I ABSOLUTELY ADORED THIS BOOK!!!! WOW. JUST UTTERLY AMAZING!!!!
Kristen Ashley never ceases to amaze me with the beauty of the books she writes. Seriously, this story is just magical <3
Its a story about two people overcoming extreme cultural differences for the sake of love. There were parts of this book that were gruesome, brutal and sickening, parts that were swoony, heart-melting and utterly precious and ultimately it told a beautiful story about compromise, understanding and acceptance.
The story follows Circe, who went to sleep one night in her bed in Seattle and woke up in a nightmare world. Literally. She woke up in a an alternate parallel universe to ours in a corral with a whole bunch of women, most of whom didn’t even speak her language, who were penned there, half naked, waiting for “The Wife Hunt” to commence.
The Wife Hunt?!?!
“It was a nightmare. It was a nightmare’s nightmare.”
To call The Wife Hunt brutal would be an understatement. It is a common practice by the Korwahk people with the purpose of finding wives for their warriors. But the way they go about it, to our eyes, from our culture’s perspective, is horrific. They round up the most beautiful women from both their people and others who they kidnap and, at an appointed time, are let loose in the woods and hunted down by the warriors, raped, and thus claimed as that warrior’s new wife.
Now, this is something which under normal circumstances would turn me way the hell off a book. But I had a lot of faith in KA’s story-telling ability and so I spent some time prior to reading it trying to understand or come to terms with it.
I wont say anything here that will spoil the story, but I will try and give a little bit of a general explanation so that in case you, like me, read that description and kinda balk and start backing away while wondering if there was any way in the world you could ever love a hero who would do such a thing, then maybe this will help you understand him a little before the start of the story.
There is a LOT of emphasis made in this book about how this is their culture. The people in their culture (including the women!) are happy with it. They are a prosperous, thriving culture. These are their customs. These are their ways. Yes, to outsiders, and to us, their ways are savage, brutal, barbaric, cruel, take your pick, but to them, this is their world.
And, after the brutal first scene in the book, The Wife Hunt (which, by the way, was not very graphic), things do start to gradually change a little….
“There are some men, no matter what blood flows in their veins or what teachings were drilled into their heads, who are just good men.”
Our hero, Dax Lahn, is one of those men. And for a guy from such a brutal culture, he was actually pretty darn swoony!! And Circe is just an incredible heroine – she is strong-willed, fiesty, sassy, deeply understanding and I instantly felt connected to her character. And not long into the book, it becomes abundantly clear how proud Lahn is of her, of having found a warrior women. And he really does do his best, in his own savage-brute way, of trying to figure her out.
They spoke different languages, came from different worlds, couldn’t understand each literally or culturally and yet they both worked so hard at figuring each other out. It was totally, completely, endearing – the big brutish warrior King and his Seattle chick Queen.
The thing was that regardless of the fact that this was their culture, there was still the issue that that Circe was NOT from it and so Lahn had to learn to make concessions along the way too. And whenever he screwed up, I loved that she totally stood up to him. Which he, in turn, found endearing…. it was all just very sweet.
But, I’ll be honest, some of the stuff that happens in their culture is really hard to accept. Reeeeeeeally hard. Borderline impossible. But I really just tried to go into it with an open mind and realize that a lot of the things that to me, I found demeaning or heartless were really the results of my own culture speaking. Its a hard thing to wrap your mind around.
It helped though, that Lahn just melted my heart. He was just the biggest brute and definitely the kind of guy that nobody messes with and yet, when it came to her, he showed another side where he actually was just the biggest loveable softie <3 And its impossible not to see just how MUCH he cares!!
“This is my vow to you… I am your husband, I will keep you safe and I will do it by keeping my feet on this earth, breathing the air and being there to make you safe. Do you understand this?”
And I absolutely loved that Circe made concessions in a lot of ways to his culture – after all, she was the one who came into his world, but she had a few key things that really didn’t sit right with her (totally understandably!!) and in an awesome way that just made me want to cheer, stood up to him over and over again. Basically, she never lost who she was or her spirit or her character but still found ways to accept him and his culture and compromise.
