Boy did I LOVE THIS BOOK. One of the first five star books I’ve read in a while, and a cynic would say it’s because it’s by an author who also cut her chops writing fan fiction. To which I say, 1) rude and 2) that’s not some hard and fast rule (note my ongoing frustrations with various Hazelwood books!). What I think it means is that in opposition to some of the NA/YA that I read, which emphasizes getting the BIG BEATS of the plot out as quickly as possible, here we have an author unafraid to do a solid slow burn.
And indeed, here we have exactly that. The slow burn is as much world build-y as it is political and character-building and romantic. We are slowly introduced to Kadou, who is described as shy but would otherwise be described as a Hot Anxious Mess, one of the classic well-done fanfic tropes that nonetheless works because instead of having to root for an anti-hero or a hero with anger issues, we’re rooting for someone who’s struggling to manage even with no “reason” to struggle. #Relatable! Kadou, the crown prince of a sultanate who is firmly out of line of the throne after his sister gives birth to a child, is horrified to be accused of trying to murder his way to the throne. He’ll have to team up with his new
sexy competent bodyguard Evemer to figure out what’s going on and who’s actually responsible.
Without being exclusionary, I feel like everything that didn’t work for me in A Strange and Stubborn Endurance worked for me here. Kadou’s trauma (anxiety, everything he touches turning to a mess) is well handled (so much so that my friend, whose tastes are usually pretty in sync, messaged me at 17% wondering if he’d ever start addressing his issues). Evemer is both the classic straight man (ironic, ha) but has a full characterization that helps you understand the character. The power dynamics at play (Kadou is the prince, Evemer is part of a corps of bodyguard/politician/civil servants/bureaucrats who are sworn to serve the royal family but also have enormous latitude and form the main governmental bodies) usually are not my favorite but somehow Rowland makes it work, so that you don’t feel like there’s any imbalance for the eventual romance.
The magic is also useful yet incidental enough to not serve as a MacGuffin in the main mystery. I won’t say that said whodunit is a real headscratcher (the person you think did it…likely did) but as it were the point isn’t the conspiracy but what you do when the bedrock of your government (the loyalty of the bodyguard civil servants) is questioned.
As a bonus, Rowland wrote her own fanfic of her own book as an epilogue, which is hilarious and perfect.