Sascha knows that the life of a concubine didn’t necessarily involve love. He was raised and trained knowing he would be gifted or sold to the person his parents thought was best for him, and live with them as their companion, their lover, and — hopefully — manage to get along with them well enough for contentment. If he was lucky, perhaps there would be friendship, or even a developing fondness. Instead, as Sascha’s whisked into his new owner’s home, the man’s daughter gives him a look of such sympathy (or is it pity?) and wishes him luck as she departs.
Jannik, the man Sascha is now bound to, is no prince charming. He’s brusque, and the touch of his hand as he grips Sascha’s face leaves him wanting to crawl away. Jannik doesn’t care who Sascha is, or how he is, he only wants him taken upstairs to the bedroom and made ready for him. Holding on to the remains of his pride, Sascha bows his head and follows the maid without question or complaint …
And then the dragons come.
Now Sascha’s future is even more uncertain as Jannik’s conspiracy to overthrow the king has been revealed, his lands, monies, and freedom taken away from him as he is locked in his own cells. Among those who have come to capture Jannik is the king himself, Lysander, whose confidence and kind consideration help keep Sascha from being too frightened. It helps that his cousin, Romilly, is there, a friend of the king and one of those tasked to help untangle the knot of Jannik’s associates.
Romilly can’t help but see how Lysander looks at Sascha and, technically, with Jannik stripped of his rank and title, all of his belongings now go to the king. Including Sascha’s concubine contract.
Sascha is uneducated, but not unintelligent, always taking advantage of every opportunity to learn. He was raised to be graceful, thoughtful, elegant, and refined — a perfect companion to a noble. Being the concubine of a king, however, is a bit more challenging. Rather than try to play the games of politics, which neither interest him nor amuse, Sascha focuses on pleasing his king. He’s there for conversation and quiet moments of rest and peace. He does, however, steal the man’s dogs, who take to Sascha’s petting and indulgence with shameless ease. Likewise, Sascha finds himself falling in love with Lysander’s children, who adore him in equal measure, liking Lysander’s friends and yes, falling in love with Lysander himself.
The king is patient with him, always making certain that — in spite of the extreme power disparity of king and subject, owner and sex worker (however nicely worded, Sascha is bound to him by a contract with his duties involving sex as well as companionship) — Sascha knows he can say no. He can always refuse, and Lysander will always respect him. Even if Lysander isn’t certain he’d ever be willing to let Sascha go, he has no interest in making him cry, or taking an unwilling partner.
Something about Sascha draws Lysander in a way that’s almost like a magical compulsion. It’s not just being attracted to someone, or liking someone, it’s an obsession, but one Lysander brushes off. Seeing Sascha with his children, with his dogs, the way he’s always putting others first and deferring attention away makes Lysander both delighted and upset. He wants Sascha to glitter like a jewel … and then hide him away in the bedroom where no one else can touch him.
For all that the two men fall in love — and into bed — in fairly quick succession, the story is a long, languid, slow burn. While I appreciate the caution everyone takes, seeing as how Sascha is or could be an unknown player in the game, while a far reaching plot with unknown people and unknown plans are unfolding (do they want to kill Lysander and use one of his children (both of whom are under 10) as pawns, or do they want to destroy the royal family altogether?), no one puts him in a position to harm the kingdom or the king. Nor does Sascha ask what they’re up to, what the plans are, what’s been uncovered. Everyone in this book uses their brains, and I enjoy that … but, for me, the book read long.
It’s a slow story, with the focus on Sascha being Sascha, being kind to people, learning to be more himself and less the perfect concubine, while Lysander and his friends try to untangle a plot. The plot is a looming presence without being the focus of the story, and the action scenes are quick and often off screen. It’s an enjoyable enough story, well written and with engaging characters. This is the first in the Dragons of Ivria series with the second book on the way.