Rating: 4.25 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Vasily Anatoly Alexei Pasha Petrov, fourth prince and fifth in line for the throne of Koroslova, undeniably knows he is attracted to men. Unfortunately for him, not only are same sex couples incredibly frowned upon in Koroslova, he counts his own father among the naysayers. Nevertheless, Vasily knows what’s in his heart and at least his mother is willing to support his dreams. Together, they argue that Vasiliy should take a year to travel and explore the world. To convince his father, they phrase it as an experience that will bolster Vasaly’s worldly knowledge and assist him in his trade related princely duties. His first stop is the kingdom of Lilleforth, where king Leopold and his entourage have agreed to let Vasily visit—in secret as a royal groom.

Lilleforth stablemaster Mother Jones has no desire to work with another prince. His last groom, Felix, fell in love with the king and is now prince consort. Another of his stable hands turned out to be the king’s illegitimate son from a long ago fling. While Mother bears these two princes no ill will, he’s ready for his stable to be manned by people who can stick to the job. When young Vasiliy arrives on the scene, Mother is hopeful that he now has a competent royal groom. Vasily, however, presents an interesting puzzle for Mother. Vasiliy knows all about horses, grooming, and maintaining a stable. Strangely, some social niceties are beyond the young man’s ken. Mother is surprised when Vasili turns to him for guidance in such matters—especially flirting. Initially, Mother thinks nothing of this. To date, Mother has never had any desire to pursue a romantic partner. Yet the longer he and Vasily work together, the more that may no longer be true. But how can Mother pursue Vasiliy when it’s so clear that the young man has set his sights on a young castle guard? Not to mention Vasily seems to have a secret…

The Stablemaster’s Heart is the second book in Sarah Honey’s Tales of Lilleforth series. Mother Jones returns in his role as a stablemaster and is one of the main characters in this book alongside Vasily. Interestingly, the setting is largely the same as book one. That is to say, the bulk of the action takes place in the stables of Lilleforth. Even though this is the second book in the series, I think it could stand reasonably well enough as a standalone if you don’t mind frequent, albeit small, cameos from Leo and Felix who starred in the first book. Overall, the story has a great, solid romance that is bolstered by having at least one of the MCs introduced in the first book. Mother and Vasily slowly realize they are attracted to each other well before they admit it, then mutual inexperience for various reasons leads them on a long, slow, and achingly hot exploration of their newfound intimacy. 

In addition to a romantic relationship between two men, Mother also introduces an element of gray ace or demisexuality. When I first started the book, I understood that Mother and Vasily would be our ultimate pairing. However, when they meet and Vasily seeks Mother’s guidance on wooing someone else, Mother is initially wholly on board with supporting Vasily and his pursuit of a castle guard. This is built upon by a solid explanation of how Mother has, to date, never felt a romantic interest in someone, nor has he felt that his life was lacking for it. I really enjoyed Mother coming to realize he has sexual feelings under the right conditions, yet has to refrain from acting on growing threads of jealousy as he tries to teach Vasily how to flirt with someone else.

Even with our two main characters starting off on different pages romantically, the affection they feel for each other that goes beyond stablemaster and groom. Yet merely declaring their feelings does not launch them into full-on intimacy. Rather, they take their time getting to know each other more both in and out of the bedroom. When it comes to physical intimacy, these two have a spicy-but-slow dynamic that stems from Mother’s recent discovery of sexual attraction and Vasily’s inexperience due to a very conservative upbringing. It was refreshing to see such well described intimacy while still letting them enjoy exploring these new emotions and feelings and intensity together at a very similar pace. Outside the bedroom, of course, these two truly bond over their appreciation of horseflesh. The fact that Vasily is secretly a prince introduces a fantastic element of angst that grows the more Vasily falls for Mother and especially after he realizes Mother’s pretty dead set against intimate relationships with royalty..

The longer the story goes on, the bigger Vasily’s secret identity looms in the story. After the big reveal, there is a major incident that draws together all of the angst from Vasily’s secret and Mother’s discovering that secret. It also serves as a great transition into a big old happily ever after that allows Vasily to continue staying in Lilleforth and gives him an opportunity to reconcile his identity with his upbringing and with his father.

If you are a fan of the first book, I think he will absolutely adore The Stablemaster’s Heart. Readers interested in queer representation, stories where a pretty unaccepting family member sees the light, a little bit of an age gap, slow burn with lots of space, or first love tropes will find a lot to enjoy in this book.