This is a new to me author and I bought this based on the blurb. I would say this takes about 90 minutes to read. The writing syle is crisp and focused. It’s the story of a king who doesn’t want to be, was never intended to be, actually king. Hiring his jester is one of his many new duties, but it’s the one that ends up being his most personal. I love the idea of the King’s Jester being a trusted friend and confident. This author is great at building tension: court politics, longing for someone, establishing trust, and navigating power dynamics (not BDSM). Fairy tales can get away with many things that other books can’t. For instance, yes I did find it shocking they were left alone so soon. What if they were an assassin? What if they were a spy? But in this world, the jester school is well respected and trusted. This is meant to be a sweet fairy tale, so there is no room for that here. It’s a personal tale between two people based on mutual respect, a peek into their bubble. I am torn about whether I want another book, because this is perfect as it is in my opinion.
Damien is a guy trying to survive by making the hard choices. He’s loyal and will do anything for the family that’s been cobbled together in this dystopian future, especially his lover Aris, which puts him right between a rock and a hard place. He’s working as an assassin for the Watch, the police force of the Empire of Consolidated Nations, run by Commander Faelle Valyr. The story is set in Helos, previously New York before the Wars of 2090. Everyone is corrupt. When Damien gets sent to take out a corporate guy named Mael Taerien, he’s caught and blackmailed into killing Valyr instead. Taerien’s henchman Raeyn sticks close to his side to make sure he cooperates. As the action intensifies, battle lines are drawn but they are fluid and everyone has to adjust to the ever changing landscape.
This is a gritty story with an almost frantic pace. Damien is like a mountain goat, stubborn yet quickly adapting to all terrains. It’s not like he has any choice. The poor guy is in one fight after another (beaten, choked, kicked, stabbed, and shot). Darien tries to play whichever side will help save Aris, himself, and their friends. Aris has his own plans and his own lovers. He’s between his own rocks and hard places. The thing is Damien and Aris are both broken and the pieces don’t quite match together. That doesn’t change anything that is going to happen as everyone runs head first into their future. Damien doesn’t ignore things as well as he thinks he does, so the reader understands he sees what he wants to about the people he loves. He also forgets that everyone he loves is not like him. I’m of two minds about the secondary characters not being that fleshed out: that’s a huge missed opportunity for emotional connection to the story, and thank goodness or I’d be a blubbering mess.
As Damien gets closer to Raeyn, I wasn’t sure who to root for, or against. In many ways Raeyn is a better match for Damien, but there are some major obstacles and their relationship has it’s own dysfunction. About halfway through this story my mind was partially blown, because a good author foreshadows. At about three quarters of the way in, my mind was fully blown. The only way this story works at all is because the reader only has Damien’s POV. There is no way at all to describe this plot without spoilers. It’s an impossible task and I don’t want to do that. Just trust that there is a plot twist around every corner in this complicated web of lies and conspiracies. Yes, some seem improbable but that’s half the fun. This is action packed from beginning to end and could have benefited from some more quiet moments. They are there, but they are usually gut wrenching in their mental dysfunction, so they are not restful for the reader. They are necessary to understand the psychology of the characters. I also think the unrelenting pace is to stop the reader from looking at holes in the plot, or to try and work out what will happen. But after going through this journey, the end is too optimistic for all the brutal world building that has taken place. Even though this has an ending, I was left floundering around wondering what now, but that might just be that I kept moving after the ride stopped. I’m going to say I enjoyed the ride.
Rick Raine is our space captain. Karl is our other MC looking for transport to Mendhem, a territory controlled by Confed military. The Confed (Confederation of Free Planets) and UPA (United Planetary Alliance) are at war. This story starts on Meridan, a world along the borders that tries to stay a neutral territory.
Raine agrees to take him on as crew if he can find cargo to transport. Karl is from Meridan, but has been living on Earth. He escaped his life in the brothels after his mother’s death at 12, due to Sam, who is trapped on Mendhem after being sold as a slave. Slavery is allowed in the Confed and sometimes people are given a choice between slavery or military service.
I liked the descriptions of the various worlds, the spacecraft, and space travel. I love that the ship is piloted like a theramin.
I have to say both characters are so different in their outlook and approach to life, but both are likable in their own way. Rick will remind you a bit of Hans Solo and this is no bad thing. Karl could be a young Luke without cool powers. The sex scenes were well written and fit into the story as a natural, inevitable progression to them growing closer through proximity and sharing dangerous situations.
As a novella it did its job of telling a complete story with world-building. Due to it’s length, it did such a good job by focusing on the two main characters and showing us parts of space inhabited by “border rats” and a small part of Confed space. We don’t know that much about UPA and that is fine. I hope adventures in this world continue and we get to see if UPA is actually the “good guy” in this fight, or if it is a bit more nuanced than that. This story is complete with an ending, but it could be a beginning too, so that could make this work for a prequel or just book one in this world.