Rating: 4.75 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Cay has been many things: a commoner by birth, a tailor by trade, a refugee from Muntegri, and an immigrant in Lucenequa. Now, he is the husband of Adrio Santauro, heir of Ladola. Many in his adoptive home of Lucenequa mask their criticism of Cay in “starlight speak,” knowing that Cay can rarely decipher what vicious meaning hides in pretty words. At first, Cay tolerates it well enough. After all, Adrio himself is Cay’s most ardent champion. Until one day, Adrio unceremoniously removes Cay from their marital bed and turns that same starlight speak on Cay. Stunned by the about face of a man who bucked the norms of the aristocracy and doggedly pursued him, Cay resolves to be nothing less than the perfect husband. He attends to Adrio’s every need in hopes of somehow recapturing the man’s heart and keeping the fiction of a blissfully happy marriage to save face for both of them. Adiro may no longer love him, but Cay refuses to let the gossip about such a mismatched marriage prove to be true.

Not long after being emotionally abandoned, Cay is approached by a man who identifies himself as the envoy to the new and ruthless leaders from Muntegri–the same ones who forced Cay to flee in the first place. Though Cay bears no love for his native land, the envoy threatens to ruin Cay by revealing a devastating secret that Cay has kept from Adrio—one that would surely cause Adrio to leave him, despite the unimaginable taboo around broken marriages. Cay may have lost his husband’s affection, but he refuses to play an active role in his downfall. Reluctantly, Cay pretends to help the envoy—a ruse that only leads to more trouble. Despite all Cay’s efforts, he may still end up endangering himself, his husband, and any hope of reconciling with Adrio.

The Uncanny Aviator was such a charming, imaginative story! I was absolutely enamored with Cay and his experience being a fish out of water, as well as the absolute mystery surrounding Cay and Adrio’s broken marriage. The prose conveyed a delightful sense of place and made the world and story wonderfully immersive. Having Cay as a lone narrator was a great choice; he lives in the lap of luxury, even as he feels shunned by his new peers, a phenomenon that is substantiated by a handful of flashbacks that flesh out Cay and Adrio’s whirlwind romance. The world building, the characters’ voices, and the action all come together to shape this story into a lovely tale of privately struggling lovers and more than a little derring-do.

Half of the story revolves around the neighboring kingdoms of Lucenequa and Muntegri. A mountain sits between them and that is where most of the Chende people live after they were largely shunned by both kingdoms (read: there are themes of racism in the story). As noted, Cay escaped Muntegri when a violent coup replaced the ancient monarchy and, because of his birth ties to Muntegri and his marriage ties to Lucenequa, the envoy to Muntegri blackmails Cay into being an informant. I thought this was an exciting development because on the surface, it’s easy for Cay’s detractors to assume he would help his former homeland. Cay is clever in his ruse of “helping” the envoy, but it comes at a steep price. Cay finds himself having to generate false rumors meant to keep his husband safe, but that leave their mutual friend at risk. Then, Cay inadvertently drives the wedge deeper between himself and Adrio when Adrio learns about the envoy speaking to Cay and assumes the worst of his husband. That secret poses a threat to Adrio’s own secret goings-on as well.

The other half of the story revolves around Cay’s and Adrio’s relationship. This was such a satisfyingly angsty element of the story. Adrio is clearly keeping Cay at a distance and the circumstances surrounding why are slowly teased out, which gave me plenty of time to guess what happened. Despite Adrio’s aloofness, Cay works twice as hard to be the perfect husband. Cay wants to preserve the image of a perfectly happy couple, lest his critics blame his lower birth or his being from Muntegri as reasons for marital strife. He also hopes that being perfect will make Adrio fall back in love with him. After all, a failed marriage is an incredibly huge taboo in this society. I loved the flashbacks to Cay and Adrio’s courtship (it makes their current separation all the more mysterious) and that the cause of Adrio’s coldness towards Cay gets revealed well before the end of the story. There was a long process of these two trying to reconcile and a few dramatic scenes where both Adrio and Cay have to reckon with their pasts. And a final angsty thread where, even after all the truths are revealed, Cay is sure that his leaving Adrio is the only way to make him happy.

My only caution would be for readers who are sensitive to emotional and sexual abuse. Adrio has some problematic behavior that stems from misunderstanding Cay’s past and which Cay refused to so much as acknowledge. Adrio’s solution was to shut his husband out of his life (while still honoring the marriage vow to care for Cay) and there was one scene where reconciliation through physical intimacy seemed possible only for it to end with Cay feeling like he’d been used. Adrio’s behavior and Cay’s silence about his past do get addressed, but the former felt like it fell just a smidge short.

Overall, I was well pleased with this story. I really enjoyed the characters and the setting, and the “starlight conversation” added an intriguing depth to the characters and their world. There was great balance between the political intrigue and the broken romance that kept me turning pages. If you are looking for an angsty read with misunderstood characters trying to fumble their way back towards happiness with a little victorian-esque swashbuckling thrown in, I think you’ll really enjoy this book.