The highest praise I could give this book is this: it's a high fantasy with ELVES and not only did I finish it, I enjoyed
it. I pretty much hate this genre, so for me to get so engrossed in this book really speaks to the quality of Haimowitz's writing.
What I liked:
- The characterization. This is really what could have made or broken this book, and luckily it made it. The main characters, despite being on completely opposite sides of a yawning divide, are both sympathetic. I didn't feel more allegiance for one or the other at any point. They were both flawed, certainly, but in understandable ways. This is the kind of story where conflict could be incredibly manufactured feeling but it never was. When they got together, I thoroughly believed that they'd reached a point where they could. There was no shorthand or magic moment that made them fall for each other, but rather a gradual series of incidents, all piling on top of each other until it made sense.
- The politics. On the whole I don't really care for made up fantasy worlds and their various wars (see: not liking high fantasy), but I appreciated that even after finishing this book, I still have no sense of who the "bad" guys are, and I like that one of the developing themes about the "big war" is that maybe it doesn't matter who started it. A lesser book would make one side brutish and horrible and the other perfectly sensible. The human race is definitely pretty violent and terrible here, but it's drawn in a nuanced way.
- The villain. There aren't really any "bad guy" characters to act as a major antagonist at this point; for the most part that role is filled by outward forces, history, nature, culture. However, there is one character who occasionally takes on an antagonistic role: the prince's sister in law. A female villain in M/M always makes me nervous because of how much this genre loves its "bitches in the way of manlove" tropes be they ex-wives or evil mothers or whatever else. This woman, while definitely pretty vile at times, is simultaneously sympathetically drawn. I'm interested to see how she's developed in the sequel.
- The UST: slow burn, hot, teasing, and paid off very well. I love being kept waiting and squirming for sex in a book, and it was deftly done here. When the sex happened, it lived up to the promise. Yes, good.
What I didn't:
- The faux-archaic language kind of grated on me. I understand why it was used, but when you have a character that decries misogyny (and calls it such), having him drop a t'weren't seems a little twee and silly.
- The scene with the assassins at the camp, while acting as the precipitator of the relationship, felt kind of disconnected with the rest of the narrative otherwise. I don't know how to describe it, but it felt like it just wasn't well integrated into the story. Over and done quickly. I'm hoping it'll assume greater significance in the sequel because for now it feels a little bit like a constructed event just to get the characters to admit their feelings for each other.