by Grace Draven
Book 1 in the Wraith King Series
The Prince of no value
Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne secured many times over.
A trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty. Always a dutiful son, Brishen agrees to the marriage and discovers his bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined.
The noblewoman of no importance
Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn’t just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she’s known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light.
Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics will discover they are destined for each other, even as the powers of a hostile kingdom scheme to tear them apart.
Radiance is the first book in Grace Draven's Wraith Kings series. It is a dual POV between the two main characters, Brishen Khaskem -a kai - the youngest Prince of the Kai kingdom is Bast-Haradis, and Ildiko, human niece to the Guari King. Ildiko has always known that she would be married off for political reasons, and was at peace with it. But when she found out she was being married to someone who wasn't even human, in order to secure a trade and political alliance, she is unsure, as is Brishen. Both Brishen and Ildiko are equally repulsed by the other, but are also absolutely enchanted with the person beneath the skin. An arranged marriage turns into a close friendship. As they both become accustomed to each others physical and cultural differences, the deep respect and admiration for each other turns to more. Brishen and Ildiko may not have sought each other out in their marriage, but now that they have each other, nothing will tear them apart.
This series has been on my tbr for a while now. What got me to read it is actually a little bit of a funny story that involves internet, a credit card, and a couple of glasses of wine. Short version, I was a little drunk, I was in bed scrolling through my email, and I saw that Fae Crate was selling the first two books ( I wasn't aware there was another book, let alone more planned ) as exclusive editions. I love exclusive edition books. So without even reading them, I purchased them ( as as a Canadian, it wasn't cheap after exchange rate, and shipping. ) It was the next morning I figured I should probably read these books. lol.
I REALLY enjoyed this book. Thank god after that purchase. haha. But honestly, it was refreshing from a romance perspective, and I truly was enthralled with the world Grace Draven has created. It was simple, but not, if that makes since. The world is rich, and layered, but Grace doesn't make the landscape, the politics, or the cultures, difficult to imagine. Some of her descriptions of human movements, and even food the kai found revolting , had me smiling, because it made sense the way Grace wrote it. Never would I have thought that a roasted potato looks like maggots spilling out of it when you cut into it, but I pictured it, and yeah, I can see it. And the Kai's disturbance with human eyes made sense - at least to me. Because fun factoid about me, I have a weird thing about eyes. Big, protruding eyes make me cringe and incredibly uncomfortable. So when looking at it from a kai perspective, the way human eyes look, and the many ways we can move them, made sense. And from a human perspective, I totally understood why they would be put off by solid glowing eyes, sharp claws and sharp teeth. But I didn't understand their aversion to each other's skin color. In this case, Ildiko is a pale white woman, whereas Brishen is a slate gray. To me, that doesn't seem like a big deal, but in this world, they are kind of revolted by each others appearance.
As for the romance, I loved it. It was sweet. Ildiko and Brishen's first encounter was truly a delight - and refreshing. I have never read a romance where the couple in question found one another truly hideous. And they admit it to each other! But it leads to one of the things I loved the most about this book. These two people, forced to marry someone who isn't even the same species as them, find common ground, and find in each other a friend. Their growing fondness and respect for one another is wonderful, and it truly left me feeling like these two love each other. They fell in love with the person, which eventually led to attraction of the whole package. It was just SO refreshing to read a love story where two people, who admittedly are horrified by each others looks, fall in love because of the person. But after the first chapter, I knew that Ildiko and Brishen were the type of characters that would fall in love this way. Both are open minded individuals, leaders in their own stations - neither want more power - and intelligent. There wasn't anything I disliked about either of them.
Radiance was truly that - radiant. A refreshing love story with rich world building and a dash of politics. Honestly, I don't think you can go wrong reading this book.
Ildiko pressed her cheek into his palm for a moment. She pulled away, and her smile turned impish.
Ildiko: “It’ll be hard not to tease your folk sometimes.”
Brishen couldn’t imagine how she might go about such a thing. He had no idea if the Kai and the Gauri even knew the same jokes or found the same things funny.
Brishen" “What do you mean?”
He almost leapt out of his skin when Ildiko stared at him as both of her eyes drifted slowly down and over until they seemed to meet together, separated only by the elegant bridge of her nose.
Brishen: “Lover of thorns and holy gods!”
he yelped and clapped one hand across her eyes to shut out the sight.
