Rating: 4.25 stars
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Declan grew up a retainer to Prince Arwyn, one of the many, many children of King Cadoc. And one day, when Declan and Arwyn were fourteen, they went to the Well. Everyone knew where it was and what it was for. All you had to do is throw in some treasure and the thing in the Well might grant your wish. But treasure comes in many different forms and the nature of the giving mattered to the thing in the Well. Young Declan, gifted into the service of the royal family and trained as a retainer and wyvern rider, was hard pressed to think of a single thing he wanted. Prince Arwyn, however, saw things differently—he saw them for what they really were. Prince Arwyn had a wish, and the treasure he’d use to pay for it was the greatest boon anyone had offered the thing in the Well. Two teenagers visited the Well that day, but one came back as a god.
Avarice, the thing in the Well, never made it his business to question why people make wishes. He is a god; he simply decided whether or not to grant the wish. But over the centuries, he noticed the nature of the things people wished for—not to mention what they think might be worth the price to pay for it—had changed. People today want power, wealth, and influence. And they’re willing to pay any amount of gold, jewels, and blood to get it. When a teenaged prince offered something far more precious than metal for an utterly selfless wish, the thing in the Well was only too eager to accept. After all, the transaction with the prince finally gave the god the means by which to leave the Well…and he assumed the identity of Arwyn. From then on, Arwyn took every advantage of being outside the well. He spent several years assuming the old Arwyn’s princely duties; when those began to chaff, he turned pirate.
Now, Declan is determined to take the imposter back to the Well to get the real prince back. The king himself supports Declan’s mission, even if he’s the only one. And after years of a game of cat and mouse, Arwyn gets the upper hand in their fraught connection. If Declan will serve on Arwyn’s ship for three months, he’ll take Declan to the Well himself and let the young soldier try to reverse a deal long since made. It should have been easy enough for Declan to agree, but the longer he spends with this new Arwyn, the more he begins to see that all is not as it seems. Not about this other Arwyn, not about his own life, not about anything.
Shadowfall is book two in Iris Foxglove’s series Immortals Descending. This story focuses on Avarice, who goes by Arwyn in this story. In book one, the character is introduced as a god who is trapped in his Well, barred from leaving. People still cast precious items into his well hoping for wishes. But everything they have to offer turns to trash by the time it reaches him at the bottom of the Well. I thought Avarice was a tantalizing character. Skeletal in looks with paste-gem eyes and a rusty iron crown seemingly permanently affixed to his head, Avarice is flippant and dismissive. The first book also has a brief scene where Avarice/Arwyn and Declan are sailing on a pirate ship and I was so curious about how a regular human would fall for a god like Avarice. That’s where this whole book comes in; it explores how Arwyn and Declan come together.
The prologue of the book sets up the most tantalizing premise: Arwyn the prince and Declan the retainer are as thick as thieves and more than likely crushing on one another. One day, they go to this magical Well that grants wishes…but Arwyn is the only one who knows there’s something worth wishing for. In the end, Arwyn the prince gets replaced with Arwyn the God and only Declan seems to realize there’s a different person in that princely body. (Note: hereafter, any reference to “Arwyn” is Avarice in Arwyn’s body, which follows conventions of the book itself.) The prologue was only a few pages long, but boy did it set up some huge enemies-to-lovers energy for this story. I also skimmed the prologue again after finishing the book and it hits even deeper the first time.
At the core of this story is Declan’s intense desire to get his childhood friend back. He immediately told everyone and anyone who would listen that Arwyn the prince had been body snatched by the thing in the Well. No one but the king believed him, but having the king in his corner was enough. Under the generous auspices of the king, Declan makes it his mission to track down the prince-turned-pirate. Declan has become a renowned and reviled pirate hunter, all in the name of finding this imposter Arwyn and taking him back to the Well to get the real one back. The enemies part of “enemies to lovers” was there in spades.
The enemies to lovers execution here is actually one of my critiques of the story. Undoubtedly, Declan loathes this new Arwyn. That hate has sustained him for nine years, after all. The flip side is, of course, that by the end of the story, Declan and Arwyn are hopelessly in love. Clearly, there is a tectonic shift in how Declan and Arwyn see one another. That said, I had a hard time seeing or registering where these two had emotional breakthroughs that turned loathing into love. In hindsight, I suppose there are tells, but as I read them in the moment, I really didn’t have a sense for where these interactions built up the relationship. I’m thinking specifically of Arwyn finding a cat and Declan gifting a bag of pearls to Arwyn. I think part of that was driven by how antagonistic these two are towards each other. Arwyn brushes off helping the cat just like he assumes Declan has ulterior motives for giving him the pearls. So many of their interactions highlight how they go out of their way to bait each other, too. Even after we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they truly love each other, they snipe at each other. It was a confusing dynamic for me, but maybe other readers will pick up on those cues better than me and enjoy a more sweeping love story. As is, I thought this was a hot, sexy mess of physical attraction after a long period of denial before eventually, somehow, turning into True Love.
Apart from the fraught love story, Declan’s role as a former retainer and king’s warrior is another deep thread in the story. I loved how dedicated Declan is to his job. In the prologue, he comments about how being gifted into the service of the king, being a retainer, and training as a wyvern rider were all so perfect for him. This man is so damn content with his life that when one wish at the Well takes it away, he spends the better part of a decade trying to get it back. And all along the way, there are hints big and small that Declan’s perfect world isn’t so perfect. I loved that there wasn’t just one revelation that convinced Declan that his world view was skewed. The biggest question for me, though, was why Arwyn the prince made the wish he made at the Well. We eventually learn the full story behind that wish and it just circled back so bittersweet with the prologue scene.
Overall, I thought this was an excellent addition to the Immortals Descending series. The authors lean in hard on the enemies aspect of this enemies-to-lovers story. Sometimes, it was a little hard to feel how they transition to lovers, but I felt like we got there eventually. I loved the hook about Arwyn the prince’s wish at the beginning of the book and then slowly learning the full extent of where that wish came from by the end of the book, too. There’s less focus on events outside the “get together” aspect of Declan and Arwyn’s relationship, but there are a few scenes that pull the broader universe into this book. I think this is a great choice for fans of this series or this universe, or for readers who love the enemies-to-lovers trope. And readers who enjoy a little rough sex and hints at monster fucking (huzzah!), there are nods to those themes as well.