Title: The Shadow Mark
Author: Mason Thomas
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genres: Fantasy, Gay
Auraq Greystone, once a military officer with a promising future, exists on the fringe of society. Accused of murder, Auraq is on the run from the ax—until two fugitives crash into his solitary life. One is a young man named Kane. The glowing marks on his arm pulse with an otherworldly power, and they have made him the target of a sinister organization called the Order of the Jackal. When the old man protecting Kane dies in an ambush, Auraq swears an oath to take his place.
But the runes are far more significant than they realize. They are a message from the shadow realm, a dark memory of the past—one holding evidence of a bloody massacre and its savage architect; one that will shake the kingdom to its foundation. Risking arrest and execution, Auraq fights to get Kane to the capital city where the cryptic marking can be unlocked. And with assassins close on their trail, Auraq might never get the chance to show Kane what’s in his heart—or the way their journey together has changed him.
The Shadow Mark is an epic tale of magic, murder, conspiracy, betrayal, and—for the two men tasked with unraveling the mystery—love and redemption.
This one starts out with a bang. There’s so many fascinating things happening here that the romance becomes secondary to the superbly written plot. Thomas is an excellent writer who paints vivid, visceral landscapes, characters, and events. Thomas’s handling of battles, especially, shines as the reader can feel each and every punch, slash, and cut as if they themselves were on the receiving end. Top marks.
Another top mark comes from world-building. Though this is the second book in the Lords of Davenia series, it’s a standalone. Details and background of the world around the characters is given in tiny increments and shown with subtle but short descriptions or through dialogue. Everything else is left to the imagination, and it’s a wonderful choice of writing styles. It’s captivating, luring and drawing the reader in without fail. Once begun, the story must be completed practically in one sitting.
Fair warning: It’s worthy of note that this is far more a fantasy adventure than a romance. There’s only a kiss or two, no more. No hanky-panky of any kind. I admit, I was hoping for some intimacy. But the pace of the plot is tense and unyielding. Once the events are set in motion, there is virtually no reprieve, no chance to pause and take a breath. The pace moves swiftly and efficiently, without any annoying lulls or boring dialogue. In fact, I could not leave a single word unread. Not a single one. This book is masterfully written.
The only POV given is Auriq’s. It’s intriguing because it keeps Kane’s mystery, well, a mystery. Both men are still well described individuals, with their own ways of doing things. Auriq is the strong silent type while Kane is a pretty regular guy thrust into the thick of things because of strange magecraft by accident. Kane could have been a bit more fleshed out, I suppose, but his character as a steadfast young man was shown adequately.
In the beginning, the interaction between the two men was wonderful to follow, the dialogue snappy and witty, the chemistry hot and heavy. Toward the end, though, as Kane grows weaker and events spiral out of control, they had less chances to interact, and that was a real shame. Personally I would have preferred more scenes with these two alone, even just talking and getting to know each other. Nonetheless, this wasn’t enough for me to lower my rating. Why? Because of the story and the plot which, like a storm, races toward the end at a breathless pace, urging the reader to continue until the very last word.
From forest and hamlets to palaces and cities, we get to see a lot. Thomas’s writing brings us there, to travel alongside the (anti)heroes as they make their way through the kingdom in a desperate escape from monsters and assassins. Never was there a dull moment. There’s plenty of action, sword-fighting and battles, narrow escapes and tense chases, magic and palace intrigue. We learn about the world through the people, through merchants, soldiers, mages, palace noblemen, and so on. I was drawn in, and I loved it.
The rest of the review would undoubtedly merely repeat what I’ve already stated, with a whole host of more glorifying adjectives. If you’re not too hung up on expectations of sensuality with your gay romances and you appreciate the fantasy genre, I wholeheartedly recommend this book, and likely this series. I know I’ll be checking out the first book, Lord Mouse, and whatever comes later.
Reviewed by: Susan
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