*I received an audio copy of this book via NetGalley. This has not influenced my review.*
This was a pretty long book, and I enjoyed every minute of it! In fact, I would’ve happily kept listening if there were more.
The romance was one of the main focuses of the book, and it was so lovely. Slow burn in the sense that it was pretty far into the book before anything happened, but in plot-time it was only maybe a week. So I’m not sure if I consider that a true slow burn or not, but regardless, I enjoyed it! These two spent a lot of time together and bonded so much that it felt believable. Their romance was also just so sweet and healthy and nice. They were cute together.
The other main focus was the politics and courtly intrigue. I am often easily confused by complex politicking in books, especially when you throw high fantasy worlds into the mix, but this, though complex in how thought-out it was, was explained so clearly that I was always able to keep up. So I enjoyed this element too.
Both Velasin and Caethari were such good, kind characters, while also feeling unique from each other. Velasin was friendly and good with people, always treating the servants with extra kindness, making everyone like him just by being himself. Caethari had more difficulty with people but was still a good person, and especially understanding and supportive of Velasin. Both were just the right amount of protective of each other. They deserved each other, in the best way possible.
There were other interesting characters as well, everyone felt unique. Also a sweet, close friendship between Velasin and Markle. Some disability rep too, since Markle was mute and used sign language. And a lot of characters seemed to be POC, based on descriptions.
There are trigger/content warnings at the beginning of the book, but I want to mention here too that the book essentially starts off with Velasin being sexually assaulted / raped, then accidentally outed, then exiled by his father for being gay, and he considers suicide multiple times. But these aren’t plot points only used for convenience, nor do they make the book depressing. Throughout the rest of the book, Velasin deals with that trauma and ultimately starts healing from it, with the help of people who care about him. And the place he moves to is much more accepting of different sexualities and genders, so part of that healing is getting to openly be himself. But there were some heavier, more emotional moments in relation to all this, and other difficulties the characters faced. I really felt for the characters, especially Velasin.
The audiobook, narrated by Vikas Adam and James Fouhey, was wonderful! I love both of them as narrators, and their voices were well-suited to the characters, so this was sort of a dream duo for me. They both did a great job of sounding natural and bringing the personality and emotion for the characters and the scenes. Vikas Adam had some especially emotional moments to narrate, and he nailed them. They also voiced characters similarly to sort of match each others’ voices, Velasin’s voice being higher-pitched and Caethari’s being deeper. I definitely recommend the audio.
Overall, this was a great book that wove themes of trauma and healing with intriguing politics and a lovely, understanding romance, all set in a vibrant fantasy world, and I really enjoyed it!
Anyone who likes m/m fantasy romance, courtly intrigue, kind characters, healthy and understanding relationships, and emotional healing.