I’m torn on Measure of Devotion. The book had me literally glued for over half of it but once I realized what was going to happen – and why – I literally started hating it. So I kind of hate-read the final half, knowing I couldn’t stand the actions occurring. That said, it’s a pretty familiar m/m romance theme, although it’s better written with clean, engaging prose. There isn’t a happy ending for this particular book, but it’s part of a trilogy that does end happily so readers won’t be upset. It’s not often that I start out a book liking one character and disliking the other and then flipping that entirely by the end. Usually you like both characters but not here. I struggled at the halfway mark to like both and found myself liking one significantly more than I thought. Ultimately this book made me think and want to slap a few people around, but it’s that human aspect of selfishness and self centered reality that more than anything made it realistic and emotional for me.
The story is set in an alternate historical theme where slavery is commonplace. Kale is a country slave at home with the outdoors and content with his place. Jason is the only child of a wealthy man and has set his sights on the city for learning and social status. Initially dismayed that his father gave him Kale instead of a polished, sophisticated slave, Jason soon learns that Kale’s true value lies in who he is and how he helps Jason become a better person. The two slowly fall in love but Kale knows that Jason’s dreams may not come true if he’s tethered too tightly to a lowly slave. The actions put into place to make those dreams happen result in Kale discovering what love really is.
Even with an unhappy ending, this is definitely a romance. The relationship between Kale and Jason dominates the pages and their change from Master and slave to lovers happens over the course of the entire book. The emotional connection between the men drives the action and plot. Both characters are well defined and interesting with surprising depth. I initially liked Kale as he’s an easy protagonist. He’s not especially submissive but he knows exactly how to be a good slave, regardless of his personal opinions and wishes. He’s intelligent and quick, willing to subjugate his feelings because he’s merely a slave and knows the path of least resistance is the way of life. He cares for his Master even when Jason is immature, naïve, and stupid. Kale starts as the inherently good character, whereas Jason is the ridiculous, overcompensating oaf that beats Kale simply to try to prove his own dominance over a man that has never debated his slave position.
Initially it’s hard to see where these two would have a romance but it helps that the writing offers enough detail and circumstance to understand the chance. First Jason is immature and young, so very young so it’s understandable that through exposure to sophistication and education and experience in a new social realm that he would mature and change. Additionally I think most of his change comes from his interactions with Kale, just as Kale changes as well through his association with Jason. Whereas Jason becomes a better person for it, I’m not entirely sure Kale becomes a better person. His status as a slave and life as one with literally no chance of that changing gives him a different outlook.
Part of this dynamic is what makes the story so engaging and fascinating. Jason turns from an incredibly young and immature to a smart, independent, and somewhat confident by the end. Jason ends up being the inherently good character without an ounce of selfishness to be found. Jason’s good heart, overly dramatic reactions, and depth of love won my heart as a reader. I can even remember the scene where I realized that Jason, not Kale, was the star of the novel. He seems simple and misguided but truly he is the better man of the two, something Kale recognizes but for all the wrong reasons. Kale started out likable but soon I realized he was too scared and arrogant to really carry the emotional weight of their relationship. Thus I didn’t care for Kale and his justifications for most of the story.
On the one hand I can recognize that the actions and choices depicted within the story speak to very human and realistic flaws. But they also hit on a trope that is not my favorite. I dislike the concept of one person doing something for another’s benefit, as if they are so arrogant they know what’s right for another person. It’s inherent in all people and again, realistic, to think we love someone so much that we know what’s best for them. It’s also something that makes me want to throw a book. I have to give the writing credit because I saw the truth in the actions of all the characters involved, even as I wanted to argue that no one should be that self righteous and sanctimonious. Clearly the story seemed torn on this particular aspect as several of the secondary cast seemed to agree with my thinking and voiced their concerns against one of the main character’s actions. However, the ending wasn’t a surprise and was foreshadowed from at least half way in the book when it was clear what was going to happen.
On the one hand Kale got exactly what he was trying to achieve but since it left everyone miserable, it does speak to why I disliked him as a character. Technically all the characters are crafted with depth and nuance, offering both merits and flaws with the flaws written in such a way that readers can empathize with their drawbacks. The writing is clean and evocative with few mistakes and an engaging voice. The minimal world building is sufficient, though I would have liked more, but since the focus is romance I wasn’t disappointed. Overall this is an intriguing read and I’m glad I took the chance. It may not end happily but I think it’s perhaps one of the better, more realistic endings. Even if that ending is completely and utterly aggravating because people can be really dense. That said I’ll wait a while before continuing on with the series. The first book had a definitive, clear ending and I know a HEA is coming but I need a break before delving into the obligatory suffering that has to happen first. Either way, I’d still recommend the first book so far.
The first book is also free! You can get it here Measure of Devotion (Measure of Devotion Trilogy)