I read Alexandra Rowland’s guest post over at The Fantasy Hive about “small magic,” and just knew I had to pick up A Taste of Gold and Iron. The post teased a plot about counterfeiting and money manipulation diving into the idea of magic users as an ecological niche that had my heart brimming with anticipation. Luckily, Andrew dropped an ARC in my grubby little hands, and I cracked it open without even deigning to read the synopsis. And thus, I was thrown into one of my very first romance centric fantasy novels, and I came away delighted, if a little disappointed.
Prince Kadou is the queen’s brother, master of the harbors and an utter coward. Kadou can’t explain himself any differently than that. Enemies feel as if they are everywhere, and he questions every action as if it could end the world. He suffers panic attacks over matters big and small, and he hides information for fear of retribution. When his closest guard, and sometimes secret lover, Tadek, almost kills his sister’s body father(a kind of husband), but more complicated), mistaking a hunting accident for an assassination attempt on the prince, Kadou is thrown out of the queen’s graces. Tadek is removed from the kahyalar, and is replaced by the ever competent and all too stoic Evemir. Evemir is the perfect kahyalar, but harbors a disgust towards Kadou after two members of the kahyalar were killed, in his opinion, recklessly. While tasked with protecting Kadou, the two stumble not only upon a conspiratorial plot to devalue the kingdom’s currency, they stumble into each other’s hearts. But can their love really bloom when Kadou has so many responsibilities and has already destroyed the career of one kahyalar?
I am not a romance reader (yet), but as I get older, I feel like I missed the boat. I want more romance in my books, whether it’s big or small, straight or queer (though I will say I prefer the latter), hot and heavy or tepid and light. It’s probably better that I walked in with zero expectations, because I may not have so quickly picked it up. That’s all to throw a little salt into the idea that A Taste of Gold and Iron is both completely enchanting and a little frustrating for me. I was intoxicated by the back and forth between Kadou and Evemir, tugged along by the will they, won’t they dynamic that is so heavily played upon. But I felt left wanting by the conspiratorial plot they had to untangle together. It’s not that there was too much emphasis on the romance, it just didn’t feel as thematically entangled with the plot of the story as I would have liked.
The characters in this story are truly fantastic. Rowland’s portrayal of anxiety in a society that does not understand it or have a word for it was genuinely engrossing. Kadou’s perspective pulled me into his paranoia, while his snap-to attitude in a real crisis felt genuine. He knew how to assess threats when they approached him, he just didn’t know how to turn it off. His spiraling did not feel overdone or cheap and it made his character approachable. Also, he fucks up on a number of occasions in very human ways, and I liked that a lot. It made Evemir’s sections from outside Kadou’s head all the more realistic. His stoic nature, everything for the kahyalar, honor, and the Araşti kingdom attitude spilled off of him like a heady musk. His practiced competence, ridden by his disdain for recklessness, especially when it came to Kadou, pounced off the pages like a striking panther and seized my frail heart. Okay, yes, I fell in love with Evemir, I can’t deny that.
The chemistry between them was palpable from the onset. It was not a matter of if these two were going to get together— it was a matter of when. Rowland’s pacing centered on anticipation and they nailed it. I literally felt my own heart rate quicken at moments, thinking “oh god this is it, it’s happening!” Only for it to fall just out of grasp as something got in the way. Reading through their defense mechanisms was delightful as the characters try to reason with themselves that they are definitely not in love with the person they think they should hate. I rarely felt a pang of “just get it over with already,” as they danced around their emotions, something I thought would be a frequent occurrence.
I think this is helped out a lot by the supporting cast, which was just impeccable. Tadek, Kadou’s former lover and prime kahyalar, was a perfect third in the love triangle. While his role felt tropey in the beginning, he grew into one of the better supporting characters. He had this sass to him that made him the perfect medium between Evemir and Kadou’s budding relationship. Tadek was a mess, but he at least knew how to navigate relationships. Eozena, the leader of the kahyalar, and all around badass woman almost stole my heart as well. She was gruff but compassionate, giving advice while rooting out traitors within the ranks with ruthless efficiency. And while I swooned for Eozena and Evemir, I legitimately wanted to be best friends with Melek, Kadou’s night watch guard. They were a constant source of pure joy whenever they appeared on page, and I would die for them.
And while I loved all of that, I still felt let down by the conspiracy plot. I may have hyped myself up too much, as I greatly appreciated Rowland’s perspective in regards to magic. The idea of someone being able to taste the metals within a coin (or any metallic object), to know precisely the parts per thousand was fascinating to me. And then building an entire currency around that concept, with a world branching from it was enticing. I just wish it was used more than the few times it occurred. The conspiracy itself seemed to fade into the background as the book went on, the stakes felt they needed to be pumped up. Where I wanted dominoes to start falling, the story presented a hinge point that could not be passed, else the kingdom ends. I didn’t expect a full treatise on the meaning of currency, but I wanted a little more play with the mixing of metals and the relationship unfolding between Kadou and Evemir.
A Taste of Gold and Iron has sold me on romance. I realize that there is an incredible amount out there, some good, some bad, and some trashy, but I want more of it. Kadou and Evemir have taught me many things, and Rowland has successfully converted me, so kudos to them. It’s a fun character focused romance that has some truly enjoyable worldbuilding that I didn’t even touch on (it’s cool as hell) that I recommend for those who have yet to convert.
Rating: A Taste of Gold and Iron 7.5/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.