When I first finished this in July and gave it five stars, I predicted that most people wouldn’t love it as much as I did, and I was right. It also unfortunately came out at the same time as Alexandra Rowland’s A Taste of Gold and Iron, which is pretty similar in story and theme (I haven’t read it yet, though I do have it out from the library), and most people have preferred it to A Strange and Stubborn Endurance. I think this is sad because this book is good and deserves to stand on its own.
A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is a political fantasy mystery romance trauma recovery found family book. You could probably just stop reading this review now if you want no spoilers. (Content warning for sexual assault both in this review and the book.)
Our main characters are: Velasin, a noble from the country of Ralia, a place that is backward and hateful regarding social expectations, gender roles, sexuality, you name it; and Caethari, the son of a tieren (a ruling noble) from Tithenai, whose family are looking to ally with a Ralian family by marriage in order to shore up ties of trade and diplomacy between the two countries. When an envoy from Tithenai approaches Velasin’s father and offers marriage to Velasin (a third son), his father accepts, only he’s supposed to marry one of the tieren’s daughters. But when the envoy witnesses a sexual assault on Velasin by his ex-lover (the book blurb is coy about this, which is annoying), and mistakes it for a tryst, they offer for Velasin to marry the tieren’s son instead. Tithenai’s culture is very different from Ralia’s. Velasin’s father agrees, because now that his sexual preferences are known he’s disgraced in Ralia and can’t stay.
So we follow Velasin (who feels like the more significant character, just because we are with him from the beginning, and because his emotional arc is the backbone of the book, but we do get alternating POVs from him and Caethari) as he journeys to his new country to meet his future husband, all while being heartbroken and traumatized, and newly disowned from his family.
As mentioned previously and is indicated by my five-star rating, everything about this worked for me. I loved seeing the clash of the two cultures, the hurt-comfort relationship dynamic between Vel and Cae, the overall arc of Vel coming out of his shell and healing from his traumas (not just the sexual assault, he’s got issues from growing up where and how he did). I loved the slow burn of the relationship between the two men. I loved the friendship between Vel and his servant/best friend, Markel, who is mute and speaks sign language with Vel. I loved the intrigue and the mystery plot. The way the book ended I thought was impactful, and the person behind it all, while not surprising, did have an ending that I both didn’t expect, and that was also strangely emotionally impactful.
Anyway, I hope some of you read this and like it as much as I did.
CBR BINGO: Bodies
I originally had a short story horror anthology called Your Body is Not Your Body for this square, but I’m not going to make it that far, so this book will do instead. Bodies are murdered in this book, bodies are traumatized and then heal, bodies are used to connect emotionally. Bodies are invested with political meaning. It fits.