Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Megan Derr - The Fallen King's Penitent Soldier

The youngest son of a despised king, thrust upon a throne he never wanted, Desmond nevertheless tried to be a good monarch to Benta—but the rebels discontent with him and the alliance with the Harken Empire have taken control, and Desmond's private guards are either dead or turned traitor. On the verge of being executed, Desmond gets an unexpected rescue from Harken, in the form of the fearsome Penance Gate mercenaries and the beautiful, brutal man who leads them.
Beneath the shining edifice of every empire is a foundation of violence and pain, and Chass has always done his duty to Harken by being the bastard who endures and metes out both. He is used to being hated, and does not deny he deserves it. But in the aftermath of rescuing the enchanting, compelling Desmond, he wishes more than ever that he could be the noble hero just once, instead of the monster good only for spreading terror.

Comment: This is the fifth (and final?) installment in the Tales of the High Court series by Megan Derr.
I have read the previous installments and, sadly, I have to say my appreciation didn't improve as the stories went by....

In this book, which happens pretty much right after the events of the previous one, we see Prince Chass, who has been a sort of villain in the first book, tasked with helping king Desmond, as rebel forces have attempted to take over his throne. Chass helps Desmond and while some members of his team are killed, he manages to take him on a journey to safety, until the rebel forces can be taken prisoners. On the road to Chass' empire homeland, they get to know each other and they both like who they find, but will there be any future for them? Both now have royal responsibilities and there's tradition to uphold, and both have had past experiences which influence the way they see themselves and their self worth, which can make it difficult to accept a relationship? But will they be able to resist each other?

As I've said, I have liked to read this series, although the first book is, without question, the one I loved the most. The plot and romance elements really captivated me and while some readers found it too cheesy, I think it hit the right tone for me. This to say, as the series went on, the perfect balance of these elements wasn't as well achieved, especially in the last book which was too alternative in the romance department for the type of story presented. Now, with this last one, I feel the same, I wish the romance aspects had been a little more traditional, but even without it, the romance itself was quite meh.

I would divide this book into two parts, although no actual division happens graphically on the page. There is half a book, more or less, related to the rescue of Desmond and how he and Chass go into Harken, where we learn about their individual pasts and feelings, and the second part would be from when they arrive and how they deal with what happened and what they will need to do, as rulers of their independent kingdoms. I certainly liked the second part more, where it did seem more happened and where things seemed to be given closure.

The road trip adventure was exciting and interesting enough, for we got to understand a lot about Chass who, as mentioned, was not seen in good light on book #1, mainly for what memories Allen (protagonist of that book), his brother, had of their past. However, sometimes not having the whole picture can make a difference and we do learn why Chass was and evolved to be someone feared and imposing. I kind of liked knowing about this other side of him, especially how religious he is, how devoted and kind, when he had very good reasons to be as mean and villainous and we thought him to be.

Desmond is, to be fair, a bit too bland. Very similar to Allen in personality and temperament, he was actually a monk so this was a nice feature, but his read as a little one dimensional to me. I can see how he can be described as calm and reserved and I do identify myself with these types of characters, but I wish his emotional journey had had more focus, as much as his physical one... I don't mind pining characters, but in this case, the process of going from pining to decide on talking to Chass and they reaching a mutual and happy agreement was so boring to watch... I wanted fireworks between them.

Close to the end, the romance - almost too formal all things considered - had quite a twist. I mean, twist in the sense it felt unnecessary, not that it was a surprise, as we know Chass has a long, if not signed, relationship with someone. I don't mind this as an idea and other books in the series alluded to the poly aspects of this "world" created by the author where gender and sexuality are very fluid.However, I still see a monogamous relationship as an ideal partnership in romance and I kind of wished this for these two, like the couple from book #1 has. My issue, true, but it did color my impression.

Although this book having plenty of positive aspects, I wasn't overly fond of how they were placed together and even the plot details, which often felt so well mixed with the rest, failed to fully engage me and I finish this series with a slight bittersweet taste and the notion that, for me, the best was served first.
Grade: 6/10

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