This was such a soft, tender, gentle romance, with equally tender sex scenes. So much longing and passion. It felt so unique, in a way. Galen starts working at this apothecary/brothel where Azriel works, and they’re drawn to each other, but one of the rules is that employees aren’t allowed to have sex or romantic relationships with each other. *SPOILER (sorta, it’s about the romance and some cute things)* But the client who normally requests Azriel starts requesting both of them, and he tells them what to do with each other (though never anything they aren’t comfortable with, even asks what they want to do, etc.) and watches. So Galen and Azriel have this little loophole that they look forward to each week, and in the meantime sit side-by-side against each other in bed each night just talking while Galen draws in his sketchbook. *END SPOILER* And there’s so much longing and wanting and sweetness and passionate tension. It’s lovely.
And both characters were gentle and sweet, especially Azriel. He just wanted to help people, working in the apothecary shop. Galen had a little more spice to him, more stubborn and willing to speak up, but even he was mostly quiet and kind.
There was some sweet friendship and found family too. Galen had been alone at the start, but the people at the apothecary/brothel were all kind (even the grumpy one wasn’t so bad) and there for him and became like family.
There were some less savory elements to the story though, so do be aware of that. Things like sexual assault/violence against sex workers (on-page and mentioned), homelessness, a sickness that spreads, laws against men loving men, and bad characters with internalized homophobia.
There was also just a touch of fantasy. The story is set in 1881, but it’s not quite our world. The main character can see auras, there’s mention of potions and witches, some people are fated to be together (though that’s not really explained), and it all seems to be fairly normal and accepted by society, or at least not completely unheard of.
I found it a little strange how sort of formally the characters talked. A lot of fancy, pretty words. It didn’t feel quite natural. It did, however, fit with the vibe of the book, so I just accepted it.
I enjoyed the audiobook narration by Iggy Toma. He sounded natural and was pleasant to listen to. His narration suited the story. I do have a complaint, though it may be more the fault of whoever produced the audiobook, I don’t know. The audiobook was so quiet, which I can solve by using a separate speaker, but so much of the dialogue was whispered or spoken so quietly that I still couldn’t hear some of it even with my speaker almost at full volume, and if I turned it any higher, the rest of the narration would’ve been unbearably loud. I like that the narrator performed with the context in mind (e.g. a soft-spoken character, or two people having a quiet conversation while everyone else sleeps), but the volume levels were just too varied.
Overall, this was a lovely, tender, gentle romance that had harsher or sadder moments but always balanced them with heaps of sweetness, and I enjoyed it!
Anyone who likes gentle, tender romance and sex, longing, quiet characters, and just a touch of fantasy.