Title: The Stagsblood Prince
Series: The Stagsblood Trilogy: Book One
Author: Gideon E. Wood
Publisher: Amazon/Kindle Unlimited
Length: 390 Pages
Rating: 4 Stars
At a Glance: The Stagsblood Prince is not a romance novel. There is no happily-ever-after when all is said and done, there isn’t even a happy-for-now to cling to, and I read certain parts of it while blinking away tears of grief. That being said, the story and the world-building are beautifully done.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: The stagsblood gave him powerful magic. But it can’t give him back what he’s lost…or what he will lose.
Tel, sexy crown prince of Feigh, has negotiated an end to the war between his country and the strange queendom of Omela. He looks forward to an easy reign of wild parties and wilder men. The deities have other ideas, however, in this chronicle of transformation, redemption, and love.
When his father dies suddenly, Tel is outmaneuvered by his brother, losing the throne. Tel’s faith prohibits him from raising his sword and spilling blood, so he accepts the humiliation, working to temper his brother’s baser impulses. But the new king’s reign takes a dark turn, and his collaborators begin to round up undesirables, including those with a magic called the stagsblood.
Tel must decide: Flee or fight? Running means abandoning his people to his brother’s evil whims. Standing his ground means the sin of total war. He has no army and only a few allies—and his magical secret.
Caip, his closest friend and protector, brings military experience and blunt advice. Her right hand, Dar, is the picture of loyalty. Tough, battle-scarred Bin doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And Vared, a mysterious singer-turned-diplomat from Omela, speaks the truth to Tel in ways no one else can.
Review: There is one potentially significant detail about this book I’m going to offer up front: The Stagsblood Prince is not a romance novel. There is no happily-ever-after when all is said and done, there isn’t even a happy-for-now to cling to, and I read certain parts of it while blinking away tears of grief. That being said, the story and the world-building are beautifully done, and the Prince of Feigh’s journey, one of pain and loss and sorrow and redemption, is worthy of the compliments I’m about to pay the book and its author.
Prince Tel is on a diplomatic mission to the country of Omela, meeting with the queen—whom he calls friend—and finalizing a peace accord between the two countries when he learns of not only his father’s death but that his younger brother, Lag, has had Tel declared unfit to reign and usurped the throne. Gideon E. Wood sets out to give his readers an unlikely hero as he shows us Tel has a long history of drowning in alcohol to numb his deep seated feelings of grief and loss, and taking any and every willing man to bed, not to mention Tel never really wanted to be the king to begin with, so instead, he’s resigned to his place as advisor to his brother; simply put, Tel will assume the role of the conscience of the king, knowing Lag will be neither a benevolent nor a wise ruler. Tel will have to play the angel on Lag’s shoulder to offset the ostensible devil—their uncle—on the other, whispering incitements in the new monarch’s ear and whipping up enmity under the guise of loyalty to crown and country. That nothing goes to plan is not a surprising turn of events.
Tel is a good man despite his very public transgressions, what many deem turpitude. He is conscientious when needs must—his best friend, closest ally, and sworn protector, Caip, does her best to steer him—and his faith dictates his role as a pacifist as well as affords him a power he’s kept to himself, out of fear and self-preservation as much as anything else. The magic system plays a significant role in the world-building in the story, and for Tel in particular, and the author details those things skillfully as the rise in danger builds. When Tel returns to Feigh along with the Omelans who will act as ambassadors of their country—one of them being a songmaker, Vared, who has little regard for the Feigh prince but whose unwavering candor also inspires a necessary rehabilitation of Tel’s character—Tel learns his noble intent to work with his brother will not only be rebuffed but that if he, Tel, is to preserve his father’s legacy of good will toward all, he will be forced to fight a war for peace against his brother.
Bitter nationalism and the desire for ethnic cleansing give fuel to King Lag’s zealotry. Hatred of the “other” makes Feighan purity the end-goal and means Tel will become a traitor to the crown but, on the flip side, a hero to the persecuted, the sort of ruler to whom many will pledge allegiance when he’s crowned King Tel, if in name only, while others will scorn him for his treason and betrayal of his country and heritage, Tel’s cause a noble one even as his thirst for victory contradicts his spiritual tenets. Wood lays out these details in a way that absorbs the reader into the alternate world and invests us in the nobility of the opposition’s cause all while presenting the conundrum of taking a life in the brutalist of ways in the name of advancing a cause and restoring unity, and what that costs not only Tel but those who have sworn allegiance to him.
While, as I said, The Stagsblood Prince is not a romance novel, there is a romantic component to the story as, over time, Tel and Vared’s friendship strengthens, and they form a deeper bond, but the price of war is, ultimately, incalculable. Theirs is a slow and steady building of mutual want and need set against a backdrop of danger to life, to country, to soul, and Tel discovers once again the depths of anguish he is capable of enduring. The author sets the emotional tone for this in lovely and gut-wrenching ways, making Tel’s anguish a living and palpable thing, and the intensity of it only elevated the depths of my empathy for him.
A fully realized world, elemental magic system, diverse characters, and spirituality centered in nature provide the roots for the story, while the deep moral and ethical failings of the purity-minded who would rather decimate entire cultures and ethnicities than peacefully coexist makes a statement not terribly difficult to parse out. While some of the buildup to the inevitable battle was slower in pace at times (which will hopefully be ironed out in subsequent books now that the foundation of the -verse is laid), the attention to detail was ultimately necessary in order to fully appreciate the danger and the sacrifices that would be made, and the outcome when Tel finally confronts his brother and discovers the secret Lag had kept that reveals his own hypocrisy.
If you like high fantasy, appreciate an imperfect hero whose character arc comes with some heartache and tragedy and pain, but with loyal friends and stalwart allies too, and a message or two along the way about love and acceptance, The Stagsblood Prince introduces all those things and more in a compelling debut.
You can buy The Stagsblood Prince here:
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