Rating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel

 

As the second son of Emperor Aravaid, Draylon knew his life would never be in state building. Instead, he has served as Commander of the imperial army. Most recently, his duties have taken him to the kingdom of Renvalle to subdue King DiRici and his eldest son after a traitorous plot to overthrow the emperor was discovered. And because Draylon himself dispatched the king, he finds himself the target of DiRici’s second son’s scorn.

Draylon initially assumes this spare heir is as guilty of evil-doing as he is young and beautiful–in other words, very! Yet Yarif DiRici pleads ignorance of his father’s dealings. What’s more, the Renvallian people have nothing but praise for the civic-minded prince. Regardless of how Draylon feels about a traitor’s son, Emperor Aravaid wants to install Draylon as the new king of Renvalle to bring the kingdom into the empire’s fold, and to consider expanding further beyond Renvalle’s borders. And the shortest route to achieving that goal is by marrying Draylon off to Yarif.

Political marriages are nothing new to Yarif; as the second son to the late king, he always knew he was destined to become consort to someone. He just never imagined he’d be forced into a political marriage to the very man who killed his father and will assume the title of King of Renvalle. And it’s an offer that’s hard to refuse. Not because Yarif finds anything remotely appealing about Draylon, but because capitulating to the emperor will hopefully keep Yarif alive. With his father and elder brother killed for treason, it’s up to Yarif to continue his role as caregiver to his two young siblings and indeed the kingdom of Renvalle. Even if he has to marry a barbarian of a man to do so.

Draylon and Yarif have indisputable differences, but they each see something of value in the other. Draylon needs Yarif’s knowledge of Renvalle to run the kingdom smoothly. Yarif needs Draylon to protect his people, namely his family and his fellow Renvallians. Resigned to their political marriage, they realize being a team might not be the worst thing in the world. Just as these two begin forming a tenuous personal connection based on the thinnest trust, a plot to murder Yarif explodes and sends them both scrambling for answers.

Warrior King is the first book in the new Warriors series by Eden Winters. It’s set in a loosely historical, very tangentially fantasy setting filled with royalty and intrigue, with a side of military conquest. I found the narration to be fairly ambiguous: there were no clear indications like subheadings on chapters or white space between sections to differentiate Draylon’s perspective from Yarif’s. However, this somewhat unconventional style did not curb my interest in or enthusiasm for the story. Indeed, it helped bolster the impression of these two characters as enemies, which goes a long way towards building anticipation for them to tip from “enemies” to “lovers.” The enemies theme continues well into the middle chapters with a bit of doubt to keep me on my toes when it came to how much and how deeply Draylon and Yarif felt for one another.

I thought both Draylon and Yarif were marvelously developed in their own rights. From the beginning, it’s very clear to the reader how both of their lived experiences parallel one another. They have fraught relationships with their fathers, close relationships with their elder brothers, and complex feelings about being the spare heir. What’s even better is that despite the similarities, they do little to bring these two men closer together. What actually helps them cross the great divide is their own individual sense of what is right, what is just, and realizing that these shared principles can work to mutual advantage far better than the circumstances surrounding them. I enjoyed Yarif discovering that his initial impression of Draylon as an uncouth barbarian was misplaced. Similarly, Draylon comes to appreciate that Yarif is an honorable man of his word.

Initially, the impression is that the big conflict in the story will be how Draylon and Yarif grow into their very arranged marriage. I loved the pacing of that arranged marriage plot, and just when you think they’ve broken the ice to something more slightly closer than frenemies, the threats to Yarif’s life begin in earnest. As a result, the specter of a touchy-feely, bare-your-heart romance takes on a decidedly more exciting, more suspenseful aspect. A lot of this is reinforced in several interactions Draylon has with his father, the emperor. Even better, I liked that Draylon and Yarif are both savvy to the intrigue and plots that are whirling around them. Rather than making or taking rash actions, they work to grasp all the moving parts at play and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. For me, the way they can read a situation and act (mostly) rationally made me enjoy the repeat ambushes far more than I probably would have otherwise.

On a final note, if you are wary of sweeping, epic style stories because they end on a cliffhanger, then this is a great book for you. It is the first in a series, but leaves no major plot points unanswered. I’d also go so far as to say that this book has a pretty standard happily ever after ending.. If you want an engrossing world with a strong focus on character growth with a lot of easy-to-follow intriguem but ALSO want to experience all that richness in a single story, then I cannot recommend this book enough.