Saturday, May 12, 2018

John Wiltshire - A Royal Affair

Doctor Nikolai Hartmann represents himself as a learned man of science who believes wholly in the rational and scientific above all else. In reality, he is a man haunted by an unusual past and running from his own nature. While the Reformation transforms much of Europe, it has yet to touch Hesse-Davia; this is a land mired in superstition with cruel punishments for crimes such as witchcraft and sodomy.
While traveling to the dying king’s bedside to offer his medical expertise, Nikolai is set upon by a bandit. Reaching the king’s ancient stronghold, he discovers his mysterious brigand is the beautiful, arrogant Prince Aleksey. Aleksey is everything Nikolai is not: unguarded, passionate and willful. Despite their differences, Nikolai feels an irresistible desire for the young royal that keeps him in Aleksey’s thrall.
But Hesse-Davia is a dangerous world for a newly crowned king who wants to reform his country—and for the man who loves him.

Comment: Probably because I saw this title in a list about royal romances - not that the trope is my absolute favorite but I like to read them if they seem appealing - I eventually bought the book and this month started it. Despite some things I didn't find as interesting nor well done, overall it was a good read.

This story is told from doctor Nikolai Hartmann's POV. He is doctor who has unorthodox methods to help his patients and through that reputation he is invited to travel to Hesse-Davia, a country in Europe whose king is ill and in need of new help. 
Nikolai's journey is long and when he enters the country he isn't impressed with what he sees. Already in the castle he quickly realizes his patient is being poisoned but he can't isolate him enough to understand who is the culprit. At the same time, he can't seem to help feeling attracted to the king's younger son, Aleksey. However, between mixed signals, fear and strange situations, will Nikolai be safe to solve all the things he needs before returning home?

I must confess I usually don't like books narrated in the first person as much because, especially in romance, they can be quite limitative. It's never as fun to see only one perspective and the idea of trusting just one characters' feelings doesn't always show the best picture of everything we, readers, would like to see.
That is why I felt surprised that in this book, only having Nikolai's POV, the story still felt rich and complete, even the romance side. I guess it really takes a talented author to write things in a way that even when it's not something we would like, we end up enjoying/appreciating.

Therefore, being immediately surprised by the story and how much I liked knowing things from Nikolai's perspective, it was no hardship to turn the pages. The plot is interesting enough, although the notion of a country such as Hesse-Davia being the center stage got on my nerves. Not that discovering that a country could have out dated notions of society, bigotry laws and unfair living between poor and rich is that shocking, but the violence descriptions were a bit unnerving and I think some things could be as dire without such a graphic image.

The overall plot is quite an adventure. Nikolai seems himself in the middle of lots of problems and I must say that the way certain situations happened seemed a little silly or, at least, not well done. It was as if the crazier the things, the bigger - supposed - impact it would have on the reader. I guess it would have been preferable that less things were to have been included in the plot, perhaps it would feel stronger and less dispersed through so much details going on.

The romance had its moments. I certainly appreciated the tension between them, the sexy innuendos and the fact it took them time and trust to finally share with one another their feelings.
I liked Nikolai as a protagonist. His personality is strong and he is knowledgeable. He has suffered and he is mostly a good man. I say mostly because he does mention some things about his way of thinking about wars and killing the enemy that I found didn't really match he rest of his behavior.
As for Aleksey, he is younger and it shows. But he is also described as someone used to his position so he isn't childish not too naive. I liked how both complemented each other nicely.

Towards the end of the story there are some situations I found rather radical. I mean, of all the possible outcomes, the path chosen by the author felt a bit unlikely and not the best choice. I understand but if feels a bit too weird, considering the story being historical. I liked there was an HEA but other things were in a way and I felt that could have been avoided.
Despite the inconsistencies between tone and scenes in some parts, I still think the book was a good one for me. I already bought the sequel and will try to read it one of these months.
Grade: 7/10

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