Prince Mikhail “Misha” Vasiliev is third in line to the throne, first cousin to the current king, Dmitri Vasiliev. Misha has no love lost for his cousin, who had Misha’s father murdered, ostensibly in retaliation for his father killing Dmitri’s father. Dmitri used to be a sweet man, but he has turned into a tyrant on the throne, seeming half mad and leading the country into ruin. Dmitri’s latest attempt to hurt Misha is by arranging his marriage to courtier Evgeny “Genya” Belyaev.
Genya knows his beauty and charm go a long way in court, but that is not why he is being married off to a man ten years his senior. Genya’s father is playing all the angles, catering to King Dmitri and planning to use Genya to spy on (or even kill) his new husband. Not that Genya feels that safe with the brooding Misha either. The Vasiliev court is a dangerous one and Genya wouldn’t be the first man killed off by an angry husband.
Things start off on the wrong foot immediately for the men, and only get worse from there. They are opposites in every way, and even when they attempt to find common ground, misunderstanding and misinterpretation have them at odds once again. The only place the men are compatible is in the bedroom, where the connection between them is electric. But as soon as the sex ends, the men find themselves once again unable to stop their frustration with and mistrust of one another. Life at court is not easy and everyone seems to have an agenda, including talk of treason. Now, Misha and Genya need to find a way to understand one another so they can join forces and fight their battles together.
Dragon’s Dawn is the first book in the To Kill a King series by Sam Burns and W.M. Fawkes and I really loved this one. The front matter describes the story as featuring a “murderhimbo and his vicious mink husband” and that is pretty much all I needed to get me to grab the book. The authors have a way with fantasy and creating interesting worlds and this is no exception. We jump right into the intrigue and machinations of the Vasiliev court, and the conflict between King Dmitri and his cousin, Misha. Misha’s father was accused of killing Dmitri’s father, and Dmitri then had Misha’s father killed. It has left the cousins at odds, and Genya’s father seeks to take advantage of the conflict to advance his own position at court. He sees marrying Genya to Misha as a way to help further that wedge and gain him favor with the king. We get some interesting political developments over the course of the book and things are set up nicely for remainder of the series.
I found the world building to be well done, as well. I particularly liked the idea of the “soul animals” who are bound to their humans. Most of the Vasilievs are bound to dragons, which makes them incredibly powerful, while Genya is bound to a mink. My only real world building issue here is that the process of this bonding isn’t really well explained. We learn that some people die trying to bond to their animals, but not how the animals are chosen or what the process entails. Given the importance of this connection, it would have been nice to have it explained in more detail.
The relationship between Genya and Misha is fraught from the start, as these are two very different men and they just don’t know how to relate to or understand each other. The authors do an excellent job of really developing these characters and it is very easy to see why they are struggling. Both are stubborn and easily misinterpret the other’s motives, but also, they don’t always have the framework to understand one another. I appreciated that the authors root the conflict in their characters, rather than just feeling like arbitrary hurdles. For example, at one point the men are called back to court after being in the country. Genya loves court and feels like he shines there. He is excited to go back and show Misha that world and it doesn’t occur to him that Misha would feel uncomfortable there. Meanwhile, Misha hates court and he is hurt Genya wants to return, as he assumes Genya must really not want to be with him if finds court preferable to time in the country with him.
On the sex front, the guys are on fire together and totally work. It is the one place they are on the same page. But in all other respects, it takes the men a while to get out of their own way. In fact, most of the book is spent with them at odds in various ways, and there is a lot of one step forward, two steps back, as each time they seem in sync, something throws them off. This is a long story and for me there was too much time with the men at odds. By the time they finally find their way together, the book is basically over. I found the ending abrupt and I was surprised to turn the page and realize it was done. I wanted a little more time to see Misha and Genya together once they were settled and happy.
My last minor comment is that most of these characters seem to have nicknames or diminutive forms of their name, such as Mikhail/Misha and Evgeny/Genya. There is a very large cast of family, guards, courtiers, etc, (plus dragons and other soul animals who also have names) and keeping track of everyone when many of them have multiple names got a little complicated. In some cases, it was pretty clear which full name went with the nickname, such as Dmitri and Dima, but in other cases I had to keep reminding myself who was who.
Overall, I think Burns and Fawkes have created a great story and a really interesting set up to the series. There are some really intriguing political developments here that are sure to play out in future books. I am really looking forward to following along (and it looks like books 2 and 3 are both out this fall, so not long to wait). I am excited for this series and liked this book a lot. I can definitely recommend it to fans of fantasy, especially those who enjoy a grumpy/sunshine pairing and two men who are both fierce in different ways.