CW: rape, of the violent sort, and the aftermath play a key role in this novel from the very beginning so reader beware. There’s also homophobia
While this was not my thing, I have some latent fondness for it because it helped me make the comparison to A Taste of Gold and Iron which I liked quite a bit. All in all, it’s a book with some tonal/pacing/detail mismatches that could benefit from a firmer editorial hand.
To reiterate, there’s this (for me) well trod habit of NA/YA fantasy/sci-fi books to have a community that has similar social structures to ours and then a comparative community with different structures. The different structures (in this case, marriage laws that emphasize explicit consent and come with built-in periods for both parties to trial things out before reaffirming their consent and desire to stay married) are always very pointedly held up in opposition to our norms, as a way for the author to go “SEE how BACKWARDS we are? See how it COULD be?” There’s usually also some latent _____-phobia to work through (in the different society there’s no real consideration given to gender/sexual identity/preference, as those are all obviously things to respect and consider. oBvIoUslY
The issue here is that no character is really given a chance to be a fully fleshed out version of themselves. Velasin is meant to be this culturally fluent (but closeted) prince of the town that needs to have a marriage alliance with the other town, but when he moves to the second town he’s never really given a chance to utilize his skills to solve the mystery of what’s going on. He’s obviously traumatized by his assault, but he both loses his agency to be a sparkly mystery solver and lacks the plot line of ‘recovery.’ He seems to oscillate between being traumatized and being a lackluster detective, without much harmonization between the two identities.
It’s also not a mystery that the audience can solve alongside the main characters, which I understand is a difficult line to straddle. It does mean that there’s less of a well-won aha moment to end the book.