This is the third book published in the Branion Realm series, though it is the second book chronologically.
Guided by a prophetic vision, Llewellyne, daughter of Owain, the elected Prince of Gwyneth, seduces the Essusiate Aristok Marsellus DeMarian in order to conceive a child. Having turned from the Triarch faith 100 years ago, Branion’s aggression against their neighbouring country has increased. Llewellyne’s vision shows her a way to restore the Triarch faith to the throne of Branion and to protect her country.
When Rhys is born, he becomes the heir to the Branion throne in the eyes of all those of the Triarch faith. As a baby, Rhys attracts those Branions of the old faith, who have fallen out of favour with the ruling family. He also attracts unwanted attention from those of the Essusiate faith afraid he will be used as a rallying point to launch a war against them.
And they are not wrong. With the Branion Triarchs, the Gwyneth lords and the Companion Guild (also out of favour under the new religion) supporting him, war breaks out on two fronts, threatening to tear Branion apart.
I liked this book, almost as much as the first book in the series. I like the author’s style of writing across all her books, but I find her world building to be better in this series. The story and the characters in this book drew me in right away.
Oddly enough, as in book two, we have a plot with a hired assassin turning away from their mission, although it’s more believable to me in this book (someone hired as a spy then asked to kill a baby but finds out that they can’t bring themselves to go through with it).
Like book 1, I found myself wanting to know more about what happens to the characters after the book ends and wish there had been a more direct sequel to this story.
There were a couple of time jumps in the book that I didn’t always find believable. If we are to consider the fact that Gwyneth and Branion are practically at war from the moment of Rhys’ birth, I find it hard to believe the first ten year time jump of no hostility that lets him grow up and not be killed (I know the explanation given, I just still found it hard to believe). I would have preferred it if it had taken Branion longer to view Rhys as a threat and then the diversion tactic Gwyneth used could have been brought up with a shorter time jump.
I think because of the time jumps the story felt a little choppy at times, like parts were missing or parts that needed to be explored more.
I like getting the story from multiple view points, but I did feel that overall the Essusiate characters didn’t get a lot of pages devoted to them. I know books 1 and 2 are set chronologically after this book we already know how the battle turns out, so maybe we are supposed to view these characters in a certain way, but I feel like a few of them were more than the villains hunting Rhys and I would have liked it if they had been explored more (especially characters like Drusus, who had a tragic air to him).
I also wish that more time had been spent with some minor characters, including the woman who led the rebellion inside Branion itself. She was an interesting character and I felt like there weren’t enough chapters from her point of view (I can’t remember exactly now, but there may only have been one).
There was one character where I thought it was a little unbelievable that they weren’t killed as a traitor and again this goes with the unbelievable length, for me, of the first time jump.
Coming as I am rereading the Wheel of Time series, there is a story line in this book and that series about two characters who, although they are not related to each other, have a half sibling in common and yet have a romantic/sexual relationship with each other. It’s especially disturbing to me here where characters comment on how the romantic/sexual partner looks like the half-brother they have in common.