Marius has returned to college to gain his doctorate in biology. Because he had to take time off to deal with his father’s death, his fellow students are all younger than he is, and his peers are already lecturers. It makes things … awkward. Even more unsettling is naked fae prince suddenly appearing in Marius’ bedroom! Well, not entirely naked. He’s covered in quite a bit of blood. The fae is none other than Prince Rakken, Prince “Pain-In-The-Ass” Rakken, who kissed Marius as if he meant it and then left him. Prince Rakken who uses mental compulsion at will to make mortals and fae bow to his every whim. Prince Rakken who didn’t notice Marius until he needed help, and Prince Rakken who looks quite good naked in Marius’ bedroom.
Rakken isn’t here for him, though, not really. But before Marius can figure out why, exactly, he is here, Rakken feels a powerful disturbance of dark fae magic that leads the two of them (now fully dressed, thank you) to discover the body of Dr. Vane in Marius’ greenhouse surrounded by broken plants and the body of a lowfae and blood. A great deal of blood.
A Rake of His Own is the fifth book in the Stariel series, which takes place in a world where, within the past two years, the fae courts have decided to make themselves known by returning to the mortal world. This is a clever little murder mystery that can be read as a standalone (as I did, having not read any of the other books in the series) with excellent world building and easy, seamless introductions to other characters. There are no clumsy expositional dumps; the book is content to give you just enough to figure out how everyone is related without giving you their backstories, which I appreciate. It also adds to the eclectic, whimsical, found family aspect of Marius’ family, of people embracing with open hearts any lost or wounded soul … which is good, because Marius is going to need all that support if he’s going to be so foolish as to fall in love with Rakken.
[Rakken’s] green eyes were deep enough to drown in. Like a swamp full of crocodiles, Marius told himself.
In this gaslamp fantasy taking place in an alternate world, homosexuality is still not looked well upon, and Marius hasn’t had much experience or luck in the love department. His first and last love affair ended when John tired of him, leaving Marius with a broken heart, something that broke even further at Rakken’s rebuff. But now, with Rakken here, close enough to touch, it’s hard not to want more than the sniping, biting rivalry between them. Rakken is an ass and a monster and an utter twat, but he’s also intelligent and driven, with his own morals and sense of justice — even if they aren’t a mortal’s sense of either. It’s easy to trust Rakken; as a fae, his word is his bond, and when he says he’ll be there for Marius, that he’ll help him find who killed Dr. Vane, Marius believes him. And when Rakken suggests that, for as long as they’re in this, they get rid of the sexual tension between them by giving in to it, no feelings attached, Marius reluctantly agrees. He knows he’s likely to get his own heart bruised, but it’s been so long since he’s been touched, and if he’s careful — if they’re careful — maybe they can come out the other side of this as friends. Because he finds himself liking Rakken, when Rakken isn’t being deliberately awful to him.
As a fae prince, Rakken grew up with a very different sense of right and wrong. He’s beautiful, powerful, and there isn’t a fae or mortal who wouldn’t offer up their flesh and their throats at his look. Except for Marius, who is immune to his compulsion, who argues with him over everything, who dares to lecture him on what a mortal thinks a fae prince ought to be doing. It’s refreshing. It’s a challenge, but it’s not real. Marius doesn’t — can’t, won’t — love him. Not the way Rakken loves him. Marius is mortal. He’s fickle. He’s beautiful, intelligent, and captivating. And Rakken is besotted.
Rakken said, without hesitation: “I defy anyone to spend significant time with you and not love you.”
Enemies to lovers is a trope I very much enjoy and this book does it so well. The two men have valid reasons to dislike each other, and just as many reasons to admire each other. And there is mutual respect. Rakken admires Marius’ intelligence and drive, his compassion and strength. Marius enjoys Rakken’s wit and humor, and he could spend his life watching Rakken’s face when he’s focused on his magic, the focus, concentration, and smug pleasure at drawing perfect circles and complex lines; and his heart breaks for those moments when Rakken’s mask slips and he can see glimpses of pain, weariness, or loss. Despite their difference in magic and rank, the two men are equal in strength of character, both wanting to protect the other, and the romance is, for me, the best part of this book.
Yes, the writing is amazing, the banter — all it friendly, none of it mean-spirited or cruel — sparkles:
“Oh, you are bad for my ego,” Rakken said, making Marius’s head snap up. “You never look at me with that much ardour.”
“Sprout leaves and roots,” Marius advised,
This is a charming book with fae princes, falling in love, and folklore and magic. It’s wonderful and whimsical and I really hope you give it a try. As for me, I’m off to go get the first book in the series!