I thought the blurb sounded interesting. Long con, shades of gray characters, fantasy, enemies as lovers…it definitely appealed and it was a first try at this author. At first, I wasn’t sure what was going on and formed a vague notion as to the world and setting and then slowly things started to make sense, but then they didn’t and then they did and…yeah, it was one of those. Kept me on my toes and I had a good time with that. Pretty sure I had to be in the right mood to appreciate it and there were still things that disturbed me, but overall, it was an enjoyable outing.
The story opens with Sebastian Swift in a lunatic asylum after being accused of murdering his twin sister though he is pretty sure his slimy older cousin, his guardian was responsible for that in order to take over Sebastian’s fortune and estate. Meanwhile, he is tortured with ‘treatments’ and left to languish in a living hell while nightly he dreams of drowning.
All this changes when a violent storm floods the asylum and Sebastian is free with the ghost of his sister, Autumn, guiding him to find shelter in the Thievesward. There he meets an opportunist, Sven, who befriends him and shows him how to survive by his wits. Sven determines that Sebastian will disguise as the long thought dead, Autumn Swift, and ‘inherit’ her half of the fortune.
On arriving at his ancestral home in disguise as Autumn and with Sven in tow, Sebastian is shocked to find his cousin’s bastard son, Macsen, posing as him and the misery that Emery has pressed on the people of the estate and surrounding areas in his greed. Sebastian hates Macsen for stealing his place and inheritance- his life while he was in misery, but is shocked to learn that Macsen might have his own agenda for going along with Emery’s plots. And each night, Sebastian continues to drown in his dreams. But as the truth comes out and Sebastian must work with Macsen, nothing is as it seems and he doesn’t know what is real and what is a lie anymore. Did he end up going insane after all?
Alright, so this one was a bit macabre and not an easy read. In fact, I doubt it will be for everyone. The reader starts out with Sebastian as the narrator and experiences things as he does. He was taken from the outside world at the age of thirteen and put in an insane asylum.
This is a fantasy world, but this asylum’s practices are straight out of the horrors of the past. Any form of mistreatment you can imagine happened to him so he’s not exactly stable or healthy when he finally makes it back into the world outside.
Sebastian’s adventures and misery are not over as he learns to survive and then gets pulled in several directions by people wanting stuff from him. Sven needs Sebastian to act the part of his own sister for the con, his dead sister’s ghosts wants him to get revenge by outing Emery and Macsen, Macsen wants Sebastian to maintain the charade of being Autumn for his own purposes. And Sebastian? Not once is what he wants considered though he wants to have what is really his and get back his life. Unfortunately, it is too late for that. But, as downtrodden and vulnerable as he is, Sebastian isn’t weak. He is a survivor against all odds. He’ll never be the decisive and outwardly aggressive alpha type, but is a gentle quietly strong beta hero.
The other characters around Sebastian all tend to use or abuse him. They have their own agendas and with even the ‘good guy’ or ‘friends’, there is larceny and secrets. Macsen’s deceptions are almost honest compared to much of what comes out about the people around Sebastian. The reader slowly starts to realize that there are layers of motives to each person. Mostly this left me sad for Sebastian and angry that he had to suffer for everyone else’s needs and ambitions.
The magic element was well done. There is a mystery to it and it is all revealed slowly so I’m going to stay quiet and let the reader discover it on their own.
The romance is complicated. It’s enemies to lovers, but also involves Macsen discovering his sexuality. Sebastian might have been a youth when he was locked into the asylum and his reality is distorted, but he is comfortable with who and what he is. He knows that he likes men and he knows he’s considered a ‘sissy’ man. He expects to be treated as disposable goods. Macsen might have many issues, but I liked that he respected and appreciated Sebastian as a lover even if he had no intention of giving back the estate. I enjoyed these two’s odd pairing and watching them figure it out even while everything went crazy around them and they even got pulled apart because of it.
Normally, setting isn’t something I would consider worth mentioning, but I know some folks prefer their fantasy to stay firmly in an alternate or make believe world. I won’t say how or why, but just so you know this one has a twist that shows there are parallel dimensions going on so that some of the story is part of real life Wales. No time travel, but more of a dimension hopping thing.
So, this was different and not comfortable. I liked the story and ended up hating everyone around Sebastian for using him or letting him be abused with the exception with Macsen though that was touch and go at times. The romance worked well as an enemies to lovers. The worldbuilding and plot were satisfying in atmosphere, tone, and twists. I can recommend this one to m/m fantasy romance lovers who can appreciate a bittersweet story and a tortured hero.
I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
Romance Roundabout #100 FR
Bad Boys #13
New to Me #41 author
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