prince means fighting dragon-shifting knights who are guarding the tower. Not to mention that once they have the prince, Sebastian will win the prince’s hand and whatever is between him and Jack will be over. With Jack’s life back in his village, and Sebastian always looking for adventure, finding a way to a future together won’t be easy.
The Reluctant Companion is the first book in H.L. Day’s 13 Kingdoms series. The story is an enemies to lovers, road trip saga with a healthy dose of lighthearted humor. Jack and Sebastian are at odds right from the start, as Sebastian steals all Jack’s money. Jack is infuriated by Sebastian’s bold thievery, but perhaps even more outraged because he can’t help but lust after the gorgeous, cocky man. So even as the pair are at odds, it is quite clear that Jack is into Sebastian despite himself (and Sebastian makes no secret of his desire for Jack). So there is a lot of banter and insults and Jack trying to convince himself he really doesn’t want to see Sebastian bathing and it makes for a fun dynamic. And, of course, eventually Jack comes to realize that there is a lot more to Sebastian than the shirtless man whore with seemingly no morals. The two have a fun dynamic and, even as they argue, there is a sweetness between them that shines through. I would have a liked a little more character development here, and there seems to be pretty clearly something going on with Sebastian that gets hinted at but is never resolved or even really addressed in this book. But overall, I found them a great team and a lot of fun together.
The adventure itself is entertaining as the men journey around the country getting into seemingly endless trouble. There is a fun magical element here that makes for some creative situations and I really enjoyed that aspect of the world building (what is going on is a surprise, and while I figured it out before the reveal, I don’t want to give anything away here by explaining too much). The story has a mix of adventure and thrills, combined with some light-hearted hijinks. At times, the humor here veered just a little too much on the absurd side for me. It just felt somewhat of balance with the tone of the rest of the book, sometimes leaning a little too much to the silly. But I found it fun overall and I think as we watch the men falling harder for one another, we can see the heart underneath the jabs and that pulled it together a little more for me.
This is the first book in Jack and Sebastian’s journey and they will be returning for a second book that looks to be coming in the early fall. The immediate quest wraps up here and we leave the men in a great place romantically, but there are clearly more adventures to be had between them. I am really looking forward to reading on further with Jack and Sebastian.