Desert Isle Keeper
The Ippos King
The Ippos King is the third book in Grace Draven’s Wraith Kings series. Everything that happens in this story is a continuation of events that took place in the previous volumes, so I strongly encourage the books be read in order.
The Wraith Kings defeated the demon horde known as the galla and drove them back to hell, but it seems the battle is not truly over. At least not for Serovek Pangion, margrave (ruler) and lord of High Salure, a fortress/estate on the border between Beladine and Kai. He is still plagued by nightmares, dreams which leave him with tremendous guilt over his lost comrade in arms, the Jeden monk Meggido. As a warrior, Serovek has lost men in combat before but that had never included watching their soul be sucked into an unearned spot in hell. The thought of Meggido’s spirit enduring relentless horrific suffering and eternal torture haunts him, even though Meggido’s sacrifice was made willingly. It makes it worse knowing that Meggido’s ensorceled body remains strong, lying in what seems to be peaceful slumber as it waits for his soul to be reunited with his physical form. When Serovek receives a note from the monk’s brother asking that he take Megiddo’s body to the Jeden monastery, he immediately agrees to do so. Perhaps it will alleviate some of the guilt which plagues him.
Anhuset, second in command (sha) to Brishen, regent of the Kai Kingdom, is worried. She has seen strange magic at work around her liege and believes the problem is associated with Brishen’s tenure as the leader of the Wraith Kings. Concerned this might mean that they will lose him to the spirit realm or that worse it is an indication that the galla still have some sort of gateway to the living world, Anhuset jumps at the chance to join Serovek on his trip to the Jeden monastery. Perhaps Serovek can explain what is happening to Brishen or if not, maybe the monks can.
The Kai are grey skinned, cat eyed warriors with sharp fangs and sharper claws. They see the pink skinned, blunt toothed, horse eyed humans as ugly and the humans believe the same of them. Well, mostly. Brishen has come to find his human wife – Ildiko – beautiful as he’s grown to see the wonderful woman she is within. And Serovek has always looked beneath the surface with Anhuset, and seen a woman whom he both admires and desires. She has responded to his flirtation with quick wit, remarks that take the sting out of her rejections with a rough edged humor that he loves.
The trip allows Anhuset to truly see underneath Serovek’s surface and to discover a man with whom she desires to be intimate. However, their journey is fraught with peril and it may be that Anhuset has discovered her romantic interest in him too late to act upon it.
Woody Allen once said that, “Men learn to love the woman they are attracted to. Women learn to become attracted to the man they fall in love with.” That is certainly true of this couple. Serovek has always been very attracted to Anhuset; he loves her long, lean warrior’s form, her strength, her wit, her fierce loyalty, her fighting ability. The shared intimacy of campfire meals and long days in the saddle as they journey to the monastery add depth to that attraction as they allow him to also see the caring, attentive companion she can be. I appreciated that Serovek treats Anhuset as an equal from the beginning. He has no need to one-up her and she had no need to prove herself to him; they rely on each other as teammates from the start. I also appreciated that as he spent time with her, he made an effort to see beyond his fascination with her to discover the person she truly is inside.
Anhuset has always found humans exceptionally ugly, and she has no desire to sleep with Serovek, in spite of his reputation as an exceptionally well endowed and skilled lover. She has, however, always admired his prowess on the battlefield, and their road trip gives her a chance to watch him in action up close. She’s impressed. She’s equally admiring of his leadership abilities, his intelligence, his savvy, and his political acumen (a skill she completely lacks). Serovek uses smooth words and kind gestures where she is all blunt speech and snarling insults. She likes the firm control he has over his temper and the respect he receives from all who know him. Her opinion of his appearance slowly changes as she begins to see it as a reflection of the man she admires. Once that takes place, she decides she does find him handsome after all. I loved that their physical intimacy was a result of their deepening emotional relationship.
The old saying “there is nothing new under the sun” is certainly true of fantasy tales. The world of the Wraith Kings resembles, in many ways, that of any epic taking place in a pseudo-middle ages. The author relies strongly on her characters and plots to bring unique elements to this oft used environment ,with the setting fitting neatly into the background as it is supposed to do. When things need to be explained there is no big info dump but instead, simple explanations are woven seamlessly into the narrative and we move on with the story.
Anhuset is one of the best depictions of the warrior woman I’ve seen in a romance. She’s practical, stoic, fits in well with the men she fights with, and doesn’t change a bit to accommodate her new found love for Serovek. I liked that the couple isn’t involved in a power struggle but rely on each other’s strengths to make them a more powerful whole.
My one complaint about the book is that I occasionally felt overwhelmed by the battle sequences. The romance did its best to take place around them (and even within them in some cases!) and I appreciated Ms. Draven showing us that their shared identities as soldiers served as one of their strongest unifying points. I would still have appreciated a few less kick ass moments and a few more showing how Anhuset was going to fit into Serovek’s role as margrave.
That’s a quibble, though, in an otherwise wonderful love story. I would recommend The Ippos King to anyone who enjoys action-filled romance and the Wraith King series as a whole to anyone who loves fantasy romance. There is supposed to be a fourth novel on the way, and I can only hope it arrives very, very soon.