Radiance by Grace Draven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Brishen is a Kai prince of no significance to the line of succession and Ildiko is a Gauri noblewoman of little importance in her uncle’s court. They are both beautiful among their own kind but to each other they are ugly and repulsive. The Gauri are humans who live under the sunlight, the Kai are an elder race who thrive at night. Their new alliance is tentative and full of distrust and the marriage of these two otherwise insignificant pawns is a show of good faith between the races. When Brishen and Ildiko first meet they find each other unattractive but interesting. They begin with honesty and over weeks and months this builds to friendship. Eventually neither Brishen nor Ildiko can remember why they found the other disgusting. They fall deeply in love and form an unbreakable bond that no one in either kingdom expected.
I love all marriage of convenience stories where the pair discover the worth of the other and fall in love quietly, through every day gestures and conversations. It’s a difficult trope to build into a narrative without slowing down the pace too much, but thankfully, once in a while, authors like Draven manage to execute it perfectly.
I’ve always held that we fall in love with people, not faces. If there’s something worth falling in love with, you find it after you stop looking at the facade. (Of course I also extend this theory to gender/sexuality, but that’s another discussion). And both Brishan and Ildiko, affectionate and honest individuals with great capacity for love, tread this path together and find all they wanted in a partner in each other. It’s a great read.
I tend to extend the bechdel test to all pieces of fiction I come across. This books passes easily. There are several named female characters, one of whom has several exchanges with Ildiko about something other than a man. So that’s great. But I got the feeling that Draven created Anhuset simply to provide one other strong female in the narrative. I couldn’t really parse out whether Anhuset was the only warrior female among the Kai or if her calling was a normal one for women of her kingdom. I choose to believe the latter.
I had one complaint though. Ildiko tells Brishen that she’s not a maiden, that she’s had a lover before. As befits a well written male character, Brishen doesn’t care but he teases her about her carnal knowledge. To this Ildiko explains that her lover had been a clumsy young man and she didn’t much care for the experience. So she never took another lover.
This. This felt like a cop-out. So the author goes as far as to make her heroine a sexually experienced woman, giving the hero the best reaction to this news – which is indifference and maybe some curiosity – and then promptly diminishes the value of said experience by making Brishen the only lover to have brought her to orgasm. Oh come on. Seriously, now. COME ON. We’re surely beyond this kind of tokenism.
And now we wait for the sequel. =)
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