Rose Among the Ruins by Ariel Tachna
After almost a generation of war, peace has come at last through the political marriage of a Mordyn princess to the prince of Ageselm. While escorting the bride, comrades-in-arms Rhicer and Kanath inadvertently drink a love potion intended for the newlyweds—and find themselves dealing with newfound desire for one another. As they struggle with their growing connection in a culture that despises same-sex love, Rhicer and Kanath face a terrible decision: give in to the social mores of their time and abandon love or answer the call of their hearts and leave Ageselm forever.
Rhicer and Kanath are good friends and brothers in arms. While bringing a war bride to their king, the two indulge in a bottle of wine from the bride’s dowry. Little did they know that the wine was actually a powerful love potion and upon awakening from their drunken stupor the two realize the potion has caused intense emotion in them. When no anticdote is found, Rhicer and Kanath decide to give in to their mutual lust rather than fight the inevitable.
The story starts and continues with a very slow, meandering pace. The two men are given a funny, humorous setting but yet after a moment’s panic they settle into acceptance rather quickly. The writing is somewhat bland as the internal musings of the men repeat themselves often. Both Rhicer and Kanath are interested in women and have no sexual desire for men but faced with the powerful love potion, they can’t help but want each other. The longing glances and pent up desire could have been engaging and entertaining yet felt rote and almost boring. Part of this is the repeated point of view changes that happen almost every paragraph. The inability to stick to one view creates a bland element to the men that homogenized their personalities.
Although there are differences to the men, often the internal thoughts are identical, which adds to the muddled feel of the story. The two men become so similar that there is no vitality and energy to the prose and characters. This is especially evident when Rhicer and Kanath finally interact sexually. The first mutual hand job lingers on for several pages yet the only action is a brief touch to their respective cocks before explosion. In between the almost non-existent action is repeated pausing to consider, look, think, muse, and ponder. The men spend the entire time thinking how much they want each other without actually acting on it even with pants down and bulging crotches. Here is a lengthy paragraph but it’s an excellent example of the pacing of non-action amid repeated musing in the story.
The hard length was heavy in Kanath’s hand, the angle slightly awkward as he knelt facing his lover. He momentarily considered moving behind Rhicer so the movement of his hand would be more like stroking his own erection, but that would deprive him of the vision of his lover’s face etched with passion. He would simply have to get used to the angle. The tip of Rhicer’s cock leaked fluid steadily, coating Kanath’s knuckles. Pausing for a minute, the younger man ran his palm across the mushroomed head, coating his skin with the slick fluid before returning his attention to the long shaft. Rhicer moaned and bucked into his hand, bringing a pleased smile to Kanath’s lips at the thought that he could please his lover as well as he had been pleased. Feeling daring, he used his free hand to reach between Rhicer’s legs and fondle the heavy sac. That unexpected touch broke Rhicer’s control, his orgasm leaving him limp and quivering beneath Kanath’s hands.
Now if only the sexual antics had been truncated, that would be forgivable. This is set in a historical time thus the overly flowery prose is somewhat understandable. Unfortunately this extends to the entire story where there is very little action in favor of heavy pondering and emotional outbursts. Since the two characters are so similar, the emotional connection felt awkward and forced. This does pick up some in the sweet and gentle scene where Kanath declares his love for Rhicer, explaining that the potion may have caused the feeling but he embraces the emotion fully. The remainder of the story tells what happened to the two men and their forbidden love, the choices that were forced upon them and their eventual decisions. It even sets up a possible sequel. This consists entirely of telling the reader actions versus showing which gives a resolution but lessens the impact.
Overall, this is a sweet historical romance with a lovely descriptive setting but ineffectual characters. Here the gay for you theme clearly works. Once the men are affected by the potion, any qualms or concerns that they are not gay are eliminated. It’s merely an exercise in familiarity and experience in the new territory of sex with another man. For fans of that theme, they may like this story but I think there are better written options. The premise is solid and engaging but the writing, prose, and characters fail to entice the imagination. The later half of the story picks up some and ends on a gentle, happy note.
*As a side note – the description attached to this book when sent for review was “m/m paranormal BDSM.” Just to be clear this is NOT a paranormal or BDSM story. This is a fantasy, historical type gay for you romance. I can’t find the description on the Dreamspinner site so just as a warning if anyone else gets this description. It’s inaccurate.
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