Review: A Taste of Gold and Iron – Alexandra Rowland
by Alexandra Rowland
Publication Date: August 30, 2022
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
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“A delicious tangle of romance, fealty, and dangerous politics.”—Tasha Suri
The Goblin Emperor meets "Magnificent Century" in Alexandra Rowland's A Taste of Gold and Iron, where a queer central romance unfolds in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire.
Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen's new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.
To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.
This is a near-perfect enemies-to-lovers bodyguard romance set in an Ottoman-inspired setting. There are misconceptions! Political intrigue! Random swordfights! It’s just lovely and I absolutely devoured this book.
After his sister the empress safely delivered her daughter, Kadou should be relieved. Instead, high tempers and a misunderstanding lead to a deadly end, and Kadou feels like it’s all his fault. Determined to prove himself, he takes on investigating a break-in with his stern new guard, Evemer. But what should be a simple case of robbery turns out to be much worse, and the fate of the entire empire may lie in his – and Evemer’s – hands.
“You could do great things.”
“I don’t want to be great.”
“What do you want?”
“To be good. To keep my family safe.”
Kadou starts out the book in a giant mess. He suffers from general anxiety, and after witnessing one of his panic attacks, Tadek, one of his personal guards, ended up comforting him, and one thing led to another. As one of the core-guard, called kahyalar, he’s sworn to protect the royal family, no matter what it takes, and Kadou eventually ended the relationship due to the ethical issues, but not before confiding in him about an incident with Siranos, the father of his new niece. Kadou’s misstep in confiding to Tadek, and Tadek’s decision to take matters into his own hands, got two kahyalar killed, and his new guard Evemer resents him for that. He sees him as nothing more than a pampered coward at best and at worst someone trying to usurp his sister’s throne. Kadou isn’t sure what to do with his new guard, who might as well be a stone automaton for how much he talks to him. It’s clear that Evemer looks down on him, and frankly, Kadou isn’t entirely convinced he shouldn’t. He feels like it’s his fault – that he’s not doing something right, failing Evemer by not giving him everything he needs to do his job. But as Evemer begins to know Kadou – as he finds out the truth behind the incident that radically altered his perceptions of him – slowly the disdain melts into a sort of respect, especially after Kadou risks his life for him. But through comforting the prince and reassuring him that, yes, he mattered, that he wasn’t screwing everything up, Evemer realizes that so much of the initial enmity between them could’ve been resolved if they’d just talked. Expressing himself is foreign to him, but as he figures out that he likes talking with Kadou and that he’s interested in his opinions, he also realizes that Kadou is interested in his.
“Reciprocity was a thing you had to learn. Someone had to tell you, first, that you deserved to be treated well, before you knew you knew it for yourself.”
With all that, it’s no surprised the romance is the true focus of the book. There’s a conspiracy plot (with a very predictable villain) but it mostly serves as window dressing and a way to put the characters in new tropey situations (only one bed, anyone?). The book is somewhat slowly paced, which makes sense as the romance itself is excruciatingly slow burn. There’s lots of yearning and angst on both sides but at the same time it’s really quite sweet. Unlike Tadek, Evemer takes Kadou’s worries about consent seriously, and it’s neatly handled. The writing style reminded me a lot of my favorite fanfics (as did all the tropes stuffed in) which I could see being a turn-off for some people. I also loved how inclusive it was, with characters of various races, genders and sexualities, including a nonbinary class with their own pronouns and an ace character. And all the angst and lovelorn glances are laced with plenty of hilarity as well, mostly thanks to the side characters.
“I’m getting paid as we speak,” she said with a grin, slouching down into her chair and crossing her arms. “I’m getting paid in chaos.”
While Kadou and Evemer’s relationship is the focus, there’s also several stellar side characters. My favorite was Tenzin, a witch who can tell if someone is lying or not. While you’d think that would be a powerful position, in all actuality, she just wants to be left alone to nap and is unafraid to tell anyone that with all the sarcasm she can muster. Another favorite was Captain Eozena, the leader of the core-guard. She’s a sort of mother figure to both siblings and is another person who’s unafraid to tell them to their faces (well, mostly Kadou’s face) that they’re being idiots. And Tadek, Evemer’s ex, was also a constant source of humor, even if I spent a good portion of the book wanting to smack him upside the head.
“You have questions. Do not ask them. Do not speak them aloud, do not even think them. There is a situation, and it will be handled without your input.”
“Right,” Tadek said slowly, putting his head on one side. “Now I have questions and theories.”
Overall, I’ve never read this author before, but you can be sure I’ve added them to my buy list!
Content notes: View Spoiler »panic attacks, violence, child in danger « Hide Spoiler