Reasons for Inclusion: Gay protagonists and secondary characters, egalitarian society, men can have babies, secondary characters include interracial lesbian couple. Characters are of various skin colors.
High King Sarrica wants his fiance to be a soldier, just like his late husband had been. Prince Allen turns out instead to be a beautiful diplomat and genius linguist- something Sarrica has no patience for. He rebuffs Allen, but before he can leave in humiliation, Allen’s skills make him indispensable among the soldiers and palace staff. With his ability to communicate across language and culture borders, Allen fixes problems left and right, but the king will not listen, until Allen leaves on a dangerous mission and Sarrica finally realizes what he might lose.
This was one of my favorite reads this month. I loved the characters and their interactions. Allen might not be a warrior, but languages and diplomacy are just as important when it comes to running a kingdom. He’s kind, helping Sarrica’s staff even when the king himself has been unforgivably rude. One of the best scenes was when Allen comes across a merchant beating an apprentice in the streets and puts a stop to it.
Sarrica was especially interesting, if not as immediately likable. He knows he’s being an ass, something his advisors don’t hesitate to tell him either. But in between mourning his dead husband, raising his kids, running a country, and dealing with migraines, he doesn’t have the time to consider why the match might be more suitable than he first assumes.
The side characters are fun. Two of Sarrica’s advisors are his brothers-in-law. One, Rene, has romantic troubles of his own to deal with. Various castle staff have names and personalities, as do the soldiers of the Three-Headed Dragons mercenary band Allen travels with.
The worldbuilding was complex and satisfying. Allen’s education as a “silver tongue” is essential in this world of varied languages and customs. Same-sex couples are the norm, poly families are mentioned, and the soldiers Allen travels with are of at least three genders. Women are in high positions in military and government. Men can have babies (as Sarrica’s husband did), although how this works is never fully explained. An interracial lesbian couple feature as important side characters.
The pacing felt a little odd, though. The middle of the story felt like it would be the end of a shorter work, but the story stuck around to tie up loose ends and prolong the relationship angst. This wasn’t a problem; it made sense and didn’t leave things hanging, but it was just a little unusual. I was very happy to have another half a book to read about these characters!
Megan Derr is writing a companion novel about some of the secondary characters, set to be released next year. I’m looking forward to returning to this world!