Author: John Wiltshire
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 5 stars
Type: Novel in a Series
Received from Publisher
Blurb: A Royal Affair: Book Two
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.
Review: “Hindsight is such an insidious companion.”
A hair raising, provocative, pure adventure of a story!! Books like these are why I read!! This highly anticipated and powerful sequel to the sublime A Royal Affair embodies what reading is all about. It brilliantly combines the pure beauty life has to offer with the savage elements of life. I was laughing, scowling, sighing, ranting, cheering, cringing, crying… you name it, the emotion happened. Once again, the story is told from Nikolai’s POV. Nikolai’s narrative voice is truly one of the best I’ve ever read. His personality and outlook are so perfectly conveyed, as is his fierce love – and fear of it – for Aleksey. So much so that I truly believe he wrote this book, rather than the author. A Royal Affair must be read first in order to understand where Nikolai and Aleksey have been – physically and emotionally – and how that plays into this story.
This story picks up a few years after the tumultuous ending of A Royal Affair. Nikolai and Aleksey have made a home in the wilds of the eighteenth century New World. Nikolai fondly refers to the area they live in as Aleksey’s Kingdom. You can take the King out of his country, but apparently you can’t take the King out of the man! The men lead a quiet, yet busy and demanding life at their isolated woodland cabin, with their loyal horses and Aleksey’s aging wolf companion, Faelan, at their side. Even though the story is being told by Nikolai, or perhaps because of it, Aleksey is presented completely and vividly. There is no doubt as to what drives him, and eventually he always says what he’s thinking.
On the surface the men have a somewhat idyllic, if primitive, life. Days are spent in close contact, doing lots of exhaustive work. They enjoy wanton and extremely physical sex…often. It was easy to understand how working physically in close proximity with nothing to stop them would stir them so constantly. The sex is very hot – in a rather primal, animalistic form. Aleksey enjoys the sex, but not Nikolai’s fascination with his new favorite word (he learned the word “fuck” from sailors on the trip over from Europe). This made for some amusing moments. While obviously caring toward each other, Nikolai and Aleksey seemed to not realize, or perhaps not to acknowledge, the deeper implications of their feelings. Indeed, they each harbored an internal jealousy, lack of self- worth, and fear of losing one another. This made for many snarky, combative moments between the two, in which Nikolai is really attempting to deflect his fears, and Aleksey is left trying to sort out what is going unsaid. Often, they ended up “resolving” these conflicts with the aforementioned sex.
“We had made something of a specialty of these posthurt examinations, and both enjoyed them immensely. It did occur to me briefly that his level of enjoyment encouraged initial misunderstanding.”
Their calm, and their dancing around the reality of being truly committed to one another is about to be tested.
Aleksey has made a habit of visiting a distant colony. A fact that sparks Nikolai’s jealousy and doubts to no end. Aleksey is a King, he is young, he is inquisitive, he is popular…he will surely tire of Nikolai… One day Aleksey returns from the colony with a wild story of an outpost near the great falls to the north, whose inhabitants have gone suddenly missing. It is a great mystery, and he plans to accompany and assist a group of soldiers and a missionary travelling to investigate and re-claim the outpost. Nikolai is irritated. He doesn’t want to go. He doesn’t want to share Aleksey. He doesn’t want to roam farther in this land than they have so far. There are mysterious tales surrounding the falls. Of course he isn’t going to remain at the cabin if Aleksey goes, so plans are made for an expedition. Nikolai immediately has second thoughts and lots of bad vibes once he meets the strange group that is going on this journey.
The eye drawn in blood on the cover of this book is indicative of horrors found inside. There is a woman and her child in the expedition party that immediately and strongly set Nikolai’s hair on end. The child in particular. The author does a superb job of presenting a group of characters here that Nikolai knows nothing about, and we get the blow by blow of what he is questioning about them, what he knows and when he makes realizations. Nikolai’s native friend , Etienne, materializes to give warning about the falls. His appearance also irritates Aleksey, who had not previously met the handsome, mysterious man. As the unlikely party venture further into the wilderness, strange things start happening. Bizarre accusations, strange sightings, death. The body count piles up. The creepazoid factor surrounding the child goes off the chart. I loved the interesting and brave play on evil – as the evil emanated from a woman and child. I experience with vivid clarity what Nikolai conveyed about being in those woods. I was in those woods, I could feel, see, taste Nikolai’s experiences as he was relaying them. I could feel his overpowering concern for Aleksey’s safety. I could feel his skin crawl and his insides roil. There is a superb build up to the defining mystery, especially once the group reaches the falls – what happened to the inhabitants of the outpost? What is the root of the evil lurking and living at the falls? A few aspects of the plot didn’t surprise me, because well, Nikolai – much to his horror – had figured them out. The final outcome and reveal is mind boggling. The final OMG!! THAT is the root of the evil horror and this is what happens to all the creepy players……Um, let’s just say I had zero qualms about how Nikolai “handled” everything. And handle it he did, in an epic, raw, very primal fashion. In fact I believe I finally let my breath out after holding it for who knows how long. The author seems to enjoy cliffs, if not cliffhangers!
There is a carry- over theme from A Royal Affair, in that Nikolai finds himself examining the effects that religion has on the behavior of his fellow humans. Nikolai sort of comes full circle. In his life, he had been raised by those who respected the Great Spirit. Then he embraced a more scientific outlook as a doctor in Europe while witnessing and ruing atrocities performed in the name of Christianity. His blessed life with Aleksey, along with what he witnesses and deals with on the journey to and ultimately at the falls, find him embracing the power of the Great Spirit once more, and even more so… the power of love.
Yes, this is a wonderful, woven to a stunning climax mystery-horror tale. At the heart of the story though, are the hearts of Nikolai and Aleksey. A true love story. The horrors and loss they dealt with on this journey caused them to realize and embrace their truth. The men learned actually talking to one another gleans much better results than jumping to conclusions. Before they met, neither man had previously been the recipient of pure love and adoration. Neither had had the opportunity to build up and hold onto an intimate relationship. It had taken loss, fright, and awful circumstances for them to initially come together back in Hesse-Davia,. It seems movingly fitting that it took more of the same for them to realize they were truly – could truly be – together as one forever. I love these two characters immensely.
“Hush. You are missing the point. There is no tether, Aleksey, except the one in my heart. I am like Faelan, a wild creature you bind to you by the force of your presence. Even burnt, even disfigured with the pox or some other disease that might leap upon you suddenly as you ride home to me, I would still be entirely bound. If you died I would not find another. You are the end of all this for me.”
Final thoughts… It would be interesting to know more about Etienne…I will never, ever look upon a blueberry again without thinking of Faelan. ♥
I give the highest recommendation for this book and the first in the series, A Royal Affair.
Book 3….At the top of my TBR already!!