Author: Rowan Speedwell
Cover artist: Trace Edward Zaber
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Fantasy/Gay Romance
Length: Novel/45k words
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: An enjoyable fantasy/quest gay romance with excellent world-building, likeable characters and an interesting plot.
Outrunning a winter storm in the north, Captain Faran of the King’s Guard, his men, and a young mage named Meric find shelter at the ancestral home of the Daenes, Bitterwood Manor. Faran and his troops have been searching for six weeks for both a powerful unknown mage, and for a mysterious, lion-like beast that reportedly haunts the uncharted northern woods.
Faran finds the first clue in their quest: the Daene family heraldry—a gold cat on a red field. Meric finds something much more interesting—the son of the house, Eissa. For his part, Faran is fascinated by the powerful figure of Joss, a widower who manages Bitterwood and its environs with a strong, steady hand.
Together they will need to brave the oldest, darkest part of the Bitterwood in the coldest, deepest snows of winter, to find the legendary gold cat and the prophesied mage, for time is running out—for Meric, and for the kingdom
I have been waiting for this book and for the most part I was not disappointed. I thought the world-building was excellent in this one. The reader follows Faran and his soldiers in the Bitterwood and slowly but surely our horizons are expanded. Information was revealed to us just at the right time and just the necessary amount of it in my opinion. I liked how in time we learn a little bit of the religious beliefs and even a little bit about the commerce in the country. Nothing felt forced; I felt as if I was traveling with the characters and learning more and more about the place where action takes place.
Faran is determined to make sure that his journey is successful and it is interesting how the author kept me interested in the end result by hiding the reason for such a journey. We know what Faran and his men are looking for, but until a certain part of the story we do not know why. Closer to the end, but not at the end, we learn why they are searching for the beast and the mage (not a spoiler since the blurb tells us this information) and that made me even more sympathetic towards this Quest. But the author still had a couple of surprising revelations up her sleeve (surprising for me, your mileage may wary of course) and my interest in what would happen next never diminished until the very end. Of course magic plays a huge part in the story, and I really enjoyed how Bitterwood became more and more alive as the story progressed and how it materialized in certain things, the story being a fantasy. I also always loved in the traditional fantasy stories where the characters are conflicted between their duties and responsibilities and what their heart tells them to do. I think the author portrayed such conflict very well here and resolved it quite believably.
This book has a feel of an old-fashioned fantasy where a man’s honor came before anything else—even before love—but of course since it is a romantic fantasy, there is some romance, too. We have two couples in love by the end of the story — Joss and Faran (who are great!) and Merrick and Eissa. I really enjoyed how the romance between Joss and Faran developed, starting from powerful attraction and gradually becoming love. Maybe because of the dangerous Quest they went through it turned into love a little faster than it would have under the normal conditions, but it was still believable and enjoyable to me.
On the other hand the love between Merrick and Eissa — who were adorable together, by the way — happened a bit too quickly for my taste, even if the author tried to give a reason for that. I would not have minded if it was Insta!Lust as with Joss and Faran, but since they are young (sixteen and eighteen), I understand how it may not have been as touching had it been just lust. I think I would have preferred to see their love develop more gradually, especially since it seems that their love will be forever, not the first young love which may disappear later on.