Prince Nikola is a Dawn mage, born with cursed magic like the other Twilight mages. Niko’s magic will kill him, burning him up from the inside out, if he doesn’t either take a potion every 40 hours, or else let himself be sexually submissive to another. The potion suppresses Niko’s magic to the point where he can no longer use it, but it is worth to keep his independence, to make sure no one can ever control him with sex by withholding what he needs. However, Niko has never given up trying to find a cure for the magical curse and plans to go to a gathering of mages where he may be able to learn more about how to manage his condition.
However, when it becomes time to leave for the conclave, bad weather threatens. Niko’s mother, the queen, doesn’t trust Niko to turn back if the trip becomes too dangerous and insists he bring a military escort who will be ultimately in charge of the journey. Niko wants nothing to do with his new guard, Andreas. The man may be appealing, with his strong soldier’s body, steady presence, and firm air of command. But Niko doesn’t want a babysitter. However, as the men spend more time together on their travels, Niko grudgingly comes to not only acknowledge his attraction to Andreas, but also how much he likes the man.
Unfortunately, the weather takes a turn, just as Niko feared it would, threatening Niko’s plans to make it the conclave and stranding them in the mountains. But even worse, the supply of Niko’s potion has dwindled to almost nothing and, without it, there is no way to keep the curse at bay without sex. Niko has no idea how is going to survive without the potion or the sex, but Andreas is not willing to see him suffer and is there to see to Niko’s needs.
Being with Andreas is a revelation for Niko, who is basically totally inexperienced in sex. He craves Andreas and loves sharing his body with him. But Niko also can’t help but worry that Andreas is only doing his duty, helping to keep him alive. And Andreas can’t even imagine that a prince would want him for real, that Niko actually has come to care for him as a man and not just as his protector. The men have found an unexpected connection amidst the crisis, but once it is all over, they will have to figure out if they can turn their love affair into something lasting.
The Royal Curse is the first book in Eliot Grayson’s new Twilight Mages series. This is light fantasy with super high heat, which is not surprising given the whole “fuck or die” imperative built into the premise. Basically, Niko takes a potion roughly every 40 hours that keeps the pain of the curse at bay. If he doesn’t take the potion precisely on time, his body starts burning him, his muscles clench, and he is in blinding pain. The alternative to the potion is to have regular submissive sex. But again, without it he will crave sex and be out of his mind with desire. If he doesn’t have a partner, Niko will end up begging someone to sleep with him. If you have read omegaverse stories featuring heats, this story has a similar vibe, though once Niko is having sex, he is no longer mindless with need.
I wasn’t really sure what direction this book would go in terms of balance, but while it is very sex heavy, I found there is still a lot of developed story here as well. The curse is what gets these guys in bed together while they await more potion, but they are so hot for each other, things move forward quickly for them even once sex is not longer a requirement. There is a nice intensity to Andreas, with a sense of command that makes Niko wild. The men play a bit with the forbidden idea of a soldier fucking a prince (Andreas loves to call Niko “your highness” as he is doing all sorts of dirty things to him). And Niko really revels in discovering his sexual side, for the first time enjoying being a sexual person and exploring all these wonderful things with Andreas. The guys can’t keep their hands off each other and there is a lot of sexy intensity to their relationship. We do get a little more miscommunication and misunderstanding getting in the way than I’d like, but I think their different backgrounds and expectations do help to explain why they don’t always immediately understand each other.
The story also had a road trip vibe, as the men spend most of the story traveling to the conclave and dealing with various troubles along the way. I love road trip stories and the way that the forced proximity can bring people together quickly. I think Grayson does a nice job here showing these guys building a real personal connection and feelings for each other, alongside the heat. There are some developments toward the end that add some excitement. There is also a nice sense of growth for the characters, particularly for Niko, who really goes from a little bit of a complaining princeling at the start of the story to a real partner who is willing to sacrifice for someone he loves by the end.
I do feel like the world building could use more development here, however. We get the basics of the kingdom and the surrounding countries, but not much beyond that. This is sort of a generic, middle-ages style fantasy world, aside from the magical lore. I also wished for the magic to be explained in more depth and earlier in the story. I understood the basics from reading the blurb, but it takes a while before Niko’s condition is really explained and I never felt like we got full, clear detail. There are also times where the rules don’t seem to make sense, or contradict earlier explanations, particularly in the way sex impacts the timing and how the clock “resets” on symptoms recurring. Given that the whole premise of the book (and presumably the series) is based on this concept, I think we needed more straightforward explanation and clear details.
Overall, I found this one really entertaining. You need to be able to go with the far fetched premise and just accept it as “magic” and move on or this book won’t work for you. But despite the sort of porny sounding set up, there is a nice story and character development here. I loved the dynamic between Niko and Andreas and they are super sexy with a really fun interplay. I am curious to see where Grayson takes this series going forward, and am excited to follow along.