Reasons for Inclusion: M/M romance. Culture with normalized gender/sexuality equality. Mostly POC cast. Class issues explored.
The Tournament of Losers is a fools’ game, and everybody knows it’s rigged, but the stipend offered to contestants is only chance Rath has of paying his father’s debts. He doesn’t much care about the prize, getting to marry into a noble family. But once he’s in the game, he has to keep playing, and along the way deal with bizarre challenges, violent noblemen, and an affair with a beautiful man who may or may not be one of the marriage candidates.
I was surprised at how humane the contests were. I was expecting all sorts of unfairness, but instead the overseers took cheating and threats completely seriously. The focus was on Rath and how he dealt with difficult circumstances instead of being on the circumstances themselves, and I liked that.
Some of the “secret” tests were a little obvious, but I’m willing to forgive that because they were based around tropes that I absolutely adore.
What I’d really like to discuss is the setting. Tournament of Losers, and a lot of other works I’ve seen recently, take place in a new strain of queer-friendly fantasy worlds that offer an intriguing blend of old sights and modern sensibilities.
These settings feature all the beloved trappings of classic medieval European fantasy, and yet nobody bats an eyelid at queer identities, women in power, and racial diversity. Of course, these things existed in history too, but in these worlds they’re fully accepted and normalized. (A nonbinary character even appears briefly at one point!) And this sort of worldbuilding is what I dearly want to see more of in future stories.
There’s still prejudice and injustice, of course- much of this story is driven by class issues. Rath is a commoner, doing unpleasant jobs for pennies, while Tress is from the upper class and has time and money to spare. Much of the subplot’s tension comes from their conflicting views of the world and assumptions about each other.
This book has good writing, interesting characters, diverse worldbuilding, and a delightful happy ending, and I recommend it, especially to long-time Less Than Three fans.
(Advance copy received through Netgalley)