This book caught my eye first because I thought I recognized the author, and then because the blurb sounded interesting. I was wrong about the author, but cannot regret the case of mistaken identity. Rather than the fantasy novel I expected from the blurb, this turned out to be a fantasy gay romance with both strong emotional tension and fun wordplay.
I haven’t read a fantasy romance that I can think of so I can’t say whether the balance of romance to fantasy is standard. What I want to mention is how the romance is intimately woven into the fantasy plot of a brewing war between winter and summer sidhe. The romance is also interesting because we see both points of view, and each believes their feelings unrequited. Before you think this is a “why didn’t they just talk to each other” story, though, the reasons keeping them apart are much more complex. A simple discussion could not clear it up while acting on their feelings makes things worse instead of better.
The two main characters, Finn and Roark, share an apartment with several other students in a college for magic. There’s more behind that simple statement, which we learn as the story unfolds, but there is no question of the tug of war between hate and attraction on Finn’s side. Roark is a little more complicated despite knowing where his interest lies from the start.
As to the fantasy side, this is high fantasy, full of politics and intrigue, but without the focus on court procedure and dress, something that suits me well. The action happens on campus or in local student hangouts for the most part, and encompasses fighting off ancient monsters and negotiating delicate diplomatic situations.
The sidhe are on the edge of war, but Roark rejects his role to serve his own interests and protect Finn instead of bowing to his mother’s wishes. Queen Mab is none too pleased, as you might imagine, especially since Finn has the potential to turn the balance in their favor. Without him, sacrificing her son, Roark, is the only other possibility.
Both the sidhe situation and Finn’s concerns about his parents help build Roark and Finn into well-rounded characters with flaws, struggles, and desires. The relationship between Finn and Roark is complicated, full of misunderstandings, and rife with misguided attempts to protect Finn. You get to know the two leads, and their other roommates and friends, so that they become real.
There’s a lovely scene in the college bar where Roark chooses drinks for Finn’s friends (including some of their shared roommates). He’s challenged to do this by the others, revealing to Roark as much as the reader how much he’s failed to stay separate. Events like the drink choosing make their characters, and the rocky relationship powerful enough to bring tears to my eyes at one point. As I mentioned above, they do give in to their physical feelings (in an on-screen scene) but that is far from a solution to the story.
The magic, its costs, and how it works also form a strong element of the story. A mix of traditional myths of magic and magical creatures along with elements I didn’t recognize expand the world to make it feel much bigger than what we see. Nor is there an easy resolution or a clear path for the characters to follow, making this a strong, powerful read.
P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.