by Grace Draven
THE PRINCE OF NO VALUE
Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne secured many times over. A trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty. Always a dutiful son, Brishen agrees to the marriage and discovers his bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined.
THE NOBLEWOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn’t just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she’s known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light.
Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics will discover they are destined for each other, even as the powers of a hostile kingdom scheme to tear them apart.
I was a little nervous to pick up another romantasy novel by Grace Draven after I read Phoenix Unbound and didn’t particularly like it, but I enjoyed the first novel I read by Draven, Entreat Me, so much that I wasn’t ready to give up on her as a romantasy author – and I’m glad I didn’t!
Radiance has that very traditional fantasy feel to it; we have a princess, Ildiko, in a fantastical kingdom who’s due to marry a neighbouring prince whom she’s never met before. From there, however, the novel steers away from the typical arranged marriage fantasy story.
Ildiko is the niece of the king and queen, and therefore nobody important in terms of the succession, so a marriage has been arranged for her that will strengthen an alliance with a neighbouring kingdom. This neighbouring kingdom isn’t populated by humans, however, but by Kai; a race of people with grey skin, white eyes and sharp teeth and claws.
It’s Brishen, a second son and therefore of equally no importance to the succession, whom Ildiko is set to marry and, being entirely different species, the two find each other repulsive.
And yet what I love about Ildiko and Brishen’s relationship is that it’s built on friendship from the start. The two of them are aware that neither finds the other particularly attractive, but they also want one another to be content in their marriage even if that simply means living together as good friends. In fact, considering the families they’ve both been raised in, it’s friends they need more than anything.
What ensues is a romance based not on looks at all, but on two people whose growing friendship leads to something more when they realise how much they have in common, and how much they can trust one another. Theirs is such a tender, affectionate and even playful romance, and it was so much fun watching the two of them learn more about each other.
Radiance is an incredibly quick and easy read, the kind of story you can breeze through which is exactly what I want when I reach for romantasy, and the characters are characters you can’t help but grow fond of. Particularly Brishen, who’s such a bean, and his cousin Anhuset whom I adored. I’d love to see more of her in future books.
My only real niggle with this novel was the rather bizarre ending. For me this easily could have been a standalone novel about an arranged marriage, but the book’s villain sets up the major conflict for the next book in the series, Eidolon, in the epilogue. I’ve mentioned before in reviews that I don’t think Draven is particularly good at writing villains, and I stand by that. In every novel I’ve read by her there’s been a villainous woman, who’s usually beautiful and powerful, and I don’t know how I feel about her villains always falling into this ‘evil woman’ trope.
From experience I prefer Draven’s work when it’s mostly romance with a dash of fantasy rather than mostly fantasy with a dash of romance (like Phoenix Unbound), so it’ll be interesting to see what the sequel holds. I get the feeling it’s going to be a lot more angsty, but I am definitely interested in picking it up at some point this year.