Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars
Back around the time when I’d first found this book, I’d made it a point to search for more queer romance stories, specifically of the M/M variety, because why not celebrate my own queerness and read books with my people as the leads, am I right? Doing some research into finding titles, this trilogy showed up quite a lot, like, actually A LOT. Tumblr, Goodreads, lists all over the internet, and Bookstagram all had high praise for this trilogy, and with it being described as a M/M Fantasy romance, added with seeing some amazing fan art (like the one below), I was sold and knew I had to get my hands on them.
Upon reading it, I found out that it’s actually very little fantasy; there’s no wizards, dragons, elves, white walkers or anything magical. It’s considered Fantasy based on the fact that the story takes place in a fictional land, so I almost considered it to just be a period piece, or even just historical fiction to a small degree. It’s set in medieval times, with opposing countries on the brink of war with corrupt and powerful courts filled with deadly secrets and intrigue.
It’s funny to look at other reviews of this title and see that it’s either “OMG I LOVE THIS, IT’S AMAZEBALLS AND ITS SO EFFING GREAT,” or “WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE THIS CRAP? SLAVERY AND TORTURE ISN’T SEXY, THIS IS DISGUSTING & I HATE IT!” …Honestly I was more towards the middle. Yeah, there is some problematic subject matter within the story that may trigger certain readers: there’s torture, slavery, kidnapping, sexual assault & rape, voyeurism, and even some pedophilia (yeah, even I can admit that’s a lot). I personally was not so taken aback by it all, but I understand that other readers would for sure be turned off to any of those triggers to keep them from going near this book, it all makes it incredibly controversial, which is what also made me more interested.
What It’s About:
Damen, a warrior prince and next in line to ascend the throne of Akielos, is taken prisoner when his half-brother seizes the throne with brutal power after their father passes away, and strips him of his identity and has him shipped off to enemy territory in order to hide him away and greedily keep his newfound place of power.
Damen, now turned slave, is brought to the northern realm of Vere, and becomes a pleasure slave for its Crown Prince, Laurent. Laurent is everything thats vile about the Veretian Court; he’s manipulative, vindictive, pampered, spoiled, sadistic, cruel, but Damen also couldn’t deny that he was absolutely gorgeous.
Trying to survive and find any way to escape back home, Damen soon gets wrapped up in the dark, twisted web of the Veretian Court, and soon discovers that more is going on behind closed doors than he’d ever anticipated. It will require him to find allies in unexpected places, and work together with Laurent in a dangerous chase towards the throne, but keep his true identity a secret when he discovers that Laurent has a reason to despise him more than anyone else…
What I Liked:
- It was Character-Driven! There isn’t a whole lot of world-building, but this story mainly focuses on the two main characters, Laurent and Damen, and their developing relationship along with others including guards, royals, slaves and courtiers. It’s funny though: Laurent is absolutely despicable in this book, like, he’s actually portrayed as an elitist human douchestick. Even thought it’s obvious that him and Damen will end up together, you really question it at times like: “What does he see in him? How will they ever actually get together?” He’s an interesting character though; he does some heinous things, but then it turns out later that he was actually helping someone or doing it for the good of the cause, and you slowly turn around on your initial opinion of him. The author does an amazingly job of his development; it’s so fragile and delicate, but again, so well done.
- Haters-to-Lovers Trope! Based on how the two interact, you can easily decipher that any sort of romance between them is going to be a slow burn. Damen and Laurent absolutely despise each other right off the bat, but must become reluctant allies when secrets are revealed and they learn they need to work together. There’s sexual chemistry that develops, but it moves at a slower, but realistic pace both sexually and otherwise.
- Queer-centric! The vast majority of the cast of characters are male, and everyone is some sort of version of being queer, or at least not straight. It’s funny, but it’s like being straight is the taboo, sinful, forbidden way for people to be, unless it’s simply to create an heir. I found it completely refreshing how it’s never questioned by anyone, it’s a normal way of life which made me sigh at how much I wish we could live in a world like that, where people don’t get so bent out of shape for who they’re attracted to.
- Complexity of the Characters! The character work done in this story is incredible. There’s plenty of subplots throughout, and you really start to wonder about the characters and how they operate; why are they like this, what are their true intentions, and what isn’t the author telling us? There’s definitely a feeling that things are not what they appear to be in both the characters and the plot, and that will keep you longing to find out more.
- Its Subject Matter is Controversial! This book is trigger warnings galore, and it’s something that quite a lot of people are not going to be able to read. It makes you uncomfortable, it’s unsettling and even kind of perverted in some scenes. Our society likes to shy away from these topics (rape, sex slaves, abuse of all kinds, torture, kidnapping, pedophilia), even censor it entirely like it doesn’t even exist. I say, just because a book has these topics in it doesn’t make it a bad book. Yes, the author has them all within her story, but she does present it in a delicate way and touches on them much care. She doesn’t glorify it or make it seem like its alright; it’s oppressive and heavy, and unfortunately for some that experience it, it’s all they know and it’s been normalized for them. They don’t know any better, and this terrible treatment is expected of them, at least in their minds. It’s sad, it’s depressing, but you know what? It’s not too far off from the world we live in today; things like this are happening, and censoring it and ignoring it won’t make it fully disappear. Exposing ourselves to it allows us to open our minds and make us more aware of the world; maybe not in a good way, but gives us a deeper understanding of it in some way, and that its not a safe place, and if we don’t like it, we should do something to help create change.
What I Didn’t Like:
- Politics…I’ve said it before, but I’m not a big fan of politics in works of fiction (It’s just a personal preference of mine), and this book has quite a bit of it. Sure, political intrigue helps further the plot of the story, but when things got to technical in terms of the way the courts are set up, along with rules and societal norms & regulations, I admit I was tempted to skip over it to get the story moving faster during those parts.
- Very Little World-Building…The world that the author places this story in is fictional, and there are some references to how it all came to be, but I wish the author went a little more in depth with it and how the world she created developed over history. It seems like there’s a ton of it, but it’s only ever hinted at and never fully explained. It’s funny though, Vere resembles renaissance Italy, where people are dressed in frivolous, campy costumes with intricate detail and shows little skin, but are much more open about their sexuality amongst themselves. Akielos is the complete opposite; they resemble Ancient Greece or Rome where everyone wears barely-there togas and even the architectural style is more open like the Pantheon, but they’re more conservative with their sexuality; it’s kind of ironic if you think about it.
Overall, this was an incredibly eye-opening book that’s certainly controversial and something that a lot of sensitive readers will not enjoy, which is understandable. I can recognize my own privilege and know that none of the subject matter really upset me all that much (maybe just slightly made me uncomfortable at most), but understand that someone who may have suffered a similar kind of abuse will not appreciate it in this book.
The author has created an interesting world, even if not as much as you’d like is revealed, but the characters and the vague but obvious sense that more is to come really drives you forward. The characters have some unknown depths that you want to uncover more of, and in the climax, it becomes apparent that there’s some sort of plan in motion that thrillingly gives in an air of mystery.
I found myself still hoping for more in a lot of aspects of the story, including the developing relationship between the two characters, but I was definitely entertained enough to want to keep reading, and ***mild spoiler alert*** I can say that there’s so many good things to come in the next two books that will satisfy whoever is willing to stick with the story long enough!
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell