For some reason, the description and cover for this book made me think it would be broad in scope and kind of disconnected from the characters, but it was, much to my delight, the opposite! There were political aspects and mysteries to figure out, but it was very focused on these two characters, and I felt so invested in them that I sometimes found myself tearing up—not because of sadness or even necessarily sweetness, but because I just felt so much for their situations, their pasts, their emotional struggles, and the beautiful thing that was growing between them.
I felt this was fairly equally focused on romance and politics, and the romance was so sweet and definitely what stole the show for me. I loved how Kiem always saw Jainan, first and foremost, as a person. Even when no one else did, because they all simply saw him as a political pawn. Poor Kiem was trying so hard to give Jainan space and make him feel comfortable. Poor Jainan was trying so hard to please Kiem and not make his life difficult because he figured he wasn’t actually wanted as a partner and also because he knew his country’s fate depended on this alliance. They, especially Jainan, kept misinterpreting things, but in ways that made sense given their situations. Jainan cared so much about doing his duty and was so insecure that all the nice things Kiem did to make him feel more comfortable, he assumed meant he must’ve done something wrong. I know some people hate the lack of communication trope, but I don’t. I think it’s realistic and makes complete sense, especially in a situation like this where they barely knew each other, and there was a kind of power imbalance, and Jainan knew how important the alliance was and also had difficulty believing anyone could actually care about him or want him. And honestly, all their misunderstandings and difficulty opening up made all their big moments of communication all the more satisfying.
Both characters were so likeable. Kiem was such a kind and compassionate person, and also one of those people who had such charisma he could walk into a room and know everyone’s name, job, family tree, and favorite color in twenty minutes. Jainan was reserved and duty-bound, and though he had some insecurity, he also had a well of inner strength and cared about what was right and could always stay level-headed. I’ve seen a few people say they took time to like Jainan, but I didn’t have that problem. I felt so much for him from the start. The author did a great job of making a character who was withdrawn but not two-dimensional, as those types of characters can sometimes be.
The political plot was interesting too. It had a lot of depth and intricacy, and delved a lot into the world-building. Not too much to talk about there though because it would just be spoilers.
I will say one potentially negative thing depending on what you’re looking for: There wasn’t a lot of space. Not as much as cover and title might imply. This took place on another planet, and though that played into the world and politics and technology, they weren’t zooming around through the void or anything.
The audiobook narration by Raphael Corkhill was great. Characters were easy to tell apart, especially since Kiem and Jainan had different accents. But even side characters sounded different enough. And everything sounded natural with the right emotions for the scene.
Overall, just a really enjoyable book with political mysteries, likeable characters I really felt for, and a super sweet romance!
Anyone who likes sweet m/m romance, understandable misunderstandings, likeable characters, and political machinations and mystery.