Completed 12/3/2016 Reviewed 12/7/2016
I liked this book. While it has same-sex relationships, it’s not the great gay fantasy novel, but it’s good. The author really does her best in the scenes between the main character Demnor and his companion Kelahnus, and telling the story about their relationship, from its rocky start to the present conflict where Demnor has to marry a woman for political reasons. Demnor is a pretty damaged character. He is the heir to throne and the power of the Living Flame, but he has been shaped by his powerful, emotionally abusive mother who is the current ruler. So the story really centers on Demnor and his struggles in life and love and inheritance, and Kelahnus’ response to it all.
I really liked Kelahnus. He’s not just a lover. He’s part of what you can consider a concubine guild where people are trained to be the lovers of the hierarchy. They serve the function of providing companionship until the aristocrat gets married. And even after that, the relationship usually continues in some form. In the case of Demnor and Kelahnus though, the two have fallen in love. This creates a problems for Demnor’s future as Aristok (King) and the need for him to marry for political reasons and provide an heir. Kelahnus has to navigate through all of Demnor’s political life while not despairing.
The first half of the book was my favorite part, where we get to know the characters and the special social structure of the world. The second half takes a big turn into politics. I felt like it dragged, turning the book into the fantasy equivalent of a tedious space opera. This brought the book to a snail’s crawl for me, losing the spark of the first half.
This is a shame too because the book had so much going for it. Besides the companionship structure and the fluidity of sexuality, gender has a prominent role. The aristocracy can be either male or female. For example, all the children of the Arsitok are Princes, even the girls. Women also serve in the military. What makes this aspect of the book so great is that it is not an issue. It just is. It’s really well written in that respect. And it’s easy to miss if you don’t pay attention to the pronouns of the soldiers, guards, and aristocrats.
The magic and spirituality of the Living Flame concept was really interesting too. Demnor is the heir of this powerful magic that helps him and his army in battles. I thought it was understated, or perhaps underutilized. The scenes with the flame are predominantly in the second half of the book. It almost seems like it’s used sparingly on purpose, perhaps it has a much larger role in the next books in the series.
Yes, this book is the first of a series. As I stated at the beginning of this review, I liked it, but I did not love it. I found the second half somewhat tedious and it put me off from reading the rest of the series. I was really glad however, that the book is self-contained. It doesn’t leave you hanging for the next book in the series. I give the book three stars out of five. Maybe if the author could have edited out about half of the second half, I would have enjoyed it more. The remaining action could have lifted the pace and made it a little more exciting.