Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn’t just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she’s known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light.
Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics will discover they are destined for each other, even as the powers of a hostile kingdom scheme to tear them apart.
Comment: Having read books by the author before and having liked them, I was quite eager to read this one, something often described as one of the author's best work and quite the story when it comes to opposites attract.
In this fantasy story we meet Ildiko, a human woman who is promised in marriage to a Kai prince. The Kai is a different species in all counts but still bearing a humanoid figure. Ildiko and Brashen are going to marry without knowing each other as a means to ensure their two countries will keep the peace and the economical treaties they share.
When they marry, Ildiko leaves to live in Kai's country and the first course of action is to meet his parents and Ildiko finds things are not easy on that department and the life she will have will be completely different from what it has been...
This book has interesting scenes and situations but of course what makes it unique and interesting is the relationship between Ildiko and Brashen and how they can become a united front against everything else.
I really liked this aspect of the story and the slow pace used which means we do have time to see the two of them become friends before lovers. The physical aspect does play a role since they are so different but more than just being opposites in their appearance, they are different in many other things and their relationship makes them closer and attraction doesn't have to be only the way one looks. I liked reading about the details about the other each main character found interesting and unique enough to become appealing. I guess it was fun to see on the page how they fell in love.
Knowing this, however, means I expected a stronger romance from a certain point on, especially as soon as they saw one another with sexual interest. But the romance was too...polite in this regard. I expected a bit more sexual tension and fear of going over the top before they admitted this but they were as friendly and fair in their decision to become lovers as they thought and discussed other things. It was nice to know they cared for each other but I guess I wanted to see more passion and romance before they got intimate.
There's a dark component in the plot. Brashen's immediate family - except his cousin who will be a protagonist in a future book - isn't a good one, not even welcoming. And the way the book ends makes it realistic to think more bad things will come. I was not very pleased with the dark tone the plot got as we got closer to the end, to be honest. I wouldn't mind a book on politics and species relationships and dealings but we also got dark powers and magic and evil and I could easily put that aside. I'm afraid of the bad things that might come which, to me, are unnecessary for this story in an overall scope but... it's the author's prerogative after all.
The little details about each species and how different they are truly won me over, in particular when it comes to gastronomy...let's say some people (aka the author) have a lot of imagination on what could be icky for us to imagine eating...
I liked the secondary characters; two are going to be protagonists and by their interactions here (clever author giving us tiny little hints) the romance will be incredible, hopefully.
The book ends not with a full HEA since there is a sequel but I hope there are happier things to wish for and to live through for the main couple.
I'd have really added a few seduction scenes before they told one another they were in love...I think it would have felt more romantic and inevitable, instead of just being good.