“Lahn told me that when he claimed me, even in the moonlight, he saw my spirit shining in my eyes and it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. To me, he was raping me. To him, he was receiving a gift he’d treasure always. This is a contradiction that it is difficult to come to terms with and although it does not heal the pain we felt, a memory seared into our brains, the terror we experienced, I cannot say it does not provide just enough balm to allow me to live with it.”
Once I got over the brutality of their world or rather, just tried to accept their way of life, I was able to fully focus on the epicness of their swoon. And oh my freaking god was it ever EPIC and SWOONY. There would be pages and pages on end where I’d be grinning from ear to ear.
Lahn did do a lot of brutal things, but for some reason, I found myself forgiving him. Not excusing or justifying his actions or even accepting them, but understanding and forgiving him. And the SOLE reason I felt that was was that I could see and sense all along that he was really, genuinely trying to be a good guy by her standards. He was trying to adapt and compromise. And yes, there were times when he screwed up, hmmmm, no, more like where he really effing f*cked the hell up, but he got better, progressively. That was his redeeming quality in my eyes.
And, let me tell you, when this big guy f*cks up. He royally f*cks up. But I loved that he realized it and he was prepared to grovel (well, lol, in a kingly brutish swoony way, but still) to get/earn her forgiveness. A big Alpha guy who is Alpha enough to apologize and ask for forgiveness without losing an ounce of his Alpha-ness (and also, more importantly, learn from his mistake) is the kind of character I pretty much just fall head over heels in love with.
I kind of also think that I might have been more okay with the issues in this book than the last one because despite the brutality of them, they are out in the open. This isn’t about deception or doing something behind someone’s back. This is just about the clear cultural RIFT between two people who come from vastly different worlds.
Yes, its sickeningly BRUTAL, but nothing that happened was meant in any way to harm. To me, despite the horrific brutality of the actions, it made the actions much more forgivable.
“Your king did not break through with me until his touch stopped taking and started giving and until, in our cham, he treated me with kindness. He is the mightiest of Suh Tunak, recognized the battle he had on his hands, analyzed it, created his strategy and then he went about winning that battle using any means necessary. And…my Lahn won that battle. I now lay awake at night waiting for him to return. When he does not, I fall asleep looking forward to the morning when he will wake me with his hands. He is my king, he is my warrior, he is my husband and I am proud to say above all…he is mine.”
One of my favorite things about this book was watching both of them learn each other’s language. KA did an incredible job of creating a believable, beautiful sounding and fairly detailed Korwakh language and I loved that I actually started being able to understand what they were saying without translation. But seriously, when Lahn spoke English, even when he only knew a few words, my heart just melted into a puddle of goo. “Rest, baby.” *swoooooon*
“Oh shit, yeah. He could be sweet.
And that sucked.
“You know what sucks? I whispered to him, doing it because I knew he would have no clue to a word I was saying. “It sucks that you can be sweet and when you’re sweet you’re really sweet. That sucks.”
He didn’t stop tenderly stroking my hair as I spoke but his eyes dropped to my mouth and when I was done, they came back to mine.
Then my heart squeezed when he whispered back, “I don’t understand you, baby.”
There it was again. Sweet.
I lifted a hand and placed it on his chest. He looked down at it but his eyes came back to mine when I spoke.
“Out there, King Lahn is a fierce warrior but in here, my Lahn… kah Lahn is sweet.”
His eyes changed, intensity shifting in when he murmured, “Fierce warrior, sweet.”
I grinned at him. “You’ve sort of got it.”
“Fierce warrior, sweet,” he muttered again.
Honestly, I don’t know what else to say about this book except the scenes in it are epic!!! Everything from ceremonies to rides to contests to executions to tender, beautiful private time to hot intense private time…
I totally fell into this world and into this story. Lahn and Circe’s love was beautiful and romantic and I utterly adored this book despite parts of it being hard to stomach. It definitely made my favorites shelf.
Rating: 5++ STARS!! Can standalone.
*** FANTASYLAND SERIES ***