Brishen: “Stop that,”
Ildiko laughed and pushed his hand away. She laughed even harder when she caught sight of his expression.
she gasped on a giggle.
Ildiko: “I can do better. Want to see me make one eye cross and have the other stay still?”
Brishen reared back.
Brishen: “Nightmarish. I’ll thank you to keep that particular talent to yourself, wife.” Brishen: “Shall I take you home?”
He wouldn’t blame Ildiko if she said yes. She flashed him a brief smile of her square teeth.
Ildiko: “You are taking me home, Brishen. There’s nothing for me in Pricid.”
Brishen: “What of your family?”
Her smile faded.
Ildiko: “Blood ties do not always make a family. My family rests in a crypt overlooking the sea. I need to make a new family now.” She was ugly; she was beautiful, and she was his.
Brishen: “My Ildiko,” Brishen: “Loneliness is an empty void. We look for that friend in the light.”
His glowing eyes squinted a little, deepening the laugh lines at their corners.
Brishen: “Or in the case of humans, in the dark.”
Brishen stopped his horse for a second time and tugged Ildiko’s reins to halt her mount as well. He must have given an unseen signal because the Kai riding with them widened the space around them to afford more privacy.
Ildiko: “What is it? What’s wrong?”
His gaze pressed down on Ildiko. Not the smothering weight of a too-heavy blanket in summer but more like an embrace that invited affection. Not for the first time, she desperately wished she could read his eyes, see past the luminescence to the equally bright soul behind it.
Brishen: “Will you be that for me, Ildiko. That beacon in the void?”
Ildiko’s heart cracked. Loneliness had been her most constant companion, the silent shadow that hovered over her for years. If there was one thing she understood, it was the emptiness of the internal void. Her reply might not make sense to him now, but she’d explain later when they were alone. She reached out, fingers tracing the herringbone pattern of his chainmail sleeve.
Ildiko: “The void is vast, like the sea at night and no land in sight. I’ll be the beacon, Brishen.” Brishen: “My parents will loathe you, wife.”
Ildiko felt all the blood drain from her face. Brishen’s smile returned.
Brishen: “Don’t be afraid. That’s a good thing. They’ve hated me since birth. They only like those they can crush.” Ildiko: “You make a very handsome dead eel, my husband,”
she said and winked. Sinhue and Kirgipa both gasped.
Brishen: “For a boiled mollusk, you wear black quite well, my wife,”
Brishen shot back, and his smile stretched a little wider. Brishen: “What does it taste like to you?”
he asked between bites. Ildiko studied the small portion impaled on her dagger’s tip.
Ildiko: “A little muddy. A little briny. Mostly like someone took a fish, packed it in dirt and let it cook inside a sweaty boot.”
He winced at the vivid, albeit accurate, description.
Brishen: “You’d reduce the royal cook to fits of melancholy if he heard you say that.”
Ildiko: “He’s reduced me to retching with his repulsive pie. I suffer no guilt.” Ildiko: “I’m serious, Brishen. Promise me you’ll not get yourself killed or maimed out there.”
is hands rested hot on her lower back, and he breathed gently against her before stepping away. He’d lost the smile, but there was a gentleness to his hard features.
Brishen: “I can’t make that promise, Ildiko, but I can swear to do my best to come back with all arms and legs attached.”
Ildiko: “Your head too, if you please.”
Brishen laughed then.
Brishen: “My head too.” Brishen: “I’m not human, wife,”
he whispered into the darkness. Shock rounded his eyes at Ildiko’s response, slurred with sleep and nearly incoherent.
Ildiko: “But you’re still mine, husband.” Brishen: “You’re staring. Do I have a fly on my nose?”
Fighting down a blush at being caught gawking at her own husband, Ildiko lightly tapped the tip of his nose with one finger.
Ildiko: “I was trying to find a way to kill it without punching you in the face. Lucky for you, it flew away.” Brishen: “Ah, my Ildiko, what a practical soul you have.”
Ildiko: “I consider it an attribute, not a fault. More people could use a dose of practicality now and then.”
He tugged on her braid.
Brishen: “I don’t disparage you. I find such a trait one of your charms.”
