Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Army vet Aaron Santori’s time in Afghanistan almost broke him. An explosion on duty cost him his arm and killed many of his friends. Now home, Aaron is trying to deal with his PTSD, his scars both physical and emotional, adjust to his new trans-humeral prosthesis, all while studying physiology as a grad student at Pitt. A full load, almost guaranteed to keep him so busy that dating or any relationships outside of friendship are a challenge at best. Then one night at a steampunk event at a local bar, Aaron and friends run into Rhys Edwards, a YA novelist from Wales and everything changes. Rhys is not put off by Aaron’s prosthesis and he makes it very apparent that he finds Aaron absolutely attractive no matter what scars Aaron carries. Soon, Aaron finds himself in a relationship that he never anticipated with a gorgeous man of his dreams.
But Rhys has many secrets, including the fact that he is not human. As a prince of the Tylwyth Teg, Rhys is fae. He is an immortal Seelie, with enemies and ex paramours that come with centuries of living. One such ex lover, Morcant, is determined to have his revenge on Rhys for cutting him loose centuries ago. Soon the unwary Aaron becomes the target of Morcant’s plot against Rhys. The truce between Seelie and Unseelie Courts may be broken, and lives lost, including Aaron’s if Rhys can’t stop Morcant from carrying out his revenge. Can the mortal Aaron survive being in love with a Seelie Prince?
Kept Tears is a story that has me wavering in setting any ratings at all. I loved so many parts of this story and yet can see where many readers will want to discard it almost immediately when it comes to Denardo’s idea of Fae morality including her Fae outlook on love and fidelity. I will get to that later.
First, lets look at the excellent job she did in creating Aaron Santori, a wounded warrior, whose time in Afghanistan has cost him his arm, a horribly scarred leg and left him with PTSD. Denardo’s descriptions of Aaron’s night terrors and flashbacks, seen from Aaron’s point of view, brings the reader intimately into the character’s mindset and emotional turmoil. But we are eased into it slowly as we get to know the character better. Our first introduction to Aaron (and Rhys) is the night of the steampunk event at a local bar. The scenes let us know that while Aaron has shied away from intimate relations, he has not isolated himself from those that care about him. We get to see a man involved with life, although on his terms, and it becomes easy to embrace his character. Denardo has made Aaron accessible by his interests,his appealing nature and of course, by his frailties. Aaron’s transhumeral prosthesis is a fascinating element in this story. Aaron is studying myoelectics because of his arm. I recently saw a piece on a hand prosthesis such as his on a cable science program and was as fascinated as Rhys. Here is an excerpt as Aaron shows Rhys his arm for the first time:
“Grad student at Pitt. I’m studying physiology. I wanted to be a doctor, went to the Army to pay for it, and ended up a medic. Things went sideways from there.”Aaron gestured with his prosthetic hand and Rhys’s blue eyes widened. “Ah, you didn’t expect it to move.” Aaron grinned.
Rhys studied the transhumeral prosthesis Aaron sported, obviously amazed, awe in every word. “No, I did not.”
“I’m in a program working with myoelectrics, and this arm is part of it.” Aaron moved his fingers.
“How does it work?” Rhys leaned closer.
Aaron didn’t mind bragging about his arm. “There are electrodes under my skin that talk to the arm. I think about moving the arm, and it moves. I’m still learning all the intricacies. I’m working on the physiology aspect as part of my doctoral work.” He couldn’t contain his excitement as he explained, his mechanical fingers clenching and unfurling as he showed off.
“That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Rhys reached over and touched the prosthetic hand.
Aaron wiggled his thumb. “Isn’t it?”
“Absolutely.” Rhys back, tossing his head. His wheat-gold hair flopped into his eyes. “What else do you like besides steampunk?”
Aaron was dressed for the event in a costume where “Aaron had designed his dress shirt to be short-sleeved on the side of his prosthesis so it could show off the gears and brass work he had sheathed the nonmoving parts in.” Aaron has adjusted to his arm in a healthy way but is wary of others reactions to the prothetic. It’s a realistic and lovely moment, especially when Aaron realizes that Rhys has easily accepted it as part of Aaron and moved on. For me, Aaron is the best, most moving part of Kept Tears and when his relationship with Rhys places him in unknown danger, I found the suspense to be almost unbearable.
Then there is Rhys Edwards aka Myrddin, prince of the Tylwyth Teg. Rhys is a Seelie fae, an immortal who has a Sidhe wife and children who he cares about deeply. And therein lies the rub for many readers. One half of the romantic couple is happily married to a female fae and has children. He has no intention of leaving his wife or children nor would it be reasonable to assume he would do so as he is heir to the Seelie throne. This is not a spoiler as the reader learns about his marital status almost immediately in the story.
I will admit that this startled me at first. But as Rhys (and Denardo) admonishes/informs us, that is a human outlook, not a Sidhe one. In fae lore and Denardo’s construct, the Sidhe are immortal, and for them monogamy is unrealistic past the first 50 or 60 years with the same person. Rhys is bisexual, and has had many partners (and relationships) over the hundreds of years. Rhys has always found himself attracted to humans, with their mayfly (one day life span) existence. He has had innumerable human lovers of which Aaron is just one more. His admiration for humans is touching and real as is his sadness for our brief life span. Think of Denardo’s Sidhe as beings for whom polyamory is something of a norm. Rhys’ wife and children are aware and sometimes approving of his paramours incorporating them, however, briefly into the family.
If you can let go of a need to see Denardo’s Sidhe as extensions of ourselves instead of inhuman immortal beings with their own societal norms then the romance between Rhys and Aaron becomes a lovely, wonderful love affair. I also feel that any author whose story, including one with a love between an immortal and a human mayfly, must contend with the readers imagination and need to “fill in” the emotional plot blanks. I am talking about the need to extrapolate the relationships past plot and story endings. Think of all the fanfiction out there and you can see where I am going with this. This will always be a HFN, with an overlay of bittersweetness that comes from the ephemeral nature of a Sidhe/mortal love affair. Denardo recognizes that and addresses it as realistically as possible in a fantasy story. This aspect of the author’s story did not bother me after a while as I adjusted my own expectations for Rhys and Aaron. It helps greatly that Gwenllian, Rhys’ wife and all his children are engaging, wonderful creations in their own right as is their Sidhe world.
The narrative flips from various characters point of view, including the Unseelie villain, Morcant. I liked this format here is it serves to let the reader in on Morcant’s maneuverings and dastardly plots, upping our anxiety over Aaron’s welfare and increasing the suspense overall. My only quibble here is that after bringing the reader up to a high threshold of anticipation over the extent of Morcant’s deviousness, the resolution doesn’t measure up to the events that preceded it. A bit of a let down, unfortunately.
For those readers who can’t get past a main character , even if they aren’t human, who is married and therefore “cheating” on his wife and children with another, this is not the book for you. But if you can enlarge your view of relationships to include one where one half of the romance is actually a group of people, then Kept Tears will be a story you will want to pick up. Aaron Santori is amazing, Rhys and the Sidhe universe he comes with are intriguing, and the villain Morcant as unscrupulous, cruel and self serving as any you have met before. Denardo’s prose is lively, the plot engrossing, and the ending one I could understand and enjoy. Pick it up and decide for yourself.
Cover artist Paul Richmond’s cover is amazing, with the prosthetic arm of Aaron’s in clear view.