I really enjoyed this! The characters, the romance, the story, all of it.
Damiskos was kind and understanding and serious and always trying to be a good person. But he was struggling with his own self-image and grief since becoming disabled and going through the traumatic experience he went through and having the course of his life altered. Varazda was one of those people who sparkled. Confident but coy. Perceptive and smart. Compassionate. As the description says, prickly sometimes, but only because of his own struggles and insecurities.
And what a lovely romance this was! Or still is. This was only the start of it. But what we’ve had so far has been beautiful, full of respect and admiration and vulnerability and trying to understand each other.
The fact that one character was castrated (when he was younger) seemed to be handled with care. There were some words used that were maybe not ideal, but it’s fair that characters would use those words. And it wasn’t just tossed in, it was something that had a big effect on the character and his life.
And I loved the nonbinary rep! I could actually relate to a lot of Varazda’s feelings. I don’t think this world has words like “nonbinary,” but Varazda presented himself with both typically masculine and feminine features, styles, etc. And he talked about how he didn’t really feel like a man but was happy for others to see him that way, and how he also liked to feel more like a woman sometimes, that it gave him a balance. I also liked that he wasn’t nonbinary just because of what was done to his body. He felt like he would’ve had the same feelings about gender regardless.
Varazda’s past experience of rape / sexual assault, since he’d been a slave, was also handled with care, especially by Damiskos. Damiskos was always so understanding and patient in sexual situations, letting Varazda make the choices, offering ideas he thought they both might enjoy but making sure Varazda knew he could say no, etc. Damiskos just wanted to give Varazda the pleasure and enjoyment he didn’t even know sex could have. Whatever they were doing, Damiskos could still enjoy himself and the intimacy. And oh, what lovely sex scenes they were.
The plot was interesting. Espionage, intrigue, mystery, murder, and a bit of action. I would say it’s a slow-paced book, but not a slow-feeling one. It never dragged. I was firmly hooked.
There was disability rep, both physical and mental. Damiskos has a bad leg and a limp from a previous injury. Both main characters seem to have PTSD.
This is high fantasy, set in an imaginary world based on the Ancient Mediterranean, but there’s no magic or supernatural.
Overall, this was a lovely book with a bit of action and intrigue, but it was really the two main characters and the beauty of their forming relationship that drew me in, and I’m looking forward to reading more about them!
Anyone who likes fantasy worlds without magic, beautiful and gentle romance, a bit of action and intrigue, characters trying to heal from physical and emotional scars, and nonbinary characters.