The color of his eyes had deepened once more to the lamplight gold he’d shown her when he first woke. While Ildiko couldn’t track the movement of his eyes except for the slight jerk at the edges of his eye sockets, she had the sense his gaze touched long on her hair, her shoulders and neck, her bare arms. The fine tingle dancing along her skin transformed to a sizzle. Ildiko inhaled sharply as Brishen leaned close to nuzzle the sensitive spot at her temple with his nose. His breath tickled her ear.
Brishen: “One of many,”
he whispered, and his words were a caress along her back. Anhuset: “That is the worst display of showing off I’ve ever seen,”
Anhuset said in forbidding tones.
Brishen: “Of course it is.”
Brishen wrapped an arm around Ildiko’s waist and pressed himself against her back.
Brishen: “I’m trying to impress my wife.” Anhuset: "I know a dozen women who’d be happy to cool the fire for you.”
He’d briefly entertained the thought. Ildiko had once hinted she didn’t mind if he took a mistress, yet he wondered if that still held true. Three days earlier they had lain together in his bed. He hadn’t imagined the delicate shiver that raced down her body as he nuzzled her temple, and that shiver had not been fear.
Brishen: “I wouldn’t survive the affections of a dozen Kai women, cousin. Besides, only one can cool the fire.”
Anhuset’s lips twitched.
Anhuset: “And that one isn’t Kai. What has Ildiko become to you?”
Brishen: “The fire.” Brishen: “I am no poet possessing honeyed words. But you have always known me to be forthright with you.”
Gods, his muscles shook as if from cold in his effort to stay still and not thrust hard against her.
Brishen: “I want you, Ildiko. Want to sink so deep into you that neither of us will know where one ends and the other begins.” Brishen: “What is it, Ildiko? What do you see?”
His question acted as a catalyst, breaking a spell that held him beguiled and her enthralled. She opened beneath him; not just her body. All of her. He sensed it in every part of him. She twined her arms around his neck and tilted her head until her lips brushed the corner of his mouth.
Ildiko; “My beautiful husband. I see radiance.” Ildiko embraced her lover, her husband, her best friend and counted herself a most blessed wife. Brishen: “Woman of day. You mean everything to me.”
No amount of blinking this time held back Ildiko’s tears. They streamed down her cheeks to drip off her chin and onto Brishen’s shoulder.
Ildiko: “Prince of night,”
she said in a watery voice that echoed another moment when she’d greeted him with the same words.
Ildiko: “You’ve come back to me.” Ildiko: “I think I fell in love with you during our wedding.”
Her statement sent a rush of euphoria through Brishen that left him lightheaded. His hand flattened on her back before sliding up between her shoulder blades to bury itself in her hair. Her every action, every laugh, every caress spoke of her great affection for him, but this was the first time she said she loved him. An upbringing in the Kai court had taught him to control his emotions. A good thing too or he would snatch his wife into a hard embrace and accidently break every bone in her body. He settled for hooking an arm under her side and dragging her closer to him.
Brishen: “It took you that long? You are difficult to win. I tried very hard during our first meeting in the gardens.”
Ildiko sputtered. Her leg slid between his knees, riding higher to rest against his thigh.
Ildiko: “Calling me a hag is not the best courtship gesture.”
Brishen: “As I recall, you threatened to bash my skull in because of my appearance. And that was when I was magnificent to behold.”
He wiggled his eyebrows at her. His smile faded when she didn’t return it. She traced the bony ridge of his cheekbone, fissured by scars inflicted by a knife.
Brishen: “They took your eye, Brishen. Not your character. You’re still magnificent.” Brishen: “Remember, wife. I’m the spare of no value.”
She lunged for him and wrapped her arms around his waist. Her soft breasts pressed against his chest as she hugged him as hard as she could.
Ildiko: “You are of great value to me,” Brishen: “I love you, my blood-thirsty hag.”
Ildiko sniffed and offered him a watery smile.
Ildiko: “That’s a good thing, because you’ll have to suffer through dinner later. I thought your mother would be here another night, so I ordered potatoes to be served.” Ildiko: “If I die before you, I have no mortem light for you to carry to Emlek. That recolligere holds one of my memories. You can take that instead—a paler light.”
She made him strong; she made him weak, and in that moment, she nearly put him on his knees. Brishen gathered her into his embrace, the recolligere clutched in his hand. He kissed her cheeks, her temples, the corners of her eyes wet with tears. When he reached her mouth, he paused.
Brishen: “Not a paler light. A radiant one, from a woman in whose presence I will never be blind.”