It’s been a while since I picked up a good enemies to lovers romance and it was extra intriguing because it is a fantasy setting and by a new to me author. Two societies and two men clash in this warring fantasy world that pulled me in with an engaging plot, well-drawn backdrop, and characters that kept me guessing if they would ever get past their issues.
The story opens with elite Sacrati warrior group leader, Theos, and his men encountering a party of the enemy that are well within the boundaries of their lands. Theos and his men take the party of Elkati easily and lead their new prisoners back to their home city for interrogation and to be processed as slaves for the Torian Empire. Only, Theos is suspicious of why this group strayed so far into enemy territory. It had to be on purpose, but unfortunately, nobody’s talking.
Theos and his best friend Andros figure out that surprisingly the young untried looking one seems to be the leader. Finnvid is defiant and Theos knows he holds secrets. Theos is shocked when the warlord’s men do an inept interrogation and then attempts to spirit Finnvid away with a slave caravan before he has shared his secrets. Theos doesn’t know what is going on, but he knows Finnvid is the key so he impulsively exercises his rights as victorious marauder and claims Finnvid as his slave thus putting himself in the warlord’s crosshairs and curtailing that particular plot involving the young secretive Elkati.
It is unarmed and sometimes armed neutrality at best between the new and reluctant master and his haughty, resentful slave. They clash over everything from the Torian’s daily lives and roles to the Torian’s open dealings with the same sex and the opposite sex. Finnvid gets an eyeful and finds it all shocking. Theos is equally appalled when he discovers Finnvid and the other Elkati treat their woman as less to the men, have clumsy and rudimentary military skill, and are so constricted in their monogamous sex life.
Theos comes from an open, accepting culture where the women live in and run the city within the walls and the men live in the military barracks outside. There are distinct roles and it is not a shame to openly love their own sex or to enjoy the festivals when the women call the men into the city to help them make children. Torians are a military war machine that conquer and integrate the lands around them, but stabilize as they go so that wealth and commodities are more evenly distributed and the Elkati, though not martial, wish to keep the Torian war machine out of their valley and take a special privilege for special born attitude.
A game of cat and mouse is in play where the stakes are high. Theos likes things simple and lives his life with honor, but he slowly discovers that all is not as it should be on the home front. What goes on in his little valley and the Torian city there is nothing like the rest of the sprawling Empire where the center of the country has left behind the Torian tenants and live for decadence and gain. Finnvid has his own end game going and works his plan only to discover complications not only with his mission in Toria, but also what is going on back in Elkat. He is also going through great confusion about himself and a crisis of conscience once he really opens himself to seeing that different doesn’t mean bad and his early assumptions about many things are utterly wrong. But the two men need to figure out themselves so that when the crisis comes, they will know where their true loyalties lie.
Alright, so I do enjoy this sort of story. There is a lot going on here. Intrigue and spying, plottings and ploys. Two unique races who have culture and social clashes along with different ideologies about war. Then there is this all brought from a grand to an individual scale with the two protagonists. The Torians had a Greek Spartans feel to them with the brotherhood of elite warriors though there is a flavor of the Roman Empire to the way it conquered and absorbed other peoples and countries into their empire. And the Elkati were like a medieval European culture with its sophistry and aristocracy.
It made for a long story detailing out the differences in those two societies which at first seemed a social commentary on which was better, but then later showed that neither are completely perfect and the two men must figure out how to bridge the gap between countries, but also between their ideas of relationship. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the world of the story and the chance for the characters to be developed well along with some good action and suspense, but there were draggy parts where the ideology stuff got repetitive. The reader gets a strong understanding of the Torian way of life and then the Elkati mostly through Theos and Finnvid’s eyes, but throughout the book, the descriptions are repeated.
It was interesting getting a romance that featured a hero who lived in an open relationship style and the other hero who was a virgin. Though, they don’t come together for some time (enemies, master/slave, etc), there are sparks, attraction, and passion right away though it is channeled into verbal and silent battles between the pair. They have to come to a meeting of the minds and have to overcome betrayal and suspicion before the air is cleared for the romance to happen.
It’s a non-traditional romance because of the open lifestyle in Theos’ group, but not because Theos ever uses Finnvid as truly his slave. All the interactions are very much consensual though the world of this story has both races keep slaves who probably are at the mercy of masters.
A gifted audio narrator, Dorian Bane, was at the helm on this story. He had a large cast of people mostly male, but also from different races that I felt he did rather well. The characters were in livid detail and his pace, emotional tone, and storytelling enhanced an already good story.
In summary, this was fantastic- long and drawn out, but never lost my interest. The end third was a real page turner. M/M Fantasy Romance lovers should give this one a try.
My thanks to Riptide Publishing for the opportunity to listen to this book in exchange for an honest review.
Romance Roundabout #211 FR
New to Me #88 author