“All magic is beautiful,” she said, “and terrible. Do you not see the beauty in yours, or the terror in mine? You can stop a heart, and I can stop your breath.”
She is heir to a Sultanate that once ruled the world. He is an unwanted prince with the power to destroy.
She is order and intellect, a woman fit to rule in a man’s place. He is chaos and violence and will stop at nothing to protect his people.
His magic answers hers with shadow for light. They need each other, but the cost of balance may be too high a price. Magic is dying and the only way to save it is to enlist mages who wield the forbidden power of death, mages cast out centuries ago in a brutal and bloody war.
Now, a new war is coming. Science and machines to replace magic and old religion.
They must find a way to save their people from annihilation and balance the sacred Wheel—but first, they will have to balance their own forbidden passion. His peace for her tempest, his restlessness for her calm…
Night and day, dusk and dawn, the end, and the beginning.
trigger warning: misogyny, alzeimers, prejudice, violence, war, sibling abuse, use of the word barbarian.
Reign & Ruin is highly detailed, political, and intensely romantic. Every character from Makram to the Viziers to the spy behind the door feels as if they could walk away from Evans’ cursor and live their life separate from their creator. Everyone feels so real.The way Naime grabs Makram’s neck with her nails, the snap of a book as its shut, Makram laying his head on Naime’s stomach, the rattle of the snowstorm outside. Everything feels intensely alive.
In this world, we meet people with elemental magic abilities. Fire mages, air mages, earth mages, death mages all live in a world where the Republic strives to strip the world of its mages and its magic. A heroine can capture a man’s breath and a hero can make his clothes disintegrate. While reading I couldn’t help but feel like this world is very like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. J.D. Evans meshes traditional fantasy tropes, western fantasy tropes, and inspirations from the historical Ottoman Empire. It seems a jumble of inspirations that I can’t really pin down as a single thing.
Naime is a princess, an air mage, and our heroine.
She wishes to keep her people safe from the Republic, who desire to control the lands of not only her people but also the people of the man she falls in love with. Behind the doors and into their private chambers, her father’s health is failing. His daughter struggles to keep a tight hand on the Viziers while also barely keeping her father’s mind invisible to the viziers sharp eyes.
Naime is not without power in this world but not all women in her world are given such privileges as a princess. This is a world that gives some power to women but not others. The viziers tell her she needs to choose a husband but she has never wanted a man by her side. Naime wishes to be given the power her father graciously gives her but the men of his court do not. They honor her place of privilege but do not fully give her the respect she wants. When she secretly sends a letter (with the idea that she is her father) to Sarkum, Makram arrives to speak with her father. And then the courtly stabbing commences.
She wants to lead her people as a powerful woman deserving of a seat, like any man of her status.
Two men from Sarkum arrive. Makram, prince and brother to Sarkum’s leader and Tareck, warrior and a foodie. Naime and Makram don’t get along in the beginning. All of the swords, none of the sweet.
I love that there is a diversity of culture, traditions, queer people, and skin tones. Tamar and Sarkum are enemy nations and therefore don’t always agree on what is best for the land or for their own people. Tamar and Sarkum have done some bad and good things; they are not easily definable nor do they fit in an easily categorized box. Tamar people are more reserved and Sarkum people are more action based.
This book is rich with detail and specifically deals with the close room politics between those in positions of power. One of the most gripping aspects (aside from a lot of things) are the scenes when Naime is ripping into the Viziers.
Her favorite thing, in my honest opinion, is to give men tongue lashings.
Let me do some Naime praising for a second. J.D. Evans takes that misogynistic notion that beauty is demure and submissive and lights a fire under their asses by giving us a ball busting heroine rising from the ashes and making them all bend to her great and terrible beauty. She’s that type of heroine and maybe I have a crush on her? A little bit (very). There was a whole bad bitch moment with Makram’s brother and I was even scared of her. The heroine. I was scared of the heroine.
Listen. If you love alpha heroines this girl is catnip for you. She is also not afraid of saying cock out loud and I would sincerely love to see that more in romance.
Naime and Makram go from ‘definitely find that person annoying’ to ‘wow great chest’’ to ‘wait feelings? shit’ to ‘stay forever? answer yes/no.’
Evans knows how to make me feel like Makram really cares what she thinks, and more than a few times had me sobbing. Makram is a rare hero in that he doesn’t sacrifice not getting along with the heroine with disrespecting the heroine. He always has a value for her command in politics. He never takes away her choices for her. She’s always involved in the decisions they make together. No sleeping with the heroine only to take away her rights trope here.
Evans builds that romance slowly but surely and once you get to those romantic scenes? Boom. You realize how truly gorgeous prose is missing from traditionally published romances and it pisses you off. Those slow touches and soft voices mixed with elegant prose is what I need in a slow burn. It’s why I’ve never truly found the type of slow burns in romance that I need. They’re all in genre fantasy, never in romance genre.
Naime’s hands flew to his neck, her nails digging against his nape, clinging as much as she was pleading, afraid and enraptured by every emotion and sensation that swept over her. Her entire world collapsed in and existed only in the places they touched.
That’s me swooning.
“Say them all, so I have them when I cannot remember the way your touches feel.”
That’s me sobbing on my kindle.
This book is honestly going to be a favorite and it was nearly perfect for me. While I absolutely was floored by this novel (sob) I did have an issue with Naime making Makram angry like her viziers would have done in the courtroom to show him what he will have to face. She uses the viziers prejudice as though she’s repeating what they would say. In this sense, she can be very calculating. The prejudice the viziers have towards Sakrum people is critiqued. I want to make that clear. There is an analyzation of the way prejudice between people is born, even between people that are neighbors. Naime tries to teach Makram how different their traditions are from his own and wants to make sure he doesn’t say or do something that negatively impacts their arguments but it rubbed me the wrong way. Rather, it’s the excuse that she gives that bothered me. Naime tells Makram his behavior in their court could be perceived negatively and therefore used against them but she could have just warned him without making him feel like he was being insulted. I would have understood better if Naime was being critiqued through the text but that was rather unclear to me.
Aside from my one critique, I loved this book. I can see myself using it as a comfort read. J.D. Evans terrorized me with an alpha heroine, a sweet hero, prose like air and destruction, and a romance so real I can hear it. I want romances as sinister and seductive as this.