Monday, January 2, 2023

Foz Meadows - A Strange and Stubborn Endurance

Velasin vin Aaro never planned to marry at all, let alone a girl from neighboring Tithena. When an ugly confrontation reveals his preference for men, Vel fears he’s ruined the diplomatic union before it can even begin. But while his family is ready to disown him, the Tithenai envoy has a different solution: for Vel to marry his former intended’s brother instead.
Caethari Aeduria always knew he might end up in a political marriage, but his sudden betrothal to a man from Ralia, where such relationships are forbidden, comes as a shock.
With an unknown faction willing to kill to end their new alliance, Vel and Cae have no choice but to trust each other. Survival is one thing, but love - as both will learn - is quite another.
Byzantine politics, lush sexual energy, and a queer love story that is by turns sweet and sultry. Foz Meadows's A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is an exploration of gender, identity, and self-worth. It is a book that will live in your heart long after you finish the last minute.

Comment: This title caused quite a hype among the LGBT readers who enjoy fantasy romance. Although I had also read one or two less positive reviews, I was still very curious and eager to get captivated by a rich and romantic tale.

In this fantasy world, third son Velasin (Vel) is told by his father he had made a marriage contract to a family in a neighbor kingdom and for reasons, Vel is the one traveling there. However, the night before Vel is abused by a man who had betrayed him and the attack misunderstood and now his father doesn't want him near anymore. Thankfully, the envoy tasked with traveling with Vel finds a handy solution, all things considered: in the other kingdom, sexuality isn't a big deal and instead of marrying a woman, Vel can marry her brother and no worries for the more bureaucratic aspects. Thus, Vel and his friendly servant travel to a new place and he only hopes his future husband will be a good man. But as they slowly attempt to become friends, someone is not happy with this change of plans...

This is a big book and very detailed. The world created by the author is well structured, in the sense that feels rich and alive and it was probably one of the best elements of the book. There is a lot little details about all kinds of things and it's one of those situations I bet the author planned and planned and imagined pretty much everything from the start. There is even a map in the first pages before the story begins.

I don't think the idea is very original - marriage by convenience under political reasons - but of course the fun part is to see how the development happens. Since this is the first book I try by the author I don't have something else to compare but the world building and the writing itself seem to be solid elements because the work process here is simple and meets the goal well. I suppose the issue I had with the writing style is that it felt dry and bland.

The story is told in alternate parts, first Velasin, then Caethari (Cae), his intended. Vel's parts we get in first person and Cae's are in third. It might not be a bid deal but I would have preferred the two to be consistent, after all why having the closer link to Vel and not Cae? This made me see Vel as more vulnerable and a little immature and Cae someone more used to think things through. If this had been aimed for us to see the development of their relationship and feelings at a different pace so that their relationship could feel was getting stronger, the fine, but in this I would say the goal was not met.

I think it's a good choice that they don't get along right away, that Vel is wary and Cae understands something happened before Vel arrived. It's actually more than necessary that time passes by before they become closer emotionally - and even physically - because to do otherwise would make this a very silly story, but that could be debatable, if only the situations described were to have been followed by matching emotional content. Things happen, whether seeing Vel going through the humiliations and debacle of his leaving his country, or Car reminiscences on his past, and all this is delivered blandly and without depth. Something is missing for the story to go a step higher.

I think this colored everything to me: the romance, the political plots around them, the characters' interactions. I started to resent the amount of detail given and the repetition of scenes/ideas, because I wasn't really feeling the importance of what was happening to the protagonists. I think the author did all well, had all the bases but the vibe/voice or whatever just wasn't emotional or passionate enough in how we are given that information.

At some point the romance finally seems to go well and the guys seem to be at the same pace at last but to be honest, I no longer cared because, I'm sad to say, things had gotten to feel a bit boring by then. As other readers have said, not even the secondary characters or the plot were faring better because the resolution to the big plot - who was trying to kill Vel  - was done in a very simple and caricatural way.

I've read fantasy romance in the past where similar issues can be find and some worked out and others didn't. I think that this one failed because a better option instead of mystery plots and things that frankly, aren't that important anyway, we could have had the story of a vulnerable and lacking confidence Vel gaining it, with the slow support of his husband, perhaps becoming stronger as he learned more about the culture of his new home and so on... well, on paper I think it would suit better. The book ended and I wasn't closer to have an idea of Cae and Vel besides the obvious.

I might try something else by the author in the future but right now what I feel is a little disappointment. So much potential and I have to believe it worked in the author's head,  but... ehh could have been better.
Grade: 6/10

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