Published by Tordotcom on August 30, 2022
Source: the library
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Book of the Year for Kirkus Reviews
“A delicious tangle of romance, fealty, and dangerous politics.”—Tasha Suri
The Goblin Emperor meets "Magnificent Century" in Alexandra Rowland's A Taste of Gold and Iron, where a queer central romance unfolds in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire.
Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen's new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.
To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
When Prince Kadou’s social fumbling results in a politically charged scandal, he’s forced to accept two new charges: the first is a mission to unmask a counterfeiter, and the second is a new bodyguard. But how is he going to unravel the mystery when his bodyguard seems to want to kill him?
Kadou is a mess. A lovable mess, but a mess nonetheless. He’s immensely privileged and beloved, but but he’s plagued by a malady he doesn’t understand – one that makes it difficult to see how loved he is. Although it’s not named as such, he’s clearly suffering from an anxiety disorder. Readers know that he’s neither weak nor cowardly, but since that is what others see, Kadou himself believes it. He only emerges from his self-loathing and self-pity when his circumstances – and the people around him – abruptly change. Of course, a stoic, judgemental, but unflinchingly fair new bodyguard has something to do with that.
Kadou and Evermer’s relationship is so romantic. They’re not enemies, but they certainly get off on the wrong foot, and each one has a clouded view of the other. Evermer thinks Kadou is flight and frivolous, and Kadou thinks Evermer is a rigid bore. These misunderstandings actually make sense, and it makes sense that soon enough, they fall away and the pair become friends. Once they become friends, well…it doesn’t take long before the yearning starts. That’s what’s missing from so much fantasy romance out there. The YEARNING! It was delicious. Kadou and Evermer complement each other, bringing out the other’s strengths and helping them overcome their weaknesses. Really satisfying stuff.
Equally satisfying is the world building in A Taste of Gold and Iron. This is a fantasy novel that’s light on the magic but heavy on religion and politics. The palaces, markets, alleyways, and thermal baths or Arasht are inspired by the Ottoman empire, but the social politics are distinct and unique. Queerness is completely normalized in this story and small details like the casual use of nonbinary pronouns and same-sex arranged marriages are incorporated seamlessly. I really enjoyed how the concept of paternity was treated, especially at court: since the Arashti empire is matrilineal, the Sultan has sole claim to her children and heirs. Kadou’s sister Zeliha can choose to grant the “body father” legal rights to her child by naming him the “law father” or “love father,” but these are honours bestowed on a man, not guaranteed rights.
I thought for sure this would be a five-tar read, but sadly the last thirty or so pages missed the mark for me. Rowland had a lot of moving parts to contend with but they managed to resolve everything tidily – too tidily. There were some plot threads that could’ve been left open-ended without undermining the story and I think that would’ve felt more realistic to me. Of course, this story is a standalone, so minor plot points won’t be revisited in other novels…but still. I like it when something is left to the imagination.
Overall, A Taste of Gold and Iron is a richly imagined, beautiful written fantasy romance. Highly recommended.