I'll admit: I started off unimpressed, and I didn't really expect my assessment to improve. The fact that the story won me over to a score of 3.5 at minimum - which is the score I use for those books I deem "enjoyable despite the fact that they have some issues" - means that I'm sitting here feeling impressed against my will. 'Cause I really did like this book.
The plot was narrower in scope than I think I was expecting, but it worked. Lyon was a sorcerer before a tragic accident scarred him physically and psychologically (I'm understating; dude was messed up) and sent him running for isolation. Fifteen years later, making a living doing translations only possible due to a side-effect of the tragedy, with his issues barely improved, old friend Tobin comes a-knocking, insisting that Lyon accompany him back to the king for a translation job and not taking no for an answer. Oh, and though they didn't realize it when they were kids together, they both happen to be "fay," which is this world's way of saying they both get hot for other dudes.
I'll start with the one thing I had the biggest problem with: the characterizations. Lyon was a hot mess, but it just didn't quite ring true, especially in the opening chapters.
[****SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT JUST FOR THE EARLIEST CHAPTERS****]
If he was going to be so screwed up that he'd fight the trip back to the king tooth and nail, he didn't put up enough of a fight. If he gave in too quickly because he knew deep down that he didn't want to live in isolation anymore, that internal struggle wasn't evident enough. Essentially, it read like a foot-stamping tantrum ("NO! I WON'T GO! NO-NO-NO!!") that morphed into acceptance ("You're not buying that? OK, fine, I'll go.") a little too quickly and unbelievably. The reason he finally caved was of the "I know how stubborn you are, Tobin" variety, and that's lame. Traveling was either a traumatic enough notion that Lyon should have been stubborner - I kept expecting him to attempt suicide, or run away - or there should have been some evidence of an internal battle to rise above the crazy.
The characters' personalities continued to make me feel skeptical throughout the book, although not quite as much as Lyon did at first. Tobin was ever patient with his nutjob boyfriend, and it would have felt a little more realistic had he let some exasperation shine through just once, just a little. Maybe even worse was toward the end when Lyon finds himself in a predicament that has a few too many similarities to his traumatic past. The words about the panic and terror are there, but they feel perfunctory and...not enough. It seems odd when Lyon suddenly panics after a good long stretch where he seems just fine, and there's no, or not enough, elaboration on his internal struggles. I read about Lyon's fear. I read about his panic. I read about his dread. What I didn't do is actually feel those emotions along with him. The intensity doesn't shine through.
That lack of authentic emotion and response is probably the only thing I really didn't care for with the book. Actually, that's not very fair of me. It's not that the emotion is perpetually inauthentic, it's just that there are a few too many moments that didn't strike home. And truly, there was a lot there that's good.
One thing that makes me almost preemptively cringe is when female authors write gay love scenes; often they're overly-saccharine, and sometimes they border on the absurd. (I'll never forget the book I read where a virgin bottoms for the first time without lube or preparation...and enjoys it.) The love scenes in this one redeem the genre.
[****SPOILERS, PART TWO****]
I'm not saying there was no temptation to roll my eyes ever, but...Tobin bottoms. Cheerfully. And he likes it. And he's the butch one. For some reason, the main character in these books is inevitably the "weaker" or "more feminine" of the couple. I've wondered if it has to do, at least in part, with female authors being more comfortable in general writing from the receptive point of view, but in any case, it's nice to see something different. It's nice to have one more thing in the arsenal dispelling the myth that real men can't like it up the duff, and that the smaller, weaker, emotional one in the pair has to be the one to spread his legs.
The book was well-edited. If you've had any experience with e-books - particularly the self-published ones, but OCR-scanned books have their share of issues - you know what a relief that can be. Harper's language was well-chosen as well. Often funny, and it stayed nestled nicely between too simplistic and too florid. This author knows how to write!
Like I said above, the plot was a narrow one - a sweeping epic this is not - but it was well-executed. The story told fits the characters and the setting and the length. There was a very nice balance between action and inaction; it was never too busy or confusing, and yet it was never boring. I won't say it blew my mind, but I'll readily admit that I stayed up too late in order to keep turning pages.
The world was a delightful one, and one that I'd like to see more of. Lost magical arts, undead summoning, monarchies with nefarious neighbors, barbarian tribes...none of that is new. It was, however, well done and immersive. It was all nicely explained through introduction rather than lecture. I also didn't catch any of the anachronisms that sometimes spring up in these pre-industrial sorts of worlds. Everything fit.
This review is probably longer than the book now, so I'll just wrap up by saying that had it not been for the "offness" of some of the characters' thoughts and actions, this book would have been pushing five stars. Even with that offness, I heartily enjoyed it and will certainly be looking through this author's other works. It's a good book indeed.