Rating: 3.5 stars
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Betrayed by a fellow countryman, Markus of Clarionye loses his best friend to murder and then gets sold to a slaver. After a brutal attack and a forced march across unfamiliar, wintry terrain, Markus arrives at a slave market in a land where the people look as different as the language sounds. Despite the mean circumstances, Markus is determined to live. Thankfully, Markus is bought by a mercenary named Troy and taken to Troy’s company to work off his rather pricey debt. On the bright side, Gen, the company’s healer, quickly takes care of the lingering effects from Markus’ time with the slavers and helps Markus learn a whole new language almost instantly. On the dark side, his new mercenary friends let him know that it will take years upon years to work off his debt…not to mention the fact that, by rights, Troy can take Markus as a bed companion.
Troy never expected to spend the bulk of the company’s discretionary income on buying a slave very clearly far from his home land. Yet he was determined to keep any man out of the clutches of the known torturer who was set to buy Markus. It doesn’t hurt that Markus is easy on the eyes. After a rocky first night, they come to an understanding where sex is concerned that leaves them both satisfied. Even better, Troy quickly learns that Markus has new and ingenious ideas about how to run the company. Clearly, Troy doesn’t accept every suggestion Markus has at face value, but it’s not long before Markus has proven himself a formidable fighter with an unusual weapon and a truly remarkable horseman. All in all, Markus pays off his debt in record time. Finally on more equal footing, Troy and Markus explore the depths of their feelings for one another, while also embarking on contracts, a notable mission to help Gen be free of a man who’s tormented him all his life, and eventually uncover the truth about where Markus came from and why a man of his caliber was ever to be found in a slaver’s market.
In Troy’s Company is a rough fantasy that incorporates a lot of different themes, including gay-awakening for Markus, magic, betrayal, and child abuse. Generally, the action follows Markus and Troy, but there is a significant chunk in the middle that explores Gen’s story and that of his lover, Tribley (who is also in Troy’s company). Usually, the story is told in third person, but there are chunks where the narrative flips into first person. The transition was jarring and confusing, but it works out after a couple of pages.
Overall, I thought this book had exciting events and interesting characters from different backgrounds. The opening of the book started with Markus during his forced march away from his home to some unknown future as a slave. I loved the sense of immediacy and urgency in the situation; Markus had been grievously wronged and he could not help but mourn for his murdered friend, but he was also compelled to make a physically demanding trek while ill-equipped for the elements, half-starved, and half-beaten. For me, this was the best storytelling in the book and I wish there had been more of that.
I really enjoyed how the story picks up right at this pivotal moment in Markus’ life and basically comes full circle to end the story with a dramatic event in Markus’ home country. Greene did a wonderful job building a world where Markus’ country and surrounding areas are completely separate from Troy’s country and surrounding areas. The divide is extreme and noted in how physically different Markus looks compared to people from Troy’s area, as well as the fact that the languages have zero in common with each other (despite people in both lands knowing multiple languages). The excitement of Markus avoiding being killed and sold into slavery took center stage. Then, when Troy buys him, it quickly becomes apparent that in Troy’s country, literally everyone leaves all their baggage from any previous lives behind. It was a very tidy way to both keep Markus’ origins from being important and allow the story to focus on what Markus and Troy get up to. Even better, Markus’ origins are exactly what brings about the final and arguably main conflict at the end of the book.
My one gripe with this setup was how much everyone and their brother shushed Markus every time he tried to inquire about someone else’s past or his own. Clearly, this happened most often when he first came to the company and Markus was still trying to figure out this drastically different culture. But time and again, people warned him off over sharing and being nosy, because everyone deserves a bona fide clean slate. So when Markus’ identity finally became known after he’d been with the company for years, I was kind of dumbfounded when Troy himself acted like Markus somehow broke their trust for not sharing. It just didn’t make sense in the culture as portrayed throughout the story. Plus, I felt like we didn’t get a good heart-to-heart between Troy and Markus as a result. This seemed like a missed chance to really build up their on-page relationship.
Speaking of missed chances, with the exception of the opening scenes mentioned above, I found the overall tone of the storytelling to be on the dry side. It just seemed like there were many opportunities to showcase character relationships that just did not get explored. One major example for me was how Markus and Troy end up together. For reasons, Markus has share Troy’s bed when he first arrives. The two have a perfunctory conversation where Markus makes it super clear he is not going to have sex with Troy and Troy says he is no rapist. A few nights later, the topic gets revisited. Markus is still very “I’m not gay, two people of the same sex having sex is wrong,” but Troy is all “your erection says otherwise.” As far as get togethers go, it felt a bit cringey to me. Rather than discuss feelings and (s)expectations, Troy seemed to just literally manhandle Markus into exploring and admitting his not-straight sexuality.
Overall, I thought this book was clinically good. There was no lack of action and it was fun to follow Troy’s company as they went about their mercenary duties. If nothing else, Greene did a great job establishing a social environment where mercenary companies like Troy’s made sense and fulfilled a purpose. The overall organization of the story elements was really effective, too. We started out at the height of the fallout from Markus being betrayed, and we end up not only learning that whole backstory, but seeing how it gets incorporated into the present. Even though I found the storytelling and the characters’ interactions less than engrossing, they move the story along well enough. Fans of gay awakening stories, star-crossed lovers, brief moments of angst, and stories that tidily come full-circle will probably enjoy this book.