Jaime is a prince of the Heighlands and a disgrace to his father, Prince Halden. As the youngest son, Jaime’s expendable, and his father sends him to the court of King Alder, their liege lord, for a year to escape his newest humiliation–getting a castle maiden pregnant. Jaime didn’t even want to lay with her; she was cajoled into his bed and he used the opportunity to prove to himself he could find pleasure with a woman.
Jaime has none of the manners or sensibilities necessary to survive in the court of Leilani, which is a protectorate of the rustic and wild Heighlands province. While Prince Halden makes his required tribute payment every five years, the Heighlanders despise the Leilani people as a whole for accepting what Jaime has been told are unnatural male-male relationships.
By Leilani law, any king whose wife dies can only accept a man to his bed, never another woman, to protect against further progeny and controversial transfers of power. King Alder’s wife died some years ago and he’s been fending off the demands of his council to find a Companion. He dearly loved his wife and has felt no sexual desire since her passing–until Jaime arrives. It turns out that Jaime is a good battle strategist, and literate, as he’d been meant to serve as his eldest brother’s steward. Alder and Jaime develop a friendship that stokes the fires of attraction for both men. Jaime finds Alder so capable and worldly and beautiful, but he struggles with the idea of being named King’s Companion, which is a court title of great esteem. Jaime doesn’t want people knowing that he’s being taken to another man’s bed, because he knows it will sever any possibility of returning to the Heighlands with honor.
Alder’s affection helps Jaime overcome a lifetime’s worth of prejudice against his natural attraction to men, as do his friendships with other Leilani men who see his position of King’s Companion to be highly desirable. I appreciated the frank and compassionate discussions Jaime shared to help him on his journey toward self-acceptance. As Jaime proves himself capable in battle against the bloodthirsty and encroaching Fierenese army, he’s astounded to be named War Leader in an effort to keep Alder off the battlefield. Beyond that, there is a lot of respect for his battle acumen, and it was interesting to see him blossom in a way he would never have in the Heighlands.
This book is truly a saga, spanning years and years of battle and sacrifice, and a love that fulfills both Alder and Jaime in ways they’d never anticipated. I enjoyed how they each supported one another in many ways–emotionally and with authority. And, when Jaime’s family seeks help from Alder and the Leilani armies that Jaime has raised and trained, it’s a very different homecoming than he’d ever thought to experience.
This was a really unique story to me in that the relationship gets established rather early, and then is tested by literal battle, court issues, and saving their world from tyrants and terrorists. It’s wild, and I loved the agrarian settings of many of the towns and battle sites, which is then balanced by court intrigues within Leilani and also the Heighlands. If you enjoy fantasy, and courtly romances, alongside war and victory, I would definitely recommend this book.