Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne secured many times over. A trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty. Always a dutiful son, Brishen agrees to the marriage and discovers his bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined.
THE NOBLEWOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn’t just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she’s known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light.
Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics will discover they are destined for each other, even as the powers of a hostile kingdom scheme to tear them apart.
Seriously, this is one of those instances where you really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – because this one looks like it belongs in the fetish erotica section of Amazon. (Sorry author!)
I saw a great review for this book pop up on my GR newsfeed, by a critical reviewer whose taste is quite similar to mine. And I was in the mood for a good love story, one that wouldn’t make me roll my eyes like so many romances out there, especially contemporary, it seems. I am seriously picky when it comes to the romance genre.
But boy, was I so pleasantly rewarded. Furthermore, this isn’t just a straight-up romance book – I’d say it’s just as much fantasy as it is romance, even though I initially picked it up for the latter aspect. And the fantasy aspect is well done – it’s not just a hand-wavey background for two characters to get it on.
Onto my main point, though. This ship was just amazing. They are two people who have no choice but to be married off (to each other) for political reasons – not the main heirs, so not important enough to their family, but royal enough to be used for strategic alliances with other kingdoms. And you know what? They deal with it like adults. No drama. No hysterical fits. Just trying to make the best of the situation they find themselves in. It doesn’t help, of course, that they are from different ‘species’, if you will – one human, and one from a race of grey skinned humanoid type creatures with sharp teeth and claws, known as the Kai. And naturally, those of each kind find the other repulsive.
Theirs was an agreement based on the beginnings of friendship, respect and an intuitive understanding of each other that still left him slack-jawed with amazement.
But Brishen and Ildiko? They are respectful of each other. They communicate to try and put the other at ease and mitigate any potential misunderstandings. They poke fun at the other’s appearance. They establish living quarters next door to each other, and ignore the potential wedding night entirely.
Their romance is a slow burn, and it is a joy to watch. The banter had me giggling and smiling like a loon.
“Your skin colour reminds me of a dead eel I once saw on the beach.”
Brishen arched an eyebrow. “Flattering, I’m sure. I thought yours looked like a mollusk we boil to make amaranthine dye.”
And later on…
“You make a very handsome dead eel, my husband,” she said, and winked.
“For a boiled mollusk, you wear black quite well, my wife,” Brishen shot back, and his smile stretched a little wider.
Their encounters with the delicacies of the others’ culture also made me chuckle: poor Brishen and the dreaded potatoes, while Ildriko’s experience can be summed up with the line “And then the pie breathed.”
This is the kind of romance I want to see more of. Slow burn. Respectful. No high drama. Just talking out potential jealousies and issues, dammit! And utterly delightful to witness.
Of course, quite apart from the romantic shenanigans, there is the matter of a kingdom to run, political rivalries and allies, a creepy powerful mother to avoid, and a few near death experiences to round everything out. And a potential side-ship that I hope is developed in the next book.
All in all? Totally recommended.