What it’s about: (from Goodreads) 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.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): My Twitter friends were right. I liked Radiance very much. The conflict is mostly external and the romance is really quite delightful.
Ildiko and Brishen both knew they would be expected to marry for political alliance rather than affection and both are resigned to their fate. Nevertheless, each has some misgivings about marrying someone from another species. This is the first inter-species romance I have read and I appreciated that the first look at “other” was from Brishen’s point of view. It was the humans I was seeing as different and the descriptions were apt and amusing but they also served to relax me into the “other” of the Kai (the species to which Brishen belongs).
The Kai are humanoid in appearance for the most part – they have the same body parts and, while their skin is a gray colour, it is definitely skin not scales or anything. They have sharp teeth and their eyes are all one colour but they have otherwise human faces and bodies (albeit they are much stronger in their bones and therefore heavier than a human of the same body shape and height).
Prior to the wedding ceremony, Brishen and Ildiko chance to meet in a garden and have a conversation. Perhaps Ildiko was a little more tactile than I was expecting but, in that meeting, both revealed a charming sense of humour and a delightful tendency to honesty with one another.
Ildiko continued her exploration of the contours of his face. “There’s a lot to be said for a spare.” She drew a circle on his chin with her fingertip. “Your skin color reminds me of a dead eel I once saw on the beach.”
Brishen arched an eyebrow. “Flattering, I’m sure. I thought yours looked like a mollusk we boil to make amaranthine dye.”
It is clear both have good intentions and, their physical differences notwithstanding, as the story progresses, it is clear they were made for each other.
Brishen of House Khaskhem was as fine a man as any born, whether he was human, Kai or any of the other Elder races that populated these lands, and Ildiko’s affection for him grew by leaps with every moment she came to know him better. “You make a very handsome dead eel, my husband,” she said and winked. Sinhue and Kirgipa both gasped.
“For a boiled mollusk, you wear black quite well, my wife,” Brishen shot back, and his smile stretched a little wider.
They take some time to get to know one another and don’t rush the physical side of their relationship. Ildiko is exceptional in personality. She is brave and adaptable, as well as being quick and clever. She fits in with the Kai and quickly gains the loyalty and affection of her husband’s retainers.
Gradually, as they come to know one another, the appearance which so shocked and even repulsed each of them about the other at the beginning, fades and is replaced with attraction and admiration. This reflects the real life thing which happens with people we know – those who we like become better looking and those we don’t like become ugly even when their faces and bodies stay exactly the same.
I enjoyed the slow build of the romance. The sparks were there from the beginning but it wasn’t rushed. There wasn’t much keeping them apart but I liked that it took some time for them to develop a deep love for one another. It gave me confidence in their relationship. It was built on a solid friendship and genuine attraction and wasn’t just a convenience or “settling.”
Because Ildiko’s and Brishen’s union was to cement an alliance between the Gauri and the Kai, they become a symbol of it and therefore a target for Beladine forces. Beladine is a neighbouring country which wishes to break the alliance and has designs upon the Gauri ports. There is also palace intrigue involving Brishen’s mother – she’s an evil woman who is evil. I found her fairly one note but ultimately, I decided she was the embodiment of evil and as such she didn’t really need to have a reason or motivation. I can’t say I was disappointed by what happened at the end to her even though it has ramifications for everyone else.
The worldbuilding was fairly light but deft. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of food and culture and I chuckled at poor Ildiko having to eat the disgusting scarpatine.
She would not be defeated by dinner. “At least tell me it tastes like chicken.”
even as Brishen gave the side-eye to our beloved potato.
I liked the description of the funerary ceremonies for the Kai and the “mortem light” – it was quite beautiful really.
What else? The last section of the book is very tense and right at the end there is a game-changer which I think will mean the next instalment will have quite a different vibe. There is a romantic HEA but the wider story arc is not done.
In some respects, I thought the story was a little simplistic. While I was charmed by the romance between Ildiko and Brishen there were times I wondered if it was a little too easy for them. That said, I did enjoy the romance from the beginning and it was a story I fell into very quickly. By page 20 I was completely hooked by the romance and that didn’t change.
The last portion of the story was too abrupt and then right at the end, there are new elements introduced which will have far-reaching effects. It was a shift in tone from the earlier part of the story and I was a little taken aback by it.
I wouldn’t have minded a glossary in the book somewhere – not for definitions so much but to explain how some of the words were pronounced – I found myself mentally mumbling my way through “hercegese” for instance.
Nonetheless, it was a delight to read and I was enchanted by Brishen and Ildiko and they way they cared for one another. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.