Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Perhaps if I had listened more closely, I would have heard them all whispering his name. For it is his name I hear still in my nightmares and in my waking dreams. It is the everyday hum of my new life in this vast country. But it began there, on that ship, in the sense of longing in my heart. Even my heartbeat murmured his name.
I should have listened more closely.
Doctor Nikolai Hartmann earns a reputation for himself after saving a wealthy man from evil poisons. That reputation summons him to a faraway land, to save a king who has presented similar symptoms, leaving him entertaining death. On his way to the king, he encounters despair unlike anything he’s seen before. Villages are impoverished, suffering is suffocating to all those who pass, and the cruelty is unbearable to an outsider like Nikolai.
One night, after witnessing particular horrific events, he is met by men that are camouflaged by the forest. Little does he expect to encounter them later on in his travels, or for one of them to be a Prince – the son of the very same king on his death bed.
Through poison, wars, and death, Aleksey and Nikolai come together, too entwined to ever separate again.
I was filled with searing, bitter, exalting, joyous, but awful knowledge that I loved Aleksey. I loved him as a man should love a woman. I wanted him as a man should want a woman.
But love, in my experience, was something that left you weak and vulnerable and near to death.
Some books have a plot, and yet have very little happen. This isn’t a fault of the book, merely the style. There are no explosions or great, tragic events. Just a simple story of life. This is not one of those stories. You will find all of these things in A Royal Affair, all of them in spades. Just when you think you’ve mounted the worst, more comes crashing down, sometimes quite literally.
The book was, quite bluntly, packed to the brim with events. And for the most part, it worked in the books favor. One thing can be said for sure, and that is that John Wiltshire is a master of words. Each phrase seemed to be delicately stringed together, like the author sat quietly and thought carefully about how one word would look next to the other. It’s beautiful, and especially in moments of depicting war, it was breathtaking. Death is ugly, and these words colored it in a beautiful and equally horrifying way.
It was, of course, not without its faults. For one, we met Mark in the beginning and unless I totally missed something happening to him, we never really heard of him again – just maybe two brief mentions after the actual meeting. I would’ve liked to know more about him, as all Aleksey’s other friends were wonderfully crafted and incredibly intriguing.
Also, I found that there were points in this where the book just felt so far beyond its 250 pages, and not necessarily in a good way. Had I not been so far enveloped in the story, I think it would’ve weighed far more heavy on me and made me become anxious to finally finish. If someone reads this and isn’t as interested in the nuances of a historical novel, I can see them easily growing bored with it. I, for the most part, did not, though I did feel its length, particularly at the beginning of the war section of the story.
One other thing that irritated me was the fade to black that we had for the first scene with actual penetration. There was a finger – and then just a brief summary that the night was most joyous. I’m greedy, I know this, but I wanted details. I suppose when you get to the end, it may make more sense as to why parts of the story were told as they were – simply through words and not actual dialogue between characters (these parts did coincide with the parts that began to feel a bit too lengthy to me, so that may speak to why those parts became particularly tedious).
Nevertheless, A Royal Affair is beautifully crafted and certainly a journey worth taking. I loved seeing not just a particular day or month in a characters life, but what truly felt like an entire, whole chapter of their life. This felt like I knew the characters for years, which was quite lovely. There is no doubt that I will be reading more by John Wiltshire, especially with the poetry he creates through the simplest of words.
The cover art by L.C. Chase is simply but perfect for the story. It doesn’t need any intricate cover with two men embracing or something that is commonly seen. The sword speaks for itself, and it makes for a striking first impression.
ebook, 250 pages
Published September 8th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press