Having really liked Sorcerous Rivalry a couple of months ago, when the sequel dropped, I couldn’t help myself. I had to have it immediamente!
I even managed to read it within the month too, which is a boon.
In the peace following the Great Mage Hunt, the king’s long-time mistress is revealed as a sorceress. Locked away for the safety of the kingdom, bounties are placed upon the heads of the seven children she birthed. Before they can be found by the kingdom’s mage hunters, the seven turn to in-fighting and murder, stealing each other’s magics to grow stronger. After the battle on the stone plains, only three of the mage-born bastards remain alive.
Kestral searches for Reshi throughout the kingdom, convinced that Reshi’s traumatic childhood was the reason for his sudden departure after their last battle together. Meanwhile, Reshi finds a teacher to help him with his newly acquired mystic powers to better protect himself against his murderous older brother. In the course of his studies, Reshi finds more questions than answers regarding the mysterious magic behind the control runes. Is Velyn simply a monster for killing his brothers and sisters? Or is there a darker force at work within the kingdom of Zarapheth?
“He’s offering to double your bounty, provided I return you bonded and… agreeable.”
Kestral barked a laugh from across the room. I turned to scowl at him.
“I can be agreeable!” I shouted at him.
“You really can’t,” Kestral argued.
Reader, this one is going to be a toughie. I really, really liked Sorcerous Rivalry, because I really liked the relationship between Reshi and Kestral. Now, that one ended with things between them up in the air, so naturally I dove into this one wondering what would happen, but… well… this one didn’t really click with me. I’ll try and explain without being too spoilery. If there are any spoilers, they’ll be fairly mild in the grand scheme of things, and will concern the romance more than the plot outside of it. There’s also going to be cursing, and it is not going to be dust and ashes. Hold on to your butts.
So, in this one, Reshi is one of three remaining mage-born children of the king’s mage mistress. His brother Velyn is still intent on killing him and his sister in order to take their magic, but the actual reasoning might be just a bit more than just trying to be the most powerful or to steal the thone. Reshi is in the castle itself, hiding in plain sight among the nobles, trying to find and befriend the prince of the realm, who is his half-brother, and learning about his magic from pretty much the only person who could teach him about his magic.
Kestral, after Reshi fled from him eight months previously, has been looking for him ever since that time, with Reshi’s sister Kila in tow. They’ve been in Reshi’s childhood hometown of Giltner for a while, waiting for him to come back, when they receieve word that he’s in the capital, so off they go.
Suffice to say that shenanigans ensue when they reunite. There are significant shenanigans abound in the royal city, and clues are beginning to hint at where the source of those shenanigans is, and how they can be stopped.
Dun dun duuuuun.
I thought that this one was just as well written as Sorcerous Rivalry was, and it was an easy read, making me want to know what ultimately happened, and so keeping me reading until the end even despite my misgivings. Niko, a new character that was introduced, really grew on me and I ended up rooting for him pretty hard. As we got closer and closer to the end of the book, I rooted for him more and more.
This volume is told from the POV of both Reshi and Kestral. It’s interesting to see things from each of their eyes, because they are quite different people in a lot of ways. I’m glad to say that their voices seemed legitimately different too (which doesn’t always happen in multi POV first person books).
Here’s the problem I had with this one, though. Reshi and Kestral’s relationship went from pretty damn adorable in Sorcerous Rivalry to absolutely toxic in half or so of this one, and it was both jarring and disappointing. If I had read these two books back to back, it would have been even worse.
Reshi, who spent a fair deal of his formative years being a goddamned slave, fled from Kestral when he realized that he had the feels for him, because to him, a serious and monogamous relationship is similar in many ways to the slavery he suffered. Reshi relates strongly to the animals whose forms he takes, and so, as is pointed out repeatedly, he has a very honed fight-or-flight response. When fear or uncertainty rears its head, Reshi runs. This isn’t something that’s not apparent either. It’s a pretty obvious trait about him.
Kestral’s feelings towards Reshi during their eight month or so separation seem to have gone entirely past love and into a desperate obsession. He’s followed Reshi all over the country for months and months, and when they finally reunite, he quite literally captures Reshi, by making his conventional means of fleeing unusable, thereby keeping him from running away again. Even the unconventional means won’t allow Reshi to flee alone if someone is touching him, so Kestral will hold a wrist or grab a shoulder any time he feels that Reshi is a flight risk. And while he feels guilty for doing it, he still does it, because to him, it seems like any Reshi, even a Reshi who is angry, betrayed, and more or less backed into a corner is better than no Reshi at all.
So, as you can imagine, Reshi fights, as flight isn’t an option, and he does so mostly in his usual way, which is with words, but he doesn’t stop at telling Kestral to get fucked either. Physical harm occurs as well, and while it’s played off as an accident, it’s definitely implied to not have been an accident. Sure, you can heal the wound, but that doesn’t excuse purposefully wounding him in the first place. I’d describe this period of the story as Reshi and Kestral being ‘at odds’ with each other except that it goes quite a bit beyond that. These two are fucking awful to each other for a really big chunk of this book.
It wasn’t that Reshi didn’t want me; it was that Reshi didn’t want me to want him.
That’s as may be, but it doesn’t make it right to force him to stay in a situation he doesn’t want to be in. Whether or not Reshi’s feelings are real or not, or whether he’s pushing you away on purpose, if he feels uncomfortable coming to terms with his feelings for you, then you give him space to do so, you don’t fucking collar him like a dog because you need him near you to feel better and he’s not listening to your feelings hard enough.
Kestral frees Reshi, grudgingly, not of his own accord but because he was ordered to, and from there they start mending their relationship. Slowly but surely, they work themselves back up to being lovers. They eventually go back to being adorable Reshi and Kestral like all that emotional and verbal abuse between them didn’t just happen. On top of that, Kestral never trusts Reshi to not run again. Right up to the end of this book, every time Reshi shifts into a bird form, or moves too far away from him, Kestral worries that he’ll run again. JFC guys. This relationship is a giant red flag with littler red flags on it.
So, I am on the fence. I didn’t hate it. I really didn’t, but I will admit that I really wanted to somewhere in the middle when this was all going on. I still love Reshi as a character, and I there’s a huge part of me that just wants him to be happy. Even when he was being really shitty, I saw a legitimate reason for it. The idea of commitment made him flee, and in return the one person he might consider actually committing to in any way hunts him down and more or less leashes him. He blames himself for it too, because he did run, and he knew that his running away would really hurt Kestral. Welp. Once again, that’s as may be, but if your fear of commitment turns a dude into a fucking stalker, then maybe the fault is a bit more up in the fucking air. They’re both guilty of being really shitty to one another, but I think Kestral did worse overall than Reshi did, so he gets more of my disappointment here.
Uuuugh. I’ve wanted a happily ever after for these guys since the end of Sorcerous Rivalry. That’s what makes this so disappointing. I just don’t know how I feel about a happily ever after that follows 2/3 of a book of toxicity towards each other. Goddamn it characters in a book. Why do you have to make me emote? -.-
So… I mean I can’t say I hated it. I read it in 2 fucking days. But I cannot get over this disappointment either. So I’m going to call it a middle ground and move on. 2.5/5 stars.
This isn’t to say that I’ll never read a book by this author again. I certainly like her writing style and the characters she creates, I just hope the next relationship that I become invested in doesn’t end up as this one did.