Have you ever been scared to start a sequel? Sometimes the first book in a series just works so well, with all the pieces fitting together, that it’s hard to think of topping it – sometimes it seems hard to even match it! I recently read Assassin’s Gambit, the first of the Hearts and Thrones series, quite recently, and was excited to read the next – until I actually got it. And then I spent a week or two reading the first page and putting it back down. There was nothing wrong with those first few pages, but I already felt so invested in the characters from the first book that I wasn’t sure I could find room for our new couple, Rhianne and Janto. I am so glad, though, I got past my hesitation, because this story was definitely worth the read.
Rhianne is Imperial Princess of Kjall, a militaristic nation, who is about to be married off to Augustan, a military leader and future governor of Mosar. Well, he’ll be the future governor if Kjall is finally able to subdue Mosar, killing its nobles and royals and taking its people as slaves. Deciding that learning the language of the newest country to fall to Kjall would be a good thing, Rhianne calls over a palace garden slave, Janto, to help her with pronunciation. But Janto isn’t just a slave – he’s a mage and the Mosari crown prince. And he’s there as a spy, to stop the Kjall invasion and save his country. Fully prepared to hate the Kjallans, Janto is surprised at Rhianne’s desire to learn more about those her country is planning to subjugate, and then attracted to her mind and soul. But she has no idea who he is, and he has no idea what he can do salvage the situation and keep them together.
The world-building in this series is definitely top-notch. All the different countries feel fully fleshed out, and the problems between them make sense. And the magic works beautifully. We get a bit more information about the different types of magic – mind mages, war mages, etc. Most of it isn’t flashy – war mages, for example, are simply very good fighters, and able to anticipate their enemies by more than just instinct. I thought it was rather fascinating. We also get a good amount of political machinations, and a lot of explanation about how things came to pass. Surprisingly, the explanations don’t grate – instead everything just works to further fill out the world. Things like slavery and conquest are not simply vilified, but instead are explained, and I really appreciated that – I may not approve of slavery or conquest, but having an actual, economic reason spelled out for Rhianne makes a lot more sense in terms of the world the characters live in.
Rhianne is also quite believable – smart, but basically trained to not ask too many questions, or appear too intelligent. After all, her job as princess is to make an advantageous match for her country. As she learns more from Janto about his country, and from her cousin Lucien (the hero from the first book, which takes place after this one in the timeline) about how Kjall really works, however, she has trouble simply accepting Augustan as her fiance and her role as governor’s wife. Watching her grow as an individual was fascinating.
Janto, on the other hand, didn’t grow much as an individual, but instead as a political figure, which I wasn’t expecting. He spends a lot of time in Kjall, but instead of learning the political secrets he was hoping for, he finds Rhianne and learns more about life in that country, both for its citizens and its slaves. And he uses this knowledge well later on, when he has to fight for him homeland. It’s really interesting to see his information build, and to see how he uses it all.
Unfortunately, while I loved the world, and I enjoyed both Rhianne and Janto, I didn’t get much from their relationship. They obviously care for each other, but with where they come from, and how much they go through as individuals, I really had trouble believing that it was so…easy. Looking back on it, I know that it wasn’t, but at the time there were a lot of things that didn’t feel addressed. The relations between the different countries are strained at best, openly and aggressively hostile at worst – how are Rhianne and Janto negotiating this politically? How is Rhianne dealing with Janto’s true identity? Not well, at first, but she seems to get over it a mite quickly for me to believe it. I much preferred the bits we see of them in the first novel in this series. (Also, Lucien, who is the hero from the first novel, was far less interesting and borderline unlikable in this story. That makes me sad, because he was fabulous in Assassin’s Gambit).
While I still enjoyed the first book more, Spy’s Honor definitely fits the feel and the history of the world the author has built. The characters are wonderfully realistic, the magic well thought-out, and the setting fully realized. I’m very much looking forward to the next book in this series, which comes out in April, and can definitely recommend them to romance and fantasy lovers alike.