Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Due to rising tensions with their neighbor, Tycen, the King of Thalassa is pushing an alliance with Aither on their western border. The king’s son Prince Edmund is to marry Aither’s Queen Hollis and conceive within two years. The author nicely sets up some political intrigue at court in an understated way that will germinate in later books. The prince and his secretary, Peregrine, travel to Aither for the wedding to take place in three months time. Since the Queen’s father died and she is still in mourning, the wedding can’t take place any faster. This allows the author to also set up political intrigue for this court.
The queen’s brother, Prince Arden, is told to spend time with Edmund–time the queen should be spending to get to know her betrothed, but is avoiding. We meet Arden’s best friends, Larkin and twin brother Ciaran, who are the eyes and ears for court politics. The alternating POV between Arden and Edmund allows the reader to know he is unhappy about being attracted to Edmund and that Edmund don’t really allow himself to admit or understand he might feel it too. As they get to know each other better, the ways of Aither being open to people of all elements, challenges everything Edmund has learned from his father and the way he rules Thalassa. This also plants seeds for future books. We get to know a little bit about Edmund’s affinity with water and Arden’s affinity with air and how that magic can be used. Their common enemy Tycen is know for their affity with fire. We know little about the earth affinity, so I guess that will be in future books.
This author is known for high fantasy and political intrigue so I expected the world-building to be good and it was, but I have hopes there will be a lot more detail later. I was enjoying the story, the court, the politics, the slow burn as they were getting to know each other, yet nothing is in great detail. When someone with an affinity with water tries to kill the Queen, Edmund is arrested and after spending so much time with him, Arden is in a precarious position. We are told Hollis and Arden were close once, but we never see it. There could have been more done with that plot-wise. We only get a glimmer of Arden’s feelings of muted hurt. If fact, we know little of the queen or any of the characters beside Arden, Ciaran, Peregrine, and Edmund.
Once they flee the castle, it was like the author no longer knew what to do with them. Edmund and Arden are suddenly stumbling around when they already know how they feel about each other. It was all handled in an awkward, drawn out way. I liked the depictions of Edmund as a demisexual, and Arden, who reads as non-binary (the publisher’s tag is trans). Their love scenes were sweet, yet circumspect and while explicit, were not really erotic. At this point even Ciaran, who has grow up in political intrigue and has a spy network, starts to act childish. He shouldn’t be failing apart about something he knew would happen. Then, all of the sudden they start writing in code as he communicates with his sister. As if this had never occurred to him before whilst they are fleeing for their lives? Ciaran and Peregrine are also in a relationship now which seems to consist of a lot of handholding. For me, this read as high fantasy that turned into YA.
As Tycen prepares for war, Arden and Edmund meet with Queen Hollis along the border, whereupon she acts like an unreasonable child. This is the most we get to see of the queen and I was not impressed. Unless we get to see her POV in future books and a lot more backstory, I am not sure how this character can be redeemed for me at this point. Maybe she won’t be, but everything is so sweet and slots into place so easily, I expect the sister and brother will eventually make up, somehow.
The end of the book really points to learning more about the various magics and how they can be utilized together. Right now, they are like kids studying and playing with magic. We’ll see if that changes if war actually happens. I would have liked a lot more of the elements and their creatures that magic wielders can communicate with. I wanted this to have more detail and depth about everything. While I liked the MCs, I didn’t feel emotionally attached to them. This is a nice, sometime sweet, easy read for a couple of evenings and I recommend it be enjoyed as such.
The cover art by Natasha Snow is fitting for the story, showing a blend of the two main elements covered in this story and a castle. The color palette fits with the dark intrigues. Although most of the story takes place in Aither, this seems to be the palace in Thalassa, where the story starts and finishes.
Published October 1st 2018 by NineStar Press