Sent to escort a prospective bride to his brother Emperor Jahn, Alix finds his hands full with not only a willful princess, but an unexpected female gift to his brother as well. Sanura, a woman trained in seeing both sexual pleasure and seeing into men's souls, is fascinated by the darkness that she sees inside of Alix. As disaster strikes and the chaos in Alix threatens to overwhelm him, Sanura must try to stop him from doing something that would break him completely.
This book was a lot of fun to read, because both the hero and heroine had aspects that really fascinate me. Sanura is a woman trained not only to see into men's souls, but also to be able to please them. She can't read their minds, but she can certainly get ideas of their feelings and motivations. Because a certain degree of cynicism exists with that kind of ability, it was fascinating to watch her relationship with Alix. His other side makes it difficult for her to fully read him, and watching her reactions as she tries to understand him help us understand more of what she was trained to do. Also interesting to watch was the shift in Sanura's approach to sex as her feelings for Alix developed. It's not often that I get to see a character in a romance novel consider love in the way that she does, and it was both refreshing and enjoyable.
Alix also fascinated me. I'm somewhat of an amateur psychology buff, and so watching both the way that his darker side works in this book, as well as the way that he has to overcome it, are absolutely fascinating. I can't tell you more without spoiling the book, but I've never seen someone's inner conflict resolved in the way that Alix's was, and I adored it.
The setting and background to this story are full of their own stories, as the setting is a fantasy one. If you're a reader that enjoys lots of lore and background, however, then this might not be an enjoyable book for you. There were several occasions where I wanted more than just a brief explanation of prior events, but that's because I'm a sucker for lore and complex backgrounds. The level of detail was certainly appropriate for a romance novel, though. I just happen to be one of those readers that loves to understand the history of a setting.
The one thing that absolutely drove me up the wall about this book, however, are the major plot threads that are left dangling after the book is done. Assassination attempts are made, along with attempts to possibly discredit the royal family. Yet no one in a position of authority seems to really be concerned about these matters, or even to want to try to get to the bottom of them. I understand that this book is the beginning of a series, and so not everything is going to be solved at the end of this book, but to have no clue about why these things are happening throughout the entire book is somewhat irritating, but to see that no one seems to take much interest is simply maddening.
This book also has a second storyline running through it, centered around another of the Emperor's potential brides. The deeper I got into her story, the more I started to wonder why she didn't merit her own book. I liked her as a character in her own right, but her story isn't a part of Alix and Sanura's at all and just felt out of place because of that. I spent a good portion of the book trying to find a connection between the two stories that turned out to be non-existent, and so I couldn't help feeling like it was filler.
Because I loved Sanura and Alix's characters so much, I wanted to give this book a 4, but the non-related plot and loose ends had me leaning towards a 2.5. I wound up settling at a three, but only because of how much the characters and their dynamics fascinated me. Fantasy fans may be left looking for more, but the book works quite well as a romance....more