Rating: 2.5 stars
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Over two decades ago, the King of Nenyth was murdered and his crown usurped by his own brother, Prince Verlyn — now King Verlyn. For years, everyone has assumed that the entire royal family died in the slaughter. And, for years, the kingdom has suffered under the reign of an indifferent ruler; people starve, crops whither in the fields, the forests are empty of stags, and bandits roam as freely as the guards who are supposed to protect the citizens. One such citizen is Quentin, an invalid relying on the kindness of his village to see him warm and fed in the winter, even though it takes food out of the mouths of their own children. He knows he’s a drain on his neighbors, but he also knows how much they care for him.
A mysterious woman appears and offers Quentin a chance at a new life — magically curing his illness, making him able to walk again and giving him muscles and meat on his bones — with one condition. Quentin must find the true king of Nenyth, the lost prince, Revelin. The only help she gives him before vanishing is to encourage him to find an infamous sell sword, Leon, a man known for killing bandits and asking little more than food and a place to stay in exchange. Now all Quentin has to do is find him.
I have always enjoyed a good “lost and restored royal heir” story and, having read previous books by this author duo, I entered into this story with high hopes. However, this book assumed a lot, so much so that I ended up having to go back and re-read some chapters to see if I’d missed something or misread, only to find that I hadn’t. So much of the early character rapport and slowly building friendship and romantic interest between the two leads happens off page, which meant that Leon’s tearful walking away or Quentin’s feelings of betrayal felt absolutely hollow. Having never seen the buildup, having never felt any chemistry beyond the “I’m horny and could use a fuck” energy of Leon or the “Oh my good, he’s so pretty I want to fuck him” energy of Quentin, I just didn’t care, because there was not enough in the story to help me earn that care.
As far as I could tell, Quentin’s availability and pretty face were the only things drawing Leon’s attention (that combined with his dry spell). For Quentin, it seemed like the novelty of his healthy body and having a handsome man treating him like a capable adult — as opposed to the villagers who obviously cared for him, but treated him as a helpless invalid — did a great deal towards making Quentin fall in love. However, the professions of love felt more expected than character driven. Lust, yes, there was that. Love? Like so many conversation between the characters, love must have happened off page because I never saw it or felt it, and in the end I couldn’t believe in it
“He’s a stubborn ass, but you’ve a way with him. He cares what you think more than he’s cared what anyone else thought in years.”
This is what Greer, the woman who saved, raised, and trained Leon, tells Quentin, but it felt out of nowhere because nowhere in the previous chapters did Leon and Quentin ever have a real conversation, at least not one that was actually shown in the story. Any intimacy, any friendship, any connection beyond the two of them being horny did not feel communicated on page. It made it feel as though any comment on Leon’s motivations or feelings was the author telling me that it was so, because there was nothing in the narration or the story to give life to it. When a misunderstanding happens, both of them thinking the other person is in love with someone else, I neither believed it nor cared about it, because none of it actually happened in the book. All in all, I felt utterly disconnected from the relationships or the supposed romance, which is a pity because the writing is solid, in parts.
“Only, if what you require from me to be safe and whole and well is to fight for the throne of Nenyth, I will try. I’ve no army, no plan, and few resources, but I will try.” Having Quentin at my side, even a few more days, would be worth the risk, and Verlyn was coming for me anyway.
This line, this idea, didn’t sit well with me. Leon is supposed to feel greatly for the suffering of his people. He and Greer have avoided reconnecting with anyone from their past, because their mere association could get those people killed. Leon, as he’s expressed earlier in the book, knows what is being asked of him: to lead his people to war, a war that will kill the smallfolk by the hundreds, if not thousands, for no guarantee that he could take the throne. But because Leon might die, he’s willing to send his people into a bloodbath of a civil war. Only, that’s not how it happens. There’s a lot of buildup and dire warnings, only for the happily ever after to be slapped down so hard that it breaks any illusion of reality in this world. The authors build up Nenyth to be a certain way; the people are suffering, the usurper king has an iron fist around the throats of his people, and then none of it matters.
The writing is the best part of this book. The story, however, isn’t, and I had to suspend my disbelief so hard to accept the romance that it took any enjoyment out of this book for me. There’s no world building, no logic in how anything happened, and I didn’t feel the relationship or romance. Just, all in all, this was a giant miss for me.
Trigger warning for mentions of rape.