Much like the first, this was a long book (almost 20 hours in audio), but it flew by because I enjoyed every minute of it!
There was so much emotional struggle between these two men who wanted and cared about each other so much but just didn’t know how to deal with their grief and trauma getting in the way. Vel kept being hot and cold and pushing Cae away, all the while worrying Cae just didn’t want him anymore or would tire of him. Cae kept putting Vel in bad positions by not being willing to discuss certain political things, but even with his grief, he was trying so hard to be what Vel needed. I feel like this one might’ve been even more of a slow burn than the first book, in a way. Sometimes they kissed or even had sex, but because of all the angst and distance and tension between them, I was always on the edge of my seat wanting it, cheering them on any time it happened. They do have a beautiful relationship though, despite their struggles. Their issues were more their own personal things, not their treatment of or feelings for each other.
We also got a new POV character this time, in addition to Vel and Cae, and though I felt for him because of his situation, I didn’t much like him at first. He won me over by the end though. He was interesting, and just as Vel’s and Cae’s POVs felt unique, Azrian’s did too.
And speaking of Azrian, I sorta got into the potential relationship between Azrian and a certain someone else. I wonder if perhaps they’ll be getting a book? *SPOILER* The way it started was messed up because of power dynamics and all that (I’m not blaming the author, I’m sure they know, characters are allowed to do messed up things), but I started to wonder pretty quickly if Naza felt something for Azrian, actually liked him. And by the end, it was very clear he did. And they sure did seem to enjoy their sex. Also, just the way Azrian immediately started hitting on big scary Naza upon meeting him, and then the way he was being dragged away to be interrogated as a potential suspect (and actually was working for Ralia, though he wasn’t the one orchestrating murders) but was just turned on by Naza grabbing him by the back of the neck instead. Cracked me up lol. *END SPOILER*
I also love the friendship between Vel and Markle. *MILD SPOILER* Especially in that one scene when Vel was in his room and just started sobbing, I was thinking how badly I wanted Cae to come back in and find him and hold him, and then someone was holding him or sitting next to him, and it turned out to be Markle, and I was just as relieved. And how Markle was angry at Cae during the fire incident, not because he held Vel in place, but because he ran off afterward. He knew Vel so well that he knew Vel’s biggest worry wasn’t that Cae would hurt him, it was that Cae would decide he and all his trauma was too much. *END SPOILER* Anyway, Markle is great.
One thing this author really excels at is showing the complexity of emotion and how even the smallest of things can affect a person in ways you would never realize or understand or consider, ways that seem like they don’t even make sense, if you weren’t in their head, having lived their experiences. Like how affected Velasin was by seeing a woman casually propositioning another woman and being turned down and everyone just joking and moving on like nothing. He was gay himself. He’d seen plenty of open same-gender couples in this country. It was a totally normal thing. But for him, it brought a sort of sense of grief, that he’d never had that kind of life, that he’d always had to sneak and hide in order to be with other men.
As for the plot, I really didn’t know who to trust, who was actually out to get them, who was being framed, etc. It wasn’t obvious to me at all, but it did make sense in the end, which is the perfect way for a book like this to be.
The audiobook was once again narrated by James Fouhey and Vikas Adam. I love these two narrators separately, and I love them together. I love that they actually voice characters similarly, like they were either given guidelines or communicated with each other (e.g. this character’s voice will be deeper, this one higher, etc.). And they both just gave great, natural, emotive performances.
Overall, this was another fantastic book with lovable characters, a plot that wasn’t too action-packed but still kept me on my toes, and lots of personal struggle but also care and kindness in the relationship!
Fans of Book 1 in Foz Meadows's Tithenai Chronicles. Anyone who likes m/m fantasy romance, courtly intrigue, kind characters, healthy and understanding relationships, and emotional healing.