Okay, this was a slightly odd read. I feel like I should start putting a little factfile at the start of my reviews to let you know what’s in books, because I know I review a lot of Children’s/YA fiction, and then this book is more adult with some explicit content, so I don’t know if I should have some way of differentiating things. But now I’ve warned you about it, I guess that’s okay. YAY.
The premise of this book is that the protagonist, Allen, has been chosen as consort to the High King, Sarrica, whose former consort died a while back. We’re informed that this is a standard procedure, and also that Allen’s been trained for this for two years, but there are a few things left unexplained.
I’m sure you’ve noticed the obvious: arranged marriages in this world happen between dudes as well as, presumably, in situations where women are involved. Actually, that’s the main reason I requested this one from NetGalley, because I was looking for something in the LGBTQIA section that had a bit of character development.
(A lot of the books in that category are short fiction better categorised as erotica. NOT MY THING.)
This is over 100k in length, so there’s plenty of character development, not least because Allen and Sarrica hate each other at once. Well, Sarrica appears to hate Allen, but then we see his point of view, and it’s all very JUST KISS ALREADY for most of the book.
On the one hand, I loved how this portrayed gender. It was refreshing, because it wasn’t like anything I’d read before, and the impact that had on sex and relationships was super interesting. There was no heteronormativity; it was totally cool for someone to be with the same gender or whatever.
On the other hand, a lot of it was never explained. Like, there were all these dudes having babies. And I was like, “That’s cool, no gender essentialism here,” but at the same time, I’d kind of have liked an explanation? So at one point a character is talking about his possible future relationship with a male heir to another kingdom, somebody else points out that that heir will need to marry someone who can produces heirs for him, and the character says, “Heirs I can provide…”
But then it’s not alluded to again. And I like this breakdown of assumptions. I don’t think it should have to be a big deal that not everyone of the same gender has the same parts as others who identify that way, but it was seriously confusing at first, and I found it a bit hard to follow. Were some of them trans, or was mpreg just a thing in this world? I don’t even know.
I also gathered that some people didn’t have their own children but instead used a ‘dame’; this too was never explained or explored in any detail, so I found that a confusing detail for a while.
My thoughts while reading: “What even are the gender politics in this book? I DON’T KNOW. NOBODY KNOWS. DUDES HAVE BABIES. OTHER DUDES DON’T. SOME DUDES MARRY OTHER DUDES AND THAT’S NORMAL. SOME DON’T. It’s refreshing but at the same time, it can be a bit muddling.”
So there was that. I did enjoy the characters, and the slow burn of the relationship; it’s implied to be a given from the start that they’ll end up together, but it’s a long way until we reach that. I would say the sex scene at the end didn’t particularly do it for me, but then, I’m never very fond of m/m sex scenes.
(Is it because I don’t have a penis AND I’m not interested in them? Is that the problem? Maybe that’s the problem; I just can’t relate to them at all, or the sensations, so they’re never very effective. TMI, guys? Maybe TMI. SORRY. I DIDN’T KNOW HOW ELSE TO SAY IT.) I’m sure it would have been exciting for some people, but I was much more about the buildup to that than the actual payoff.
Also, I liked the politics and the use of languages (Allen translates stuff and speaks like fourteen languages and a bunch of dead ones and whatnot). The worldbuilding was well-developed and complete, but occasionally this meant lots of explanation that needed to be waded through, although it wasn’t an infodump as such.
If I’d spent less of it confused, I would have rated it more highly, I think.