A guest review by Jenre
This book had some interesting fantasy world building but never really fully achieved its potential.
The ruling family of Corrus needs an heir and the Viscount’s son, Wilhelm, must provide it. He is to be wed to Catherine within the week to ensure the family name continues. He, however, doesn’t love her. He can’t love her, for she cannot give him what he really desires. Wilhelm needs a man to satisfy him.
That man is the most unlikely person in the whole town, a pauper named Pavel.
Will Wilhelm give up everything, his title, his wealth, and all his family inheritance just for the chance to be with Pavel? Or will Catherine make sure he marries her so she can solidify her place as a ruler of Corrus?
Pavel is a young beggar who prostitutes himself for food to feed himself and his unlikely companion and friend, Odo. Prince Wilhelm is obsessed with Pavel and follows him, lusting after him, all the while knowing that he’s to be married to Catherine as soon as his father can pin him down to a date. When the two men finally meet, their attraction quickly blossoms into more as Wilhelm shows Pavel that he wants to be more than a means for food, and Pavel trusts Wilhelm with his secret about Odo.
One of the strengths of this book is in the world building created by the author. I’ve always admired Mark Alders’ imagination, and with this book I wasn’t disappointed. The descriptions of the small town, the gossiping people, the conditions Pavel has to endure and the opulence of Wilhelm and his castle are all lovingly set out for us. There’s a familiarity in the setting too, as it easily compares to fairy stories of princes, castles and true love.
The characters of Pavel and Wilhelm are also interesting and well rounded. Their love grows quickly but as Wilhelm is almost in love with Pavel from the start, and Pavel has been pretty starved of love most of his life, then I didn’t mind that part of the story. Having said that, I never really understood why Wilhelm was in love with Pavel to begin with, he just is. I would have liked to know just what it was that attracted Wilhelm in the first place, especially as Pavel is ragged, grubby and a known whore and therefore even less likely to attract a great prince such as Wilhelm. This lack of understanding on my part meant that I was never fully engaged in the relationship between the heroes.
In many ways this was an example of the general failing of the book in my mind: That nothing was really dealt with in much detail, other than the setting. Thus many of the other characters were rather cardboard, relegated to ‘types’ such as the overbearing cruel father, the maid-servant and the huntsman. Even Catherine, who had the potential to be quite a complex character turned out to be disappointingly clichéd. The story too, whilst quite involving and fairly fast paced, had too many coincidences, especially related to the character of Odo and a disappointing deus ex machina ending.
So whilst I liked many aspects of the fantasy setting in this book, the story and characters made it just an average read. Those of you who like fantasy books may well still enjoy this book, as will fans of the author.