Author: John Wiltshire
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: L.C. Chase
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Doctor Nikolai Hartmann escaped the Hesse-Davian dungeons. He fled civilized Europe to come to the vast wilderness of the New World, where he carved out a home in which he could love openly and without censure—Aleksey’s Kingdom. However, there is an irritating green-eyed, dark-haired flaw in his new paradise. A king and a general, Aleksey has no intention of wasting his life away in a remote forest. When he agrees to accompany a group of soldiers to a distant outpost to discover why it has been mysteriously abandoned, Nikolai has no choice but to tag along.
While traveling through the wilderness with their new companions, it does not take Nikolai and Aleksey long to realize that far from mounting a rescue operation, they are merely unwitting pawns in a far more sinister conspiracy. But their enemies have badly miscalculated by threatening anything Nikolai loves. In this merciless place of towering trees, where water plummets beyond the human ability to comprehend, Nikolai must unleash the unfettered savagery of his true nature to save Aleksey.
Just to give you an idea as we start out our discussion here, I highlighted no less than half a dozen lines and exchanges just in chapter one of this book.
I shrugged and went back to my meal – if I was going to spin a story, I wanted it to be to a very eager audience, and playing Aleksey was one of my chief amusements.
That goes both ways, Niko, that goes both ways. Yup, Aleksey and Niko are one of those couples that love to tease and bicker and poke, enjoying every moment, as well as the usual outcome in each instance.
Nikolai is in my top ten of first person narrator characters. Ever. Wiltshire knows how to give us this story from one person’s point of view and yet give us nearly as much about his partner, Aleksey, at the same time. Their personalities come through so clearly. They’re crusty and imperfect, sexy and intelligent, so in tune and yet sometimes so unaware of the effects they have on each other. In other words, they’re perfect for each other and that flies off the page.
I relish experiencing the world through Niko’s eyes, and his heart, and his stomach, and everything else, while at the same time getting an eyeful, heart-ful, and stomach-ful from Aleksey right alongside. When characters come through this easily, nuance, subtle changes in mood, recognized by me and acknowledged between Niko and Aleksey, and constantly changing inflections in their voices all get to shine and celebrate that shininess.
”So, Your Highness again, now is it?”
He winced. “It slipped out once. I could hardly then deny it, could I?”
“Oh. I apologize. Yes, I can see that ‘oh, by the way, I am actually royalty’ slips off the tongue.”
He hit me. I told him that this would look very strange to anyone watching and that it was always very unwise to hit your elderly physician.
Oh Niko, you’re a sarcastic, cynical, loving, devoted man after my own heart. <<< Not sarcastic, by the way.
These two have survived death together, more than once, and so many other things to get to where they now find themselves. The stakes are high so the emotion is just as elevated. I keep wanting to just say ‘wow’ but that isn’t all that helpful in conveying just how fantastic this story and the writing are within these pages.
I know it’s a part of Nikolai’s personality and certainly fits the times, but some of the sexist things he says still irked me. The worst for me was “womanish woe”, which certainly gave me pause. Luckily, these instances are few.
Wiltshire gives me setting with emotion, with temperature and sensation and texture. Facts are facts, only becoming a story into which I can lose myself when…
His own eyes welled with tears at seeing streaks in the blood upon my cheeks.
… enjoyed him in the sunlight that filtered down from the canopy above us.
… unfettered in children – for they have not had the knocks life gives you to squash you into the shape of an adult…
Surprises, passion, quality characterization, humor unique to those characters which shows the complete fullness of their relationship, and emotional struggle and torment, Wiltshire gave me all of these things. They’re all topped off with the cherry that is the highly interactive nature of his dialogue. This is Aleksey, his own brand of cheeky sarcasm:
”Yes. Thank you. And then attempt to force me, whilst muttering and cursing about stirring a man and teasing him, and thus being bettered and forced upon the ground would be turned into my fault. I do like that bit, thank you. Do not stop I said. So you have nothing to worry about… “
The bit in bold is Aleksey reacting to Niko doing something to him while he speaks, just like we all do while talking, breaking into our own thought stream in order to react in the moment. This is not easy to pull off on the page without feeling clunky or nonsensical. Wiltshire excels.
As overused as this word is, it’s the one I would use to describe this story if forced down such a path: Beautiful. The devotion portrayed by way of Aleksey and Nikolai defines the word. Best of all, it’s unlike any portrayal I’ve come across.
There was an exchange I was going to add here that explains this perfectly, but I want you all to experience it yourselves, just as I did.
The tone, setting, and resulting circumstances are quite different in this book compared to A Royal Affair, but I would still recommend reading it first before diving into this story. You’ll miss a lot of delicious detail if you skip around all willy nilly like. 😉
And what a heart-pounding final act of this story! Not for the faint of heart. It also allows the intensity of that devotion to be displayed full force, unrestrained and celebrated.
This has earned a spot on my top ten list for 2015.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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