This certainly has been a year for romance in SPFBO, which is a good thing! It’s definitely a shift from the past, and it shows a change-over of taste and judges — all of that I think should be welcomed 😀 That said, boy oh boy do romance and I not always get along, and unfortunately this is one of those times. I’ll try to keep my review a little more brief and allow Kristen to squee herself to death after my review.
So, this started out really strong for me. I loved the world building. I have a thing for classes of magic and the balancing of elements/nature. I am drawn to things like Lightbringer where people of different classes can take on different personality traits associated with their magic type. This is definitely one of those books and there’s lots of talk about balancing the Wheel and such. The different magics themselves also have unexpected but neat powers. An air-mage doesn’t just make wind and shit, they also have a firm grasp on sounds and they can hone in on the voices of people. I can also see this book appealing to people who like Mistborn since different classes of magic can cancel each other out and are kind of “opposites”. I didn’t just enjoy the content of the world building, but also how it was introduced. I didn’t get inundated with large info-dumps that bored me to pieces. You use context clues and light exposition to get a grasp on the world. That’s my kind of shit right there.
Princess Naime has an ailing father who’s suffering from dementia. I also work with dementia clients and I know the frustrations and anxieties of regular life with a disabled parent… let alone trying to pretend like this dude is still fit to rule. This is a world where birth order means everything, but even though she’s “inheriting” the role of Sultana, that’s not the same position as the Sultan. She is being forced to find a man worthy of marriage and he will be come the next Sultan. Before her father started to succumb to his illness, they had agreed that instead of becoming Sultana, she was just going to become the next Sultan. But, that’s now being forgotten and he’s reverting back to old ways of thinking and now it could be too late. She also has to deal with an advisor who Kristen basically said is a Jafar like character. Evil fucking asshole who’s giving really bad advice. She knows it and does her best to take no shit.
So, the other POV is Makram, he’s from another realm that doesn’t traditionally get along with Naime’s. She’s still written to them in hopes of an alliance, and he answers her call despite his brother’s misgivings about the situation. He’s the second born and his brother is a bit of a dick. Apparently, that’s fairly normal for fire mages. But Makram is a fucking death mage which is a feared House on the Wheel and he tries to keep it a secret. He gets sent over and they end up falling in love and it’s a whole to-do because they shouldn’t and all that. It leans heavily into the star crossed lovers trope.
So, the romance is where I’ve got my issues… everything so far was great. The characters were well developed, had distinct voices, clear motivations and problems. I felt the dialogue was fluid and believable moving the story along without cluttering it. But, omg do I dislike having lots of inner thoughts about the attractiveness of the other character. Setting it up is totally fine, repeating it a few times as they fall for each other is also fine that doesn’t usually bother me…. but a persistent ticker tape of how hot the other person is gets under my skin. I am also not a huge fan of sex scenes in general… I find them boring… much like a dual with a one-on-one fight. I will read through a well written battle with a lot of anticipation since there are so many moving parts and forces and shit going on in a well written scene. But, a one on one dual bores me to tears and I skip over it most of the time. In this book there are so many extended kissy scenes where I just don’t care what’s going on. I am not a fan of sexy talk, and if my husband were to utter some of these phrases trying to initiate something I would giggle myself off the bed. I like Abercrombie’s sex scenes. Get to the point, lol. Sigh….. and the other thing is…. I also find it weird when there’s a vast difference in experience between two partners, and there’s a big deal made of how innocent a woman is. It just creeps me out even when it’s framed correctly. Dude’s not a really a creeper, but to emphasize repeatedly how novice she is and how experience he is just… blech. It’s not my thing.
Okay…. now onto Kristen who loved it for all the reasons I didn’t. I also want to express this is one of those times where my rating system highlights itself. The book itself is well written, the characters are great, the world building is intriguing and well structured. For sure, this is a “it’s me not you” situation.
- Plot: 11/15
- Characters: 12.5/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 10/15
- Originality: 10/15
- Enjoyment: 3/10
Final Score: 71.5/100
This is the story of Naime, who is the daughter of the Sultan of Tamar, and Makram, who is the brother of the ruler of the neighboring country of Sarkum. Naime’s father’s mental health is becoming increasingly bad, and as the only heir, the Sultan’s Council is trying to marry her off to one of their sons. With plans to rule in her own right, and with an enemy threatening their borders, Naime sends a letter to Sarkum asking for an alliance, in the hopes that they will lend Tamar their military.
Sarkum’s ruler scoffs at this, since Tamar has been Sarkum’s enemy for generations, but his brother Makram sees that an alliance between their nations would be beneficial to both, so he travels to Tamar without his brother’s permission, with the hopes that he can work something out. And there he meets Naime… and sparks fly while they both try and navigate all the political maneuvering going on.
As someone who enjoys Fantasy Romance quite a lot, I enjoyed Reign & Ruin. The romance between Naime and Makram was a nice slow burn, and there was a lot of banter between them that I enjoyed. They respected each other, from beginning to end, and I liked that aspect enormously. Most of all, there was an actual plot outside of the romance, and it was an engaging one, with action and intrigue, so even outside of the kissy bits, there was entertainment to be had.
I liked Naime, and I sympathised with her struggle to lead her country herself rather than be married off to a man to have him rule instead. Naime is a powerful mage, and pretty great at sidestepping all the shenanigans her father’s Grand Vizier and his Council want to put her through. Makram was also really easy to cheer for, as he has his own unique circumstances that make his relationship with his brother, and his presence in Tamar, rather complicated. There were even a few background characters that I liked so much I wished they were less in the background.
All told, I enjoyed Reign & Ruin enough that I read most of it in one sitting, which is rare for me, these days. There were little things I could gripe about, like Naime being described as beautiful so many times it became rather annoying… but even despite those little things, I found myself so invested in the characters that I could not put it down. I will absolutely continue reading this series, because now I need to know what’s going to happen! I had 9/10 stars of fun with Reign & Ruin, and I’m glad that the SPFBO brought this book to my attention.