This might be the first fantasy romance novel where not only did I not want to gouge out the eyes of the protagonists at any point in the proceedings, I was actively rooting for their happiness because I respected every single one of their decisions.
Prince Zaya, third in line to the throne of Lushrain, spends his days being the frivolous young man about town, devoted to the theater and a mainstay of the newspapers’ gossip pages. When his older sister the Queen and his older brother, her heir, are killed in a freak landslide, Zaya is suddenly thrust into power, a position that he neither welcomes nor enjoys. As part of his initiation to the throne, he’s brought to the mountainside retreat of Heartwood, where he discovers an awful secret: magic, long outlawed in his nation, has been secretly thriving, cultivated here by the sages and advisors relied on by generations of monarchs.
Col may be one of the most powerful sages Heartwood has ever trained, but his relatively sheltered upbringing amidst them does nothing to prepare him for the glamour or intensity of the young king. Tasked with gradually introducing magic to Zaya, and hopefully earning his confidence and trust, he doesn’t expect their initial attraction to grow into something more profound. But he’s keeping a terrible secret from Zaya that could not only destroy their relationship but also the very stability of their kingdom.
This is literally the first time I’ve read a romance that deals with all of these topics where the protagonists are not also infuriatingly for-the-dramz. The obstacles between Zaya and Col are never of their own manufacture: even the misunderstandings are entirely reasonable to the outside eye. They’re both mature, intelligent adults whose unique positions necessitate secret-keeping, but whose impulses towards trust and honesty are commendable without being foolish. While their attraction is instant, they fall in love gradually then all at once, with a sweetness and sexiness that reminds me of my own dearest love. This was, by far, the best fantasy romance I’ve ever read, with an intriguing plant-based magic system and a keen eye both for politics and for racial and sexual diversity.
Sage And King by Molly Ringle was published May 18 2021 by Central Avenue Publishing and is available from all good booksellers.