The first book in a new series by H.L. Day, The Reluctant Companion is a light-hearted fantasy adventure featuring an opposites-attract romance between a snarky farm boy and a handsome charmer who team up – reluctantly, as the title suggests – to undertake a quest, and fall for each other along the way. It’s a lot of fun with plenty of action and adventure, a nicely evoked faux-medieval setting and two engaging leads; it’s a great start to the series and I really enjoyed it.
Jack Straw is twenty-six and has lived pretty much his entire life in his small village on his family farm. But when we meet him, he’s sitting somewhat forlornly in a tavern miles from home wondering whether to continue the search for his missing sister, Annabelle, or if his dwindling resources mean he will have to return home without finding any news of her. His musings are interrupted when a small monkey drops onto the table and starts chittering angrily at him before jumping down and disappearing out the door. It’s only then that Jack notices his purse has also disappeared.
Dashing out into the street, Jack is in time to see the monkey making its way along the street at roof-level and follows, his eyes fixed on the animal until he bumps into a large, shirtless man whose good looks (and very tight trousers) are so utterly mesmerising that it’s a second or two before Jack notices the monkey sitting on his shoulder. Angry now, Jack demands the return of his money – only for the monkey to vanish in a shower of golden sparks. It figures. Not only is this guy gorgeous – and thoroughly aware of it – he’s been blessed with magic, too.
Sebastian – Bast to his friends – is rather delighted by the sharp-tongued and furious young man in front of him – being berated is such a refreshing change from being fawned over! He listens to Jack’s torrent of insults with good humour and then proposes a compromise. He needs the money to use as a stake in a gaming tournament the next day, and when he wins, he’ll be able to pay Jack way more money than was in the purse. Jack begrudgingly agrees, and the next day sees them heading off towards the town of Clearwater and the tournament – on what will turn out to be the first of many adventures.
Jack and Sebastian are a wonderful odd-couple. Jack may be sheltered and a bit naïve, but he’s courageous and doesn’t take any crap, and where Sebastian seems like a bit of a self-centred himbo, he is gradually revealed to be far more shrewd and far more generous of spirit than he at first appears.
I’m a sucker for well-written snark, and H.L. Day’s brand of it definitely works for me. The banter and quips flow quickly between these two, Sebastian capably fielding Jack’s sarcastic comments and giving as good as he gets. Attraction sparks between them from their first meeting, but Jack makes it very clear he’s not going to be just another notch on Sebastian’s bedpost; men like him are too accustomed to getting what they want and Jack recognises the potential for heartbreak. But as he gets to know Sebastian and to realise that there’s more to him than sex appeal and arrogance, Jack begins to wonder if having a bit of fun before they go their separate ways would be such a bad thing.
Jack and Sebastian have great chemistry and I enjoyed their slow burn romance, even though I’d have liked to feel a bit more of an emotional connection between them. That said, the book ends on a very firm HFN, and as it’s the first in a series, there’s clearly more to come. I’m intrigued by the hints at a mystery surrounding Sebastian – he’s clearly hiding something – and am eager to know more. The book is fast-paced, as Jack and Sebastian rush from one dangerous situation to another, and it’s nicely done, always on the move without being chaotic or too busy. On the negative side, I was a bit surprised at the ease with which Jack gives up the search for his sister – I’m guessing that perhaps that storyline will be picked up in a future instalment, so I’m not dinging the book for it – and something happens towards the end (after Jack has returned home) that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Overall though, I’m happy to recommend The Reluctant Companion to anyone looking for a light-hearted, magical adventure romp with plenty of action, a lot of laughs and a well-drawn central couple who express affection through snark.
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