Thanks to Less Than Three Press for the review copy!
Reasons for Inclusion: M/M romances, first story features a poly relationship.
In the Oracle’s Monastery, people of the four Castes manipulate the four elements, the quadrants led by their Dragons. All are guided by the Oracle who can see the possible futures of the world.
An evil king has taken command, ruining the land, harming the people, and sending the true prince into hiding. The Oracle seeks the best future, achieving it by careful manipulation of her people.
This series may be set against political intrigue and world-changing destiny, but really, it’s about the characters. It’s about Dragon finding victory, love, and family with the twins on the pirate ship, outcast Ling finding a kindred spirit in the equally outcast son of the ousted usurper king. Lost Golem finding love and hope after suffering for the Oracle’s plan.
I liked this world’s take on the four elements. Most people can use all of them to some extent, but the Testing shows their affinity and power level. The negative implications of this system are explored in full. The super-powered Dragons gain adoring followers only out for their own gain. Those without great power are bullied and dismissed as useless.
The Oracle’s manipulations don’t come without victims. The third story focuses on the man she seduced in order to have the child who would fill a needed position in the future. He was left convinced he caused her death, and now has faded away until he’s nearly just another rock in the mountain.
This darkness does not come without hope. The stories are also full of kind and welcoming characters. The romances usually follow a theme: both partners feel they don’t fit in, and then find someone who accepts him for who he is and helps him find his place in the Oracle’s plan. The cook is the first person who doesn’t tease Dragon for his seasickness while his twin teaches Dragon about sailing. Ling is the first person not to see Prince Damarion, the son of the usurper, as evil because of his parentage. Marl doesn’t judge Golem’s history, and Golem doesn’t see Marl as weak and useless. Keir doesn’t force Sprite to be anything he doesn’t want to be, and Sprite sees Keir as more than just a military hero.
Occasionally the dialogue felt a little fake, or the plot came together a bit too cleanly, but these were still very enjoyable stories.
Fire, Earth, and Air have all been covered, as well as Ether, the combination of the four. The next story, The Oracle’s Current, will focus on Water. I’m looking forward to it!