A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a very fat book, but the story is thoroughly absorbing, at least to me. Your feeling the same would depend on your tolerance for fantasy politics and a slow burning romance that encompasses self-discovery and healing from trauma. (There are content warnings for rape and suicidal ideation at the beginning of the book, and they're accurate. Pay attention to them if you're sensitive to those topics.) There aren't any epic battles, and the fate of nations doesn't hang in the balance. Rather, we have a very personal story affecting our two main characters, Caethari Aeduria of Tithena and Velasin vin Aaro of Ralia, and their arranged political marriage and love story in the midst of court intrigue and murder.
These are two well-drawn characters with depth. I appreciated the author's technique of switching sections and points of view--Velasin's chapters are first person and Caethari's third. Velasin is the character who suffers the sexual assault by a former lover at the beginning of the book, and his storyline involves recovering from this trauma and learning to fit in with his new husband, family and country in Tithena. (Velasin's home country of Ralia is a repressive place; he is gay and people like him are barely tolerated.) He was meant to marry the daughter of the ruler of nearby Ralia, but once his orientation is discovered--which scene is the aforementioned assault scene and the basis for his PTSD throughout the book--he is contracted to marry the Tithenai tieren's (ruler) son instead. This is Caethari, the other viewpoint character, a Tithenai warrior who is not pleased to be abruptly married to this stranger. Caethari also has a tangled family situation that provides the other storyline, the murder mystery that ensnares both Velasin and Caethari as soon as he arrives in Tithena.
We don't spend much time in Ralia, which is just as well; the culture of Tithena is a fascinating place. The worldbuilding is not dropped in chunks, as the author uses Velasin's unfamiliarity with the country to bring the reader up to speed as well. This whole story takes place, as far as I can tell, over the period of about a month. In that time, Velasin has to begin to work through his trauma, try to get acquainted and settle in with his new husband, and solve a series of murders that threaten both him and Caethari.
The relationship between Caethari and Velasin is the heart of the book, as they first agree to be friends and slowly warm up to each other and fall in love. It's an adult relationship with real problems to overcome, and the author handles these (especially Velasin's trauma) with insight and sensitivity. The interplay between these two is delightful. The story's ending wraps up the current storylines satisfactorily, but there's clearly a lot more to tell about these two characters and their world. If there is, I will be reading it.
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