I read the first book in this series months ago, but the minute I saw the author in my NetGalley list, the strength of that story and characters came pouring back, making me eager to return to their world. The author did not disappoint.
The Marked Prince is a continuation of the story began in Prince of Air and Darkness where the Winter Court is in isolation and the Summer Court is preparing for war. The details of the conflict never quite added up, with both sides blaming the other, but it also didn’t feel like a continuity error. In this book, we learn why. As with the first, though, it’s much more complicated than it seems, with multiple layers and characters driven by their weaknesses as much as their strengths.
We already understand, in a gut-level way, just how far Roark will go for Finn, based on the first book. Sebastian’s very presence in the Winter Court is proof of that even if most are unhappy with his half-Seelie presence. They’re sure he’s a spy for the Summer Court, but they have no idea how impossible such an idea is in Sebastian’s eyes. He stormed out of his mother’s world in his youth to go live with his Unseelie father, and she did nothing to stop him. But the only reason he’s there is Finn’s friendship when his half-Seelie blood would have denied him refuge in either court.
Roark may love Finn with everything he possesses, but it doesn’t change his upbringing. He gets Sebastian to agree to help them recover Roark’s brother, who has defected to the Summer Court, because Queen Mab ordered Finn to go. Between Sebastian’s dislike for the Summer Court and his shared worries over Finn’s health, the request doesn’t take much thought. But he lets his guard down a little too far and ends up returning to his childhood home as a spy when he meant to provide only intel.
Remember what I said about more complicated?
Once again, this book is a mix of high fantasy politics and intrigue. It’s set deep in a Summer Court in uproar, though with more of a focus on dress code and procedure because much of the story occurs at the actual court.
Sebastian isn’t quite who he’s made himself out to be. Not that he lied, but he let people make their own assumptions based on his father and growing up on the edge of the Wylds. To be honest, that’s how he sees himself as well.
Then there’s Duine, who is much more than he appears. As with the first book, we have both perspectives and know just what Duine hides behind his servant’s mask. A curse strangles his tongue so he cannot confess the truth no matter how deep his connection to Sebastian grows.
Sebastian’s not stupid, though. He can tell there’s more to Duine’s story as the apparently magicless Unseelie servant he rescued from the grasp of his childhood tormentor guides Sebastian through the complexities of court procedure. He just doesn’t know the full of it.
Their relationship develops beautifully with a connection running deeper than words, a lucky thing when Duine must choose every one to avoid crippling pain. The romance is filled with conflict and worry, but you can see their growing mutual respect and wistful hope spring to life. Their connection is much more than physical, though they manage one open door scene before their worlds fall apart once again. Every time they are together, the tension is tangible not just to the reader, but also to those around them. Some find this a threat, for good reason, while others are delighted to see Sebastian win happiness.
You might have noticed, speaking of choosing words carefully, the mad dance I’m enacting between giving a glimpse of the story without spoiling anything not already in the back of the book blurb. The most telling point is the huge gap in my notes when I was too caught up in the story to make any. I figured out a crucial element about halfway that is supposed to be the big reveal at the end, but it didn’t undermine my enjoyment one bit–and I didn’t know for sure until it was confirmed.
Ultimately, Grant offers another powerful story with high court mixed with down to earth in more ways than one. Celtic myths wind into a new whole through love, danger, manipulation, fear, and trust. Things are not quite what they seem, nor is everyone taken in by the false faces. Loyalties are tested, old truths retold, and a fabulous story brought forth through well-drawn characters.
This is a middle book as far as the overarching tale of the war between Seelie and Unseelie, but it forms its own full and complete arc of courts and courtship that will captivate the romantic heart. I walk away satisfied on all fronts and yet eager for the next book to come.
P.S. I received this ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.