*I received an ecopy of this book from the author. This has not influenced my review.*
This was a very character-focused book with a slow pace and not a whole lot to the plot, but it was a good start to a series that I have most definitely been enjoying so far.
Both Scarlet and Liall were unique and interesting enough to keep my attention. Scarlet was feisty and stubborn (I loved how he stood up to Liall) but also kind of lost and still struggling to accept his sexuality. Liall was a bit more of a mystery, but he was clearly lonely and regretful. He was also imperfect but showed a great capacity to learn from his mistakes and grow as a person.
I also liked the slow burn of the romance (if you can call it that, since this book was just barely the start of the relationship) as Scarlet kept trying to sneak his way past the toll and Liall kept catching him, amused by all his antics. Of course, Scarlet wasn’t quite as amused, and I couldn’t blame him. My favorite scene in the book was the one when their back-and-forth reached its boiling point. The scene started out so fun with a little play on the Red Riding Hood story, but then it suddenly took a drastic turn and became so intense and charged with anger and tension. And Liall’s thoughts, the way he immediately became kind of defensive because he knew he was wrong but didn’t want to admit it to himself, were nicely realistic.
Another thing I liked was how the author took something that could’ve been problematic and turned it on its head so that not only was the character’s behavior pointed out as being wrong, it really added something to the story and the character growth. *SPOILER ALERT* Liall was charging a toll for people to use the road, but from Scarlet he demanded his body rather than money (first he charged a kiss, then he upped it to an hour with him on Scarlet’s next attempt, then he upped it to a whole night with him on Scarlet’s next attempt, and Scarlet kept refusing). Scarlet eventually got so angry that he called Liall a rapist for how he kept trying to force himself on him (not physically, but by charging that toll for the road he needed to take). Scarlet’s father also said to Liall when he met him, “So, you’re the Kasiri who tried to make a whore of my child.” And upon realizing how wrong his actions were, Liall was ashamed and tried to make up for his mistakes. *END SPOILER ALERT*
The only thing I didn’t like about the romance was that I’d have preferred the word love not been used since the two men had hardly spent any time around each other. To be fair, I think it was only used once by one character, and it was just a thought in his head, but still. The characters’ actions were still believable though; just being interested and drawn to each other was a plenty good explanation for why they made the decisions that they did.
As for the writing, it wasn’t flowery or anything, but it pulled me into the story and seemed to match the high fantasy world.
Speaking of which, this was a super detailed and thought-out high fantasy world, There were all these different regions and cultures and types of people and words. I had a bit of trouble keeping track of things since I’ve only recently started getting into high fantasy and am not used to that kind of stuff, but not so much trouble that it affected my enjoyment.
So overall this book was mostly just setting up the romance and the situation and the world, but I enjoyed it, read it quickly, and was interested enough in the characters to keep reading the series!
M/M high fantasy readers who like slow-paced, character-focused books with sweet relationships.