Black Snow by EAB
Rating: 4.25 Stars
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: High Fantasy, Alt-Historical, Fairy Tale/Snow White Reimagining, GFY Theme, MC Age Difference
Length: 501 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Prince Brier Snow has lived in the shadow of King Snow’s exalted memory. However, his fate changes when he nears his majority and Lirend’s steward queen attempts to dethrone him by exploiting an obscure requirement in the late king’s will: a yearlong sabbatical.
Brier travels to the desolate land of Aire to train under the Ceve guild, scorned refugees of war, including their guarded leader, Roland. Brier’s skillful master unlocks hidden potential, and what begins as a dutiful bond turns into ill-fated affection. When Brier returns to the capital, he’s carrying proof of his indiscretions with Roland—and his condition grows more apparent with each passing day. An affair with the huntsman is a scandal Brier’s enemies can use against him, but the birth of an heir is a burden even Brier is not sure he can bear.
Roland Archer, a man with a murky past, is skeptical of the contract to train the prince but willing to do anything for the guild’s freedom. Despite his best intentions, he is smitten by Lirend’s future king. Roland has resigned himself to solitude, but fate has other plans—for him, for Brier, and for Lirend’s oppressed subjects. Can Roland help Brier face a power-hungry queen and a country torn asunder? Either they will bring equality to a land that desperately needs it, or they’ll be thwarted by cunning enemies and an illusory curse.
The reading of Snow White to a young Prince Brier by his nursemaid, Marietta, sets the tone for Black Snow. It’s a gay alt-historical/fantasy reimagining of that book. That Brier is so smitten with the huntsman of the tale, and not the prince – and the reasons why – forms the backdrop to a rather grand story in its own right of Prince Brier finding his own huntsman, and the obstacles lying in the way of true love.
When Briar is nineteen his “evil” stepmother, the dowager queen, finds and twists a clause in his late father’s will that will send Brier on a sabbatical. He is to go to Aire, a town in the Black Forest that locals ‘know’ to be full of thieves and men of dishonour. However, the queen cloaks it in her own style, that it will make Brier a man come his majority in a years time, that he will be under a master who will tutor him in strength and other necessary requirements to be a king. Brier is introduced to Roland at the castle, he’s a bigger, older man, a Thenian – a people who find themselves enslaved to Lirend the country that Brier will become the ruler of, which shouldn’t auger well for him. Queen Evelyn lets it be known that Brier can opt out of the sabbatical but he will forfeit the crown to her if he chooses that option, something she is clearly counting on.
“And why should someone who is to teach me live there? Where there is naught but traitors, outlaws, thieves, and murderers!”
“That is of no consequence to you!” The queen’s smile vanished. “This is my order.”
Brier and Roland are thrown together, along with the Ceve Guild members who answer to Roland, for the duration of his time in Aire. Brier learns a lot about the Thenians and their culture, gets close to the men of the Guild. He is smitten with Roland and sad when he discovers he was married and his wife and family were killed during war. In Aire, Brier has to chop wood, sell at the local markets and go hunting before the winter to make sure they have enough provisions. It is during the hunt that Brier and Roland grow closer, where Brier lets his feelings be known to Roland. There is a slow burn and there is tension between the two. Roland will not give in easily to Brier. He pushes him away but also does things like combing through his hair and protecting him. Roland thinks Brier is too young, an Aurelian – their enemy – and yet you know he’s falling.
“I feel like a coward.” Brier scrubbed the fresh tears from his eyes. Roland wrapped his arms around Brier’s entire back to assure him.
“It’s okay to be a coward with me….” Roland held Brier tighter to ease his shaking. He could hear Brier inhale softly as he was pulled close. “I’ll watch over you.”
This book is long and I cannot write a review to cover everything that occurs. So from here I’ll just add what worked for me and what didn’t.
Things I liked:
I really like a good fairytale reimagining and Black Snow is a solid reimagining of Snow White – complete with seven Guild members, a huntsman, a fair prince, and a stepmother/queen full of nefarious intent. The author adopted an easy but beautiful style that fit the story being told.
Brier: I loved him. Brier is a beautiful soul inside and out. He is the epitome of soft but strong, loving, loyal and compassionate. He is not an alpha male whatsoever – another big plus. His is a keen and sharp mind but never arrogant. Whatever Brier wanted, I wanted too. My heart ached for him on several occasions and when he was happy, I felt happy. Brier fulfilled all my self-confessed character obsessive needs perfectly.
Roland was a bit disparate in his character between the first and second sections of the book. In Aire he was patient and kind and had a great deal of life experience and wisdom that he imparted to Brier, when absolutely necessary. Not much of a communicator, and still reeling from the loss of those he loved the most, it was interesting to see his beginning reactions to Brier, his pet names for him, and because both MCs had their own POV you were privy to their thoughts. I knew what Roland had done at the beginning and I understood. He was tired of losing people he loved, tired of being oppressed in Lirend by people who used him and his fellow countrymen as little more than indentured slaves. When an opportunity presented itself to free himself and the Ceve Guild members, men like his brothers – squabbles and all – he took it. Roland was loyal to Brier and loved him passionately but was not without fault or some hefty secrets that plagued him and created conflict in his relationship with Brier.
