When I first heard that our very own Alteraside, the brains and driving force behind No Stunts Magazine, had written a book, I knew I had to read it. While fantasy isn’t usually my preferred genre, there are several fantastic books that I’ve read within the genre and a quick look at the plot certainly piqued my interest.
The novel begins very strongly, with Rist, the heir to the fae throne, waking up after having been attacked. He’s disorientated, confused, and, although he’s been healed, his ripped clothes and the remnants of a copper taste in his mouth all allude to his attack being a serious one. Once he takes in his surroundings, he realises he’s not alone. Lia, a human, had found him and saved his life, inadvertently creating a bond between them in the process. Once Rist finds his missing personal guard, Maeci, and with the help of love interest, Alden, they travel to the fae lands to resolve the issue of Rist’s attack and try to unbind Rist and Lia from each other.
The main theme that the novel presents is the importance of consent and bodily autonomy. We can see this in two linked instances, when Lia uses Rist’s magic while he was unconscious resulting in them both being bonded, and Lia’s attempted at bonding with Alden without his consent. It’s importat to note at this point that one of the reasons for Lia’s behaviour is prolonged mercury poisoning (from contact with Alden, who is an elemental being). While the symptoms of mercury poisoning does account for some of her actions, it doesn’t explain them all, and her conduct after being free of the effects of the mercury are still problematic.
Being human, generally we would expect Lia to show higher levels of morals, need for consent, etc than the fairytale creatures she encounters. However, she shows less respect for consent and boundaries than anyone else in the book. The vampire queen, for example, Alukah, asks both Lia and Rist as her bonded mate for consent to bite her, rather than just giving in to blood-lust and biting Lia regardless. Notably, the first proper hint of romance we get between Alden and Rist shows Alden asking for permission to see Rist’s wings, highlighting the stark contrast with the liberties Lia seems to have taken with Rist.
“Alden leans in, close enough for the citrus jasmine scent of his cologne to cloud my thinking further. For a heart-stopping moment I think he might kiss me. He doesn’t. Instead, he asks, “May I see your wings?”
We do see several instances at the beginning of the book where Rist struggles with the lack of respect and bodily autonomy he was given during his early interactions with Lia.
“Was anyone with me?” I ask, hoping to fend off any more talk of what she did while I was unconscious…
“…I tear my eyes away from her and look down to watch the fingers on my left hand uncurl, leaving a clear view of the matching molecular structure on my own palm. I stare at it, my lips pressed into a thin line, until my thoughts settle an even tone. “You bonded to me without my permission?”
When Lia tries to explain that her actions were a product of true love – an argument that already appears sketchy due to the reader – Rist tries to explain why that isn’t the case.
“Lia,” I say, trying not to growl her name, “these stories are about true love. A princess is in trouble, she can’t escape, she’s saved by true love’s first kiss.” I toss the book onto her bed. “There are no stories that say a princess manipulates the system to win the heart of some guy she’s lusting after.”
“What about the stepsisters? Or the witch in the cottage?” Bennet asks “They were manipulative.”
I look up at him, surprised he’s able to contribute something of value. “Yes, that’s true.”
“I don’t like that comparison,” Lia mumbles to herself.
Here, we can see Rist and Lia’s flatmate, Bennet, liken her actions to a fairy tale villain instead of the protagonist, something which Lia doesn’t seem very comfortable with. However, this is quickly moved on from, with Lia’s questionable actions taking a backseat to the more pressing issue of Rist being in danger from further attacks.
Later, when Alden is introduced to Rist, we see that Lia isn’t actually sorry about the situation she has placed upon Rist, not really. She’s more sorry for herself, her obsession for Alden clouding any sense of morality regarding her actions.
“He’s so hot, and did you see the way he looked at you?” She sags into her chair, dragging in a deep breath. “He takes my breath away, I swear when I‘m with him it feels like an out of body experience.”
“The way he looked at me?” I ask.
Her eyes seem to come back into focus at the sound of my voice, “Yeah,” she says, “I’ve been waiting forever for him to look at me like that. Do you think the bond will shift whatever he likes about you to me.”
We see her talk about the possibility of forcing a bond between Alden and Rist, even though her first attempt went horribly wrong, even though there seems to be an immediate attraction between Rist and Alden, and even though the violation of her actions on both Rist and Alden hasn’t properly been addressed. She seems to be more interested in her own happily ever after than what either Rist or Alden may want to choose for themselves, and this in itself is very worrying.
Later on, when Rist and Alden are talking about Lia’s feelings for him, the phrase infatuation is used:
“I should have noticed that something was wrong. She’s just – she’s always been a bit,” he pauses and then says, “different around me.”
“Infatuated you mean?”
“Maybe, yeah.” Alden gives me a rueful. “I guess you’ve got proof of that more than anyone, don’t you?”
I feel this is a powerful allegory for fans and their coveted celebrity. The mania described is the same that fans often report feeling when interacting with their favourite. Quite often, fans can become so caught up in their feelings for a celebrity that they lose themselves and their usual sense of moral behaviour. It’s why you might see fans trying to grab at their favourite’s body or clothes, at times causing them physical harm or even lead to more serious behaviours like stalking. If the gender roles were switched and a male bonded a female to them while trying to forcibly bond another female to them against their will, eyebrows would be raised immediately. However, due to the gender reversal, we see an interesting double standard which the author has skillfully highlighted with the strange relationship triangle with these characters. When thought of in this manner, it’s easy to see just how problematic Lia’s actions have been. It will be interesting to see how this situation is navigated and whether she shows proper remorse for her actions in book two of the series.
One of the strengths of the novel is the plot, which has very strong ideas, thought-provoking themes, layered interactions between characters, and decent world building. However, I do feel like some scenes and moments are glossed over too quickly, such as Rist’s reunion with his mother onboard the vampire ship, and more time could have been spent on them, giving the reader time to bond with characters and absorb some of the details given within the book more organically. There were moments which felt a bit like information dumps, such as when the dialogue was exposition heavy, but the relationships between the characters helped to bridge this issue, as the interactions, especially between Rist and Lia, were fascinating to watch unfold, and try to understand and predict.
The cliffhanger at the end of the book was very strategic as it leaves the reader wishing to find out what happens next, not only with Rist’s treacherous father, but between Rist and Alden, which seems to be my main focus. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a love story, especially an unconventional one. It will be interesting to see how this story pans out to resolution in part 2, which I will be reading as soon as possible.