Rating: 4.25 stars
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Many years ago, a human ship traveling between worlds lost its way and crashed on the shores of Avalon. Marooned in this new world, humans have done their best to start afresh. But their new home is shared with a fearsome group of powerful beings called princes. Born from a strange union between a human and a goddess with immense geological powers matched in equal measure by intense mental instability, the princes escaped their mother’s realm to rule the land. Princes are famed for being only slightly less mad than their mother. Many have depraved tastes and keep their human supplicants in line through fear of death…and fates worse than death. But Prince Sheruke is different. He has worked hard to provide stability to the residents who live in his town, New Canton. The people enjoy his benevolent leadership and he allows an all-human council to see to the mundane matters of running the city. But one day, word spreads from New Canton to nearby towns about Sheruke lashing out at his human lover and storming out of the town, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.
A wayward prince in New Canton is trouble that Ranjit “Ranj” Blake doesn’t need or want. But he is compelled to investigate because his dear sister lives in New Canton. He discovers that she is safe and sound, but she shares disturbing news: The stories of Sheruke going berserk are true. She knows because an old friend of hers and Ranj’s is the very man who suffered the prince’s attack. Ranj can barely tolerate princes in the best of times, but to treat the life of a person so callously inspires Ranj to take matters into his own hands—literally, with his pistol. Unfortunately, not even a shot to the head is enough to subdue a demi-god like Sheruke. Instead putting Ranj to death for attacking a prince, however, Sheruke offers him a position as his servant. As much as Sheruke would love for that service to include physical intimacy, he knows anything less than Ranj submitting to him of his own free will and desire would disappoint. Sheruke is also convinced Ranji will never see him as anything in him but the worst impulses of his evil mother. Still, that doesn’t stop Sheruke from attempting to treat Ranj with the same level of benevolence he affords his subjects in New Canton. That ability to be an effective leader just might be the key to unlocking Ranj’s deeper feelings.
The God Prince is the second story in the Earthborn series by Marian Perera. It takes place in a fictional world that I thought came across as a nondenominational kind of historical one, with hints of science fiction and a bit of fantasy. People travel on foot or by horse, but firearms exist. The clothing includes linen pants, fur capes, and other elements from days gone by. And the people themselves seem to have arrived on the world of Avalon on “cruise ships” from their home world—possibly a literally separate planet. It was an interesting mix and I thought Perera combined them well. There was enough detail and she presented it consistently enough that my mind map of how New Canton and the realm of earthbound princes worked and the way they are different from humans really meshed.
Ranj is the main character of the story. For almost the entire book, it’s extremely clear that he barely tolerates princes. When he gets to New Canton to visit his sister and learns that Sheruke, the town’s prince, has attacked a human and destroyed the wall protecting the city, he concocts a plan to murder Sheruke. He even executes his plan…only to find out that a bullet to the head isn’t enough to execute Sheruke. Sheruke would be within his right to kill Ranj for that offense, but rather than kill a human, Sheruke lets Ranj enter his service. The term slave is used very sparingly, but it’s clear to all that Ranj serves at Sheruke’s pleasure—meaning Ranj cannot leave New Canton or, at times, Sheruke’s palatial home without permission. This creates a tense relationship and it’s through that relationship that a few things come to light.
First, Ranj’s close proximity to Sheruke brings to light the little episodes where Sheruke says something out of character. Ranji catches wind of these and tries to call Sheruke on them, but Sheruke has no memory of them. One of the first instances of this was that Sheruke brutally beat his former lover (a human), but denies having any memory of doing so. As a result, the first several days of Ranj and Sheruke sharing a space dance around Ranj’s opinion of Sheruke as someone who frequently commits domestic violence and Sheruke explaining that he doesn’t remember, but promising to do better. Sheruke forgets other transgressions, like saying new immigrants to New Canton need a prison more than houses or when he calls the people of New Canton vermin. The tension this element brings to the story was great. Sheruke absolutely behaved abominably in these situations, but his explanation that he truly does not remember them is also compelling. On the one hand, several of these instances the reader experiences through Ranj’s eyes. We know it happens. And on the other hand, I desperately wanted some explanation for how Sheruke couldn’t possibly be responsible.
Of course, I hoped Ranj would be the one to solve the mystery of Sheruke’s swiss cheese memory, and in so doing, realize Sheruke is nothing but wonderful and fall desperately in love with him. Alas, nothing like that materialized. And given his predisposition to loath princes, Ranj readily believes it when some power-hungry political actors told him that Sheruke was going insane. This, too, creates a kind of barrier between Ranj and Sheruke. Ranj performs all sorts of mental gymnastics to find fault with Sheruke and certainly, there is no lack of evidence that something is wrong with him. Yet Sheruke almost always behaves with the utmost of control and composure. In fact, I loved how stone-faced he could be even when Ranj is spouting off the worst of Sheruke’s offenses. Again, this just really whet my appetite for finding out how (if?!) we would ever learn what was really going on with Sheruke.
With so much tension and ill will between Ranj and Sheruke, it’s hard to imagine any affection growing there. At first, Ranj absolutely does not entertain any thoughts of lust whatsoever, to say nothing of romance. Sheruke quickly learns to appreciate how attractive Ranj is, but keeps his distance because Ranj is so absolutely prickly and because Sheruke is extremely self conscious of the scars that run from his cheek all the way down his side. Yet the more he learns about and interacts with Ranj, the more Sheruke’s attraction grows. Eventually, Ranj admits he’s at least attracted to Sheruke. To be clear, there is a lot of Ranj denying any emotional connection and simply engaging in the physical. By and large, I was just in awe of how firmly the Ranj/Sheruke dynamic was planted in the unrequited feelings camp for Sheruke and the grin and bear it camp for Ranj. Until some eleventh hour soul-searching and drama bombs manage to set these two on a less contentious course.
Overall, I was impressed by how well the story was laid out and how painstakingly careful the fraught relationship between Ranj and Sheruke was. This was a very imaginative world that mixed a lot of tough themes together into a compelling story. I really enjoyed the imbalance between Ranj’s perspective of Sheruke—powerful as a half-god, but irredeemably flawed for being so, and cast as an abuser—and Sheruke’s perspective of Ranj—a human who had enviable conviction and loyalty not to his leader but to his family. If you’re looking for a romance that features two very dissimilar characters who only learn to appreciate one another based on the content of the other’s character (and that happening at very different points in the story), then I think you’ll enjoy this.