by Zaya Feli
Publication Date: August 24, 2020
Genres: Romance, Fantasy
Source: A Novel Take PR
I received an advance review copy of this book from A Novel Take PR. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Tauran Darrica has been retired from the Valreus Sky Guard for four years following the Battle of the Broken Wings that resulted in the death of his dragon. Now, all Tauran wants to do is spend his days forgetting the past and gambling his way to an unsteady income.
So when his old general from the Sky Guard hunts Tauran down to request his help with staving off the increasingly aggressive wild dragon population, Tauran refuses. But a fire ruins his rented room and leaves him without a place to stay, and Tauran finds himself on the road to Valreus, after all.
Tauran is determined to stay as far away from dragons as he can get, but a starry-eyed young man from Sharoani, land of the wild dragons, might just ruin his plans.
Kalai Ro-Ani has spent his life watching the stars, knowing he could never reach them. With his wild dragon Arrow, he sets out for the city of Valreus in the hope of building himself a better future than he could have stuck at the foot of the Kel Visal dragon temples.
But nobody told Kalai that only the Sky Guard is allowed to own dragons, so when Arrow kills a guard in Kalai’s defense, it looks like his adventure might be over before it can begin. But a chance encounter at the old Valreus archive offers Kalai the future he’d been hoping for. In the span of a single day, he has a home, a job, and a purpose.
In Valreus, something much bigger falls into his lap – along with a tall and striking Valrean man with a rather strange disposition.
A new, LGBT+ fantasy story from Zaya Feli, featuring dragons, aerial battles and epic journeys through dangerous wilderness.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »alcoholism, PTSD, grief (death occurs before book starts but is recounted on page), violence against semi-sentient animals, drug addiction and withdrawal, medical abuse (characters are given intentionally addicting drugs under guise of another medicine), mild reference to self-harm/suicide (side character has scars) « Hide Spoiler
Tauran was the hotshot Sky Guard dragonrider, cocky and sure of himself and his place in the world. All that changed after rebellion in the Sky Guard culminated in a battle that left his dragon dead and him a broken man. He swore he’d never return to Valreus, but reports of war, wild dragon attacks, and (most importantly) a fire at his lodgings lead him back into his old life. The only bright side? Meeting the new archivist, Kalai. Newly arrived in the country, Kalai’s surprised to fall into the Sky Guard archivist job, but a big perk is spending time with Tauran. But it doesn’t take long before both men start to realize that things aren’t right in Valreus. Against the backdrop of a new war and nefarious intentions, can Tauran and Kalai’s fragile new relationship stand a chance?
“Oh, the things he would do for beautiful boys and their illegal dragons.”
At the beginning of the book, Tauran is so mired in his grief and depression that it’s hard to get a good read on his character, but as time goes on, it becomes clear that he excels at taking charge and protecting those that are his. In contrast, Kalai’s very much a gentle caretaking soul, very bookish and sweet. They complement each other well, though, and from the start their slow-burn relationship is quite sweet. Both characters have physical limitations that impact the story. Tauran was badly injured in the battle that killed his dragon. Physically, his leg never fully healed and frequently causes him a great deal of pain. Mentally, he’s mired in a stew of grief and anger at the rebels, part of which is reflected in his new fear of heights. Kalai has a fainting disorder that’s exacerbated by heights or stress, so he’s been resigned, more or less, to never being a dragon rider. Both men help the other – not fix, help – cope and come to terms with their issues.
“You just need someone who’ll let you fly, someone you can trust to be there if you fall. And you have no idea how proud I am that I get to be that person.”
The world-building is fascinating and unique and very LGBT-friendly. No one blinks an eye at Tauran and Kalai’s relationship, plus there’s a fairly significant trans side character. But my absolute favorite part was the dragons. I loved Arrow, Kalai’s dragon, and was especially fond of Leyra, who we get to watch grow from an egg to, well, a much bigger dragon. It’s a chonker of a book – 764 pages! – and everything moves along at a sedate pace. The big intrigue doesn’t even really get going until halfway through the book. That’s not to say that nothing happens – rather, we have lots of little moments that are balanced between Tauran and Kalai slowly building relationship and the necessary world building to help set up the rest of the plot. There were times I wished the book would just hurry up already, as I tend to prefer more fast-paced plotting, but it did make the book, betrayal plots and all, into a very soothing experience. As for other cons, I didn’t buy parts of the ending – the ease with how some of the political stuff was resolved was eyebrow raising for me – but I was fully sold on the HEA, so I’ll count that a minor quibble. I don’t think I would even have noticed it if it hadn’t been for the otherwise stellar worldbuilding.
Overall, this book is an adorable, leisurely fantasy romance. Recommended for anyone looking for something sweet and sedate but with plenty of humor and action.