Title: Malachite (Paladin Cycle #1)
Author: Kirby Crow
Genre: High fantasy, M/MRelease Date: 01 Jan 2016
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My rating: 3.5 Stars
Marion Casterline is the highwarden of Malachite, an ancient, beautiful city floating in a shallow sea. In the aftermath of a brutal gang war, there is finally peace in the city, and new life every year through the sacred ritual of Aequora. Through Aequora, exiles, outlaws, and orphans can become citizens of Malachite. This ritual is vital to the city's survival, because Malachite is populated only by males.
Jean Rivard grew up in the Zanzare slums at Marion's side. As boys, they were branded into the violent Teschio gangs ruling the criminal underworld of Malachite. Known in the slums as the Prince, Jean became a spy, an assassin, and Marion's lover. As men, they worked together to destroy the Teschio and crown Kon Sessane as magestros of the city, only to drift apart after the battles were won: Jean to the Black Keep, Marion to the grand halls of the Consolari.
When Marion announces his engagement to Kon's son, Jean is hurt and resentful. Marion is leaving him and their past behind in every possible way. Marion also believes that he's starting a new life, but when a charismatic rebel leader kindles a revolt in the slums, he realizes that the only man who can prevent war from devouring the city he loves is his very own prince.
This is my first book by Kirby Crow and can also be considered my first try of M/M high fantasy. I was curious to read this story after seeing the blurb and I absolutely loved the cover.
This is a well written, complex story and while I loved some elements in it, there were others that made me feel uneasy and uncomfortable.
This is the first book in a new series and as such there is a lot of world building and scene setting. It felt a bit overwhelming at the beginning though I appreciate the complex and quite intriguing world Ms Crow has set on creating.
There is a love story at the heart of the this book but I'd classify it as high fantasy with strong romantic elements rather than a fantasy romance.
The plot moves between the present and past while telling the story of Marrion and Jean and young Tris who has become part of their lives quite unexpectedly and his presence provoked profound changes in both older men.
I wasn't sure how I felt about the romantic relationship initially but by the end of the book I was totally convinced that they all ended at the right place for them. It was a very moving and satisfying journey in terms of romance. I admit the casual attitude towards sex, the multiple partners they (well, in fact, just Jean) entertained throughout the story was not my favourite element in it but at the same time it did not bother me too much. It is a matter of personal preference and attitude towards love and sex, not a weakness of the story.
My biggest issue with this book is the way women were presented/erased from the fantasy world Ms Crow created. This bit of my review might have some spoilers, so if that bothers you, please keep it in mind and proceed with caution. There are no women in Malachite, or rather we are led to believe so initially. There are other kingdoms run be women and they are all presented as vicious, aggressive (humiliating, mistreating, raping the men, sending them in exile). It all felt misogynistic and hurtful to me. later on, Tris' mother is briefly mentioned and the way I see it, once again we have a woman presented in a negative light - not loving, caring enough to stay on the island (in hiding) and be with her son. The treatment and presentation of women as whole was problematic for me. It's a plot line that will hopefully be further developed in the next books and I hope things will go in a more positive light, but they didn't quite work for me here.
To be completely honest I feel somewhat ambiguous about the whole society in Malachite. I read it as imperfect and deeply problematic but I'm not sure if that was the author's message or she wanted to present it as a good/better alternative to the other matrichal society mentioned in the book and our present-day society. It could my failure to grasp the author's intentions but it could equally be a weakness of the author's writing not making the situation cleat enough. I keep going over and over that and still have not fully made up my mind how I feel about it.
Overall, I'd say Malachite was an interesting read, thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. I loved the writing - strong and highly imaginative. Despite my issