Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
This is an historical romance set in a fictionalized England circa the late 17th century (at my best guess, owing to the clothing), but the speech is fairly modern with reference to the subconscious mind. If the author had called the country anything but England, I would have called it fantasy. There isn’t too much world-building, just enough to get a sense of place. First, the reader is thrown into the pivotal action sequence of the book without knowing what is happening. It then flashes back to four months earlier and the story unfolds to explain how things got to that point. Emmett is a merchant’s son who cares for people, yet he also seems to have been indulged and not learned the hard lessons of life. He is said to have a head for numbers in business, but obviously not the skill for diplomacy and trade negotiations that his father has. When his father’s ship lands in order to trade, he has a disastrous meeting with Prince Andrewe. This sets up an enemies to lovers scenario for most of the rest of the book. While Emmett’s duty to protecting Aleyn’s virtue and trying to help him establish a living is admirable, possibly honorable, Emmett’s honor comes into question soon enough when everything doesn’t go his way.
The misunderstanding…where Emmett thinks his father has sold him to be a companion to the Prince is rather interesting to me. Did Emmett’s father want to get rid of him because he doesn’t think his son is right to take over the business one day? Did he think this experience would teach Emmett a lesson? Yet Emmett is as enamored with the Prince, as Andrewe seems to be with him, thus he becomes First Gentleman. This is not necessarily dubious consent…but the power imbalance is inescapable and used to salacious effect. Since this is Emmett’s point of view, it’s unclear whether he is an unreliable narrator because: he doesn’t understand interpersonal communications well enough, he is naive in the ways of court politics and intrigue, he lacks the life experience to deal with a real intimate relationship, or he is too swayed by his emotions rather than logic. Emmett willingly made himself a servant to the Crown, not understanding he was essentially making himself a slave, and then chafes at his lack of freedom.
Andrewe is completely uneven throughout the book, at times sweet and loving, only to turn vicious, cold, or distant. Lust can only allow Emmett to overlook the Prince’s behavior for so long, but the Prince isn’t the only problem and Emmett never takes any responsibility for their discord. At one point I did wonder if Andrew was mentally ill. Is he just unsure about how to behave in this relationship? Is he taking it out on Emmett, so that his parents will make him marry and produce an heir? Is he being mean and cruel on purpose to create distance to protect himself? Andrewe’s use of Aleyn against Emmett to keep him in line is repulsive. It’s also when Emmett finally loses his way and the lack of real communication and respect between them, causes dangerous circumstances to arise. This is where the book starts to go off the rails for me with the introduction of Thomas.
His dalliance with Thomas is not lust, more the rush of being able to be himself again–someone’s equal where he can say what he wants and do as he pleases. However, Thomas is not three dimensional enough to pull this plot off and it all falls flat. I was really enjoying this, even with all the questions I have about the other characters’ motivations, until I felt the author wrote Emmett into a box he couldn’t get out of. The whole last 20 percent of the book was completely unbelievable to me, and that was mainly down to not having the characters be more present and rounded out. All that sex and time spent with just Emmett and Andrewe made the plot suffer. The reader only sees the royal couple a handful of times and what is there in the characterizations doesn’t match from scene to scene. Did the King and Queen think Emmett would somehow tame Andrewe or make him easier to control? At one point the Queen threatens to get rid of Emmett, yet when the perfect time comes to do so, she shows mercy that is not warranted. In the end, even Emmett is contrary: the overindulgence and opulence he previously found so distasteful is in full force at the end, yet Emmett no longer minds. Even though Emmett is the central figure, the only consistent character is Aleyn, who on the cusp between boyhood and manhood, has a good reason to be inconsistent, yet seems to be the only one to actually understand what is happening and why. I’m left feeling really torn because so much of this was well done, but I had too many issues with the way the author chose to resolve the plot.
The cover design is by Written Ink Designs (written-ink.com). I admit to having no clue what the cover is about, maybe I missed a pertinent passage.
Kindle Edition, Second Edition
Published October 23rd 2019 by JMS Books LLC (first published February 6th 2013)