I love an age difference in my MCs. It isn’t necessary but I still love it and Black Snow gave it to me – Brier is nineteen when he is taken to Aire, Roland is thirty eight. The main body of the book spans approximately two years and there is an emotional maturing of Brier during that time and a deep, albeit at times dramatic, love that grows and becomes all encompassing for them both. I loved, loved, loved Roland’s initial term of endearment for Brier – little prince. It was beyond sweet. And I adored the use of Thenian that Brier and Roland used for and to one another.
The markings on Briers body were so precious, and entwined into the story well. That he didn’t understand them and thought they were scars, that people said they were a curse, made me feel for him, but they made him unique and added to the magical fairytale quality of the storytelling. Which then brings me to the fact that this is a well written mpreg book. It is hard to find quality mpreg books, they are often tacky and purely used for erotic writing with little time or attention given the pregnancy phase – Lynn Kelling, Tymber Dalton, andhave all written good ones. When it is well written and part of love, as fantastical as it may seem, mpreg can make for interesting reading and there is a slight kink borne out of the pregnancy in this particular mpreg story as well.
The world building is good – from Briar’s initial time in the castle, to the time spent in Aire and the Back Forest, to the time spent in Avenough, the Aurelian Quarters, to Brier and Roland’s private getaway at Balmur estate. Politics are involved and well written. It isn’t dry whatsoever, it’s nicely done. The Aurelians, the upper class, are making money as the Divine Three, rulers of powerful neighbouring countries, deal directly with private businesses in Lirend, bypassing the royal family.
When Brier becomes king, he wants to help drive social reforms so he sets about changing current business dealings with the Divine Three with the help of Prince Quintin of Menlor. It doesn’t make for an easy road but he is passionate about what he has seen in his time away on sabbatical. There is also unrest from the displaced in Lirend, particularly a growing unrest in the capital of Avenough. I felt like there was a mirroring of current social commentary in Lirend and the world we live in now – homophobia, xenophobia, war and resultant displaced people, lack of compassion as some feel threatened, a large social divide between the haves and the have nots, but that’s just my political inclinations showing.
The cover is divine and fits the book perfectly. You can never underestimate the value of a book cover for setting the mood and this fits the love that Brier and Roland share, the romance within that cover and the style of genre/story.
There is an intense and powerful love affair at the heart of Black Snow that I felt close to and was mesmerised by. What can I say? I loved the love. I pull my sweeter romantic side out from time to time, dust it off, and get swept along by certain chemistry and stories, this was one of them.
So many times he’d convinced himself that he was happy to live the remainder of his existence alone… until he met Brier. Roland did not want to let anyone in, but especially not this boy who made his heart ache with fragile innocence and sorrowful loneliness, so similar to his own.
I didn’t like some particular behaviour from Roland when he was in Avenough in the second section of the book. It happened twice when Roland was jealous and was physical and that was glossed over unsatisfactorily for my liking. It was also out of character for the Roland we were first introduced to in the early stages of the book, the one who took a young, sweet, naïve prince under his wing so perfectly. In all fairness, Roland does settle down again in Avenough and is a terrific character.
I would like to say that Roland is bisexual but there was no history of him being with men before Brier, it’s clearly stated that Roland has never been with a man, he was happily marred to Helenas, a woman, until her death. Yet the reader knows Roland is smitten from the beginning with Brier… Brier who is quite androgynous. So it felt like a GFY, which is definitely not a favourite of mine and had I known I would have bypassed it. However, the romance was well drawn and the MCs had immense passion and chemistry between them. There was a slow burn to sex and an even slower burn to both men openly being in love with one another, although they actually fell quickly. I guess, in the end, it is fantasy and if men can be birthing babies I can’t be pedantic.
There could be slips of contemporary tongue between verily, ’twas, mayhap and ayes – yeah and schlepped come to top of mind. When that happens I get pulled out.
I hate the use of member and manhood for cock. Hate. It. It’s a pet peeve of mine, but I’m sure others will not care. For those of you who do, like me, I’m letting you know. I prefer prick in place of the more contemporary dick or cock in fantasy or alt-historical books, like this one.
Apart from the above, which is not much in the scheme of 501 Kindle pages, I was totally engaged, totally invested in this story. Totally cheering to see Brier and Roland together. Happy. Forever. I loved their love. So much so, I’m hoping for more and I feel like taking up a campaign for book #2. I saw an answer to a reader question on Goodreads from the author as to whether there would be a next book in a series, the characters are already set up – a fair bit of the epilogue is devoted to one and then both of them – and I must say I’m disappointed that it isn’t a given. Okay, I understand why, it’s to do with sales of the book, but like this one I’d buy the next book. My utter disappointment over Peyton and Rexley not getting their book in J.L. Langley’s unfinished Sci-Regency series still runs high and I will have similar feelings if this is left at one book. And to the author, book #2 does not need to be anywhere near as long as book #1, probably better for sales if it isn’t, just sayin’.
This is a really charming book overall, with some lovely words, thoughts, and sentiments. Apart from the few niggles I had, the love story between Brier and Roland is so captivating it well and truly held my attention from beginning to end. The world building is good and pretty plentiful, as is the use of the Thenian language scattered throughout, there is no spoon-feeding the reader, once a few words are used and interpreted you have to remember them. I like languages, even made up ones, so I liked the use of Thenian to highlight the differences in culture, to show support, and to pledge love.
If you enjoy alt-historical or fantasy books that are heavily romance and character driven and still have good world building, some action, and you also like or are interested in well written mpreg, then Black Snow is a very good read and I highly recommend it. 4.25 Stars!