*I received an ecopy of this book from the publisher. This has in no way influenced my review.*
To put it simply, this book was a complex and beautiful love story. The characters were imperfect, and their relationship was imperfect, but they fought for each other, not just against outside obstacles but also their own inner demons and all the struggles that came up between them. There were mistakes and secrets and betrayals, but there was also love, and that was what counted.
This is difficult to review though because the first half (well, more like 35%) and the second half felt really different. I would actually give the first half 4.5 stars and the second 4 stars, but the whole thing was very well-written and I think the minor problems I had with the second half were just personal taste type things, so I rounded up. It still makes the review a bit difficult though, so I’m going to split it up a bit.
In the first half, Brier was sent away and was living in a cabin in the woods, learning things like healing and fighting from Roland and the Ceve guild. It may not sound exciting when I describe it, but around 25% I stopped for a moment and thought to myself how glad I was that I was still only at 25% because I didn’t want the book to ever end. I was so immersed in the world and the story and the characters. While I was reading, I wasn’t home on my couch, I was there with them.
This was also one of the most realistic buildups to a romance I’ve ever read. Since it was high fantasy they ended up in different types of situations than romances set in our world, but the pacing, the way things happened, the struggles, the obstacles, the length of time, the feelings—it was all perfect.
Also, I love when characters do something (in this case it was camping) in which it’s just the two of them or a small group, and they’re in close quarters (like a tent) whether they want to be or not, forced to interact and get to know each other even if things aren’t going well between them. It makes things super character-focused, and there was a lot of that in the first half.
The second half, however, took place back in the palace, so it didn’t have that same cozy intimacy of the forest. It also had a lot more politics—literally, since Brier was running a kingdom.
The second half was also where the mpreg came in. I had never read mpreg before, but it was surprisingly easy to suspend my disbelief. I think the fact that the male pregnancy had a magical explanation and wasn’t a normal thing to the characters either made it easier for me. Really, if I can accept magical abilities and creatures, why not magical mpreg?
What really kind of threw me in the second half though was Roland. In the beginning he seemed so docile and kind and level-headed (that one thing in his past aside). But then he was suddenly bad-tempered and violent and jealous. Don’t get me wrong, I liked that he was legitimately flawed rather than “beautifully flawed,” and in many ways he was so realistic that it weirded me out a little because he reminded me of someone I know in real life. And barring one scene that I was not ok with, he still cared about and supported Brier. It just would’ve made more sense to see that side of him in the first half too. And both Roland and Brier could be a little overdramatic at times but were, for the most part, developed and believable given their situations.
Oh, and that epilogue surprised me. *POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT* Most books portray perfect, happy families, but this family was actually imperfect and impressively realistic—but don’t worry, it was still a happy ending. *END SPOILER ALERT* And it did leave the possibility for a sequel involving different main characters.
One last thing, I want to give major props to the cover artist because not only is the cover gorgeous, it perfectly embodies who the characters are on both the outside and the inside!
So overall, the whole book was intricate, detailed, well thought-out, and complicated, not in a confusing way but in the way that real life would be. The pregnancy and the politics also brought the story in interesting directions sometimes that I didn’t expect but that made sense. Also, the story seemed to be loosely based on or inspired by Snow White (I didn’t realize there were seven guild members until after I finished, that was cute), but it’s not a direct retelling. And now this review has gotten really long so I’m just going wrap this up by saying things were not easy and definitely not perfect for these characters, but I’m so glad I got to read their story!
Anyone who likes very character-focused high fantasy and m/m love stories with obstacles that come from both outside and inside the relationship.
Prince Brier Snow has lived in the shadow of King Snow’s exalted memory. However, his fate changes when he nears his majority and Lirend’s steward queen attempts to dethrone him by exploiting an obscure requirement in the late king’s will: a yearlong sabbatical.
Brier travels to the desolate land of Aire to train under the Ceve guild, scorned refugees of war, including their guarded leader, Roland. Brier’s skillful master unlocks hidden potential, and what begins as a dutiful bond turns into ill-fated affection. When Brier returns to the capital, he’s carrying proof of his indiscretions with Roland—and his condition grows more apparent with each passing day. An affair with the huntsman is a scandal Brier’s enemies can use against him, but the birth of an heir is a burden even Brier is not sure he can bear.
Roland Archer, a man with a murky past, is skeptical of the contract to train the prince but willing to do anything for the guild’s freedom. Despite his best intentions, he is smitten by Lirend’s future king. Roland has resigned himself to solitude, but fate has other plans—for him, for Brier, and for Lirend’s oppressed subjects. Can Roland help Brier face a power-hungry queen and a country torn asunder? Either they will bring equality to a land that desperately needs it, or they’ll be thwarted by cunning enemies and an illusory curse.