Title: Hidden Treasure
Author: V.B. Kildaire
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: M/M Fantasy Romance
Length: Novel (266 Pages)
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
One Line Review: An intriguing fantasy which had well-drawn characters and a convincing romance, but felt frustratingly incomplete.
According to legend, five hundred years ago the country of Connmeera sent an exceptional gift to the country of Ormslea, but the ship was overtaken and the treasure lost. Now proof of the treasure has been found in the vast, daunting country of Jarvoct, and Connmeera and Ormslea mount a joint venture to recover the treasure. Ormslea sends Jaxom Archeron, the son of a noble family, an elite soldier known for his dedication to duty. But the Queen of Connmeera chooses Lord Dorian Pelias, a poor relation who could benefit even if the mission is unsuccessful.
While the two men at first have nothing in common, as they travel, Dorian’s intelligence, optimism, and kindness work their way past the wall of resolve Jaxom long ago constructed around his heart. When a Jarv prince attempts to enslave Dorian for his own purposes, Jaxom comes to his rescue, shaken by how much Dorian has come to mean to him. Recovering the treasure isn’t the only challenge they will face as they search for common ground and a life in disparate countries that may not be so pleased to welcome them home.
First off all, I want to urge readers to struggle on past the awkward, info-dumpy first chapter of Hidden Treasure, where the same information about the doomed gift-giving expedition of five hundred years ago, and all the countries involved both then and now, is repeated no less than three times with only slightly varied wording. Info dumping, especially using the ‘As you know, Bob’ method, is a common draw-back in debut fantasy novels, and since this author’s previous book was historical, I’m willing to chalk this up to inexperience. But the story rapidly improves from that point onwards, I promise.
In fact, from the moment that optimistic misfit Dorian meets stoic, macho man-of-action Jaxom (anyone else hearing the Joxer the Mighty song now?) the story comes alive. Since neither of them really wanted to take on this expedition to discover the whereabouts of the lost treasure, and they were both dreading just how bad their companion might turn out to be, it’s a pleasant surprise that they develop a friendly camaraderie almost from the start. Jaxom is impressed by Dorian’s concern for the comfort of his pack-horse and his unexpected competance in foraging for wild food, while Dorian, used to being dismissed and ignored at home due to his father’s unhappy legacy, likes the fact that Jaxom treats him with respect and is willing to talk to him civilly.
It’s possible that some readers might find Jaxom, who is a classic stoney-faced soldier with a heart of gold, a tiny bit familiar – but he is nevertheless skillfully and sympathetically drawn, and if he sometimes acts a right pillock, it’s just because he’s not used to caring about people. Dorian, on the other hand, is something refreshingly unusual in M/M fantasy – a definite bottom, without any pretensions to being an action hero, who has intelligence, compassion and unflinching strength of character.
As the two progress through the sometimes hostile country of Jarvoct, following a vague map and encountering all kinds of trials, such as insistant and eccentric hosts and disease-struck villages, the book started to remind me of classic fantasy like The Belgariad and The Chronicles of Prydain. Only with smouldering sexual tension between two hotties. Win!
The author held back on any sex scenes until around midway through the book – allowing the relationship to develop and strengthen on the basis of friendship – but when they did arrive they were plentiful and, while not particularly explicit, certainly hot enough and varied enough to keep me from skim-reading.
Finally the couple reach their destination, and discover that the treasure is not at all what they were expecting. With melancholy hearts they head off to the coastal main city of Jarvoct, where they are due to meet the ships which will take them back to their homes in separate countries. And here – after a couple of mild confrontations with the people from their homelands who have come to collect them – the story comes to a sudden and rather unsatisfying halt.
I know we were all debating recently whether a HEA was necessary in every story, or whether HFN or even bittersweet endings were okay in a romance. The ending of this story qualifies as none of the above. In fact I’m not sure if it qualifes as any kind of an ending at all. Nothing is resolved. And I’m not just talking about the romance, although that’s left hanging here too. I’m talking about the main plots that the author has taken the trouble to set up throughout the story. Just to list a few, there’s Jaxom’s new thoughts about slavery, a couple of would-be assassins awaiting trial, the mysterious archer who wounded Jaxom midway through the story, the response of Jaxom’s ruler to the unexpected nature of the ‘treasure’, and questions about what Dorian’s status will be when he returns home now that he has become a stronger and more assertive person.
Frankly I was so shocked to be cut off at this point that I continued scrolling backwards and forwards, searching in vain for more pages, for about three minutes. I immediately assumed that I must somehow have missed the fact that Hidden Treasure was the first of a series, but a check to the DSP website and the author’s LJ give no hint that any sequel is forthcoming. All of which leaves me baffled as to how to rate this book. I enjoyed it a lot, but any story that leaves the reader feeling as frustrated and annoyed as I do right now must have serious flaws. So despite the fact that Dorian has claimed a permanent place in my heart, I can only give this book 3.75 stars.
And if a sequel is planned…will someone please let me know???