Valentino the spoiled, magical prodigy and darling son of his mother is soon to be the third husband of the twice widowed, and as yet childless, Mariona, daughter of the Duchess of Felidereaux. Both of their respective families are hoping to gain good fortune from this union. For the Duchess, her daughter’s children born of this union will have great gifts of magic, and for Valentino’s mother, her son and her grandson will posses the title of Duke. If only Valentino wasn’t so miserable about the whole affair.
When a handsome young man sneaks up to him and spins stories about freedom and adventure, living his own life away from his mother’s control in between breath-stealing kisses and spine melting orgasms … well, it doesn’t take Valentino long to make up his mind. He doesn’t want to marry Mariona, he doesn’t want to be his mother’s pet, and he doesn’t want to let Brand ride off without him.
If only Brand had been a little more honest with Valentino. What was supposed to be a breathtaking and romantic whirlwind of adventure becomes a slog of sleeping on the ground, shoveling manure in a farmer’s stables, fighting off bounty hunters, going hungry, and coming face to face with a monster.
It’s still better than having breakfast with his mother.
The world building in this story is lightly touched upon, but when it does touch something, it feels real and earned. The kingdom of Felidereaux has a long history of magic, both in combat — as when they defeated the Empire of Kaenys — and in art, as shown in Valentine’s theatrical displays. The book has a decided emphasis on opposites and balance, push and pull, as evident in names (cat and dog), moon and sun, men and women, fire and ice. Felidereaux is more of a matriarchy, with women in positions of power and men an afterthought whose purpose is more geared towards the begetting of children; in Kaenys, it’s the opposite, with an abusive and brutal king sitting in their throne. It’s nice and I enjoyed the world building.
Brand is from Kaenys and has snuck into the rival kingdom to seduce Valentino away with him. In the narration, he’s supposed to be brash, clever, charming, and fearless. In actuality, I found him to be a rather subdued one-note character who was … nice. He feels indifferent for the most part and seems to take nothing seriously. He made no plans of importance, just trusting to luck (and the plot) to keep things going for him. And, it worked out. Their journey from one kingdom to the next goes fairly predictably with Brand just feeling… there. One thing to note is when — after a run-in with bounty hunters — Brand walks up to Valentino, who saved him with his magic, and strikes him across the face, strong enough that Valentino staggers. After they’ve exchanged a few words, Brand says he won’t do it again, excusing the whole thing as “we both have our tempers.” He does, eventually, over a day later, apologize for hitting Valentin, explaining that he, his sister, and mother were often beaten by his father, who had a similar temper. What this means for Brand going forward, I don’t know, but hopefully there will be more time in the second book for his personality to start making an appearance.
Valentino is said to have a sharp wit. A bird raised in a gilded cage, he’s now free to spread his phoenix’s wings and fly! However, the character as I saw him was passive, acquiescing to everything Brand told him to do. He never complained, never had an opinion about anything, and had no character growth from beginning to end. The Valentino in chapter one is the same Valentino in his last scene. The story happened around him and for him, but he didn’t feel like he had an active role in it. However, there is just enough of a hint of a personality beneath the complacency that I have hopes for him in the second book of the series.
The plot twists are neatly set up, with each bit of story nicely foreshadowed and hinted at before each reveal, and the world building is a quiet, but balanced element supporting the story. However, I had no real connection with or fondness towards the characters. I found Brand to be so very bland, and while Valentino had a little more flavor to him, nothing really feels like it affects him. There’s no sense that any thing that happens to him actually matters to him. Character wise, he’s the same person at the end of the book that he was at the beginning, just in a different set of clothing and in a different castle.
But, with all that said, I’m interested enough in the story and the world building, both of which are aided by flowing, pleasant writing and a decent pace. Because this book is, in essence, a road trip, as well as an introduction through the world, I have hopes that the second book will be able to have a greater focus on the characters rather than the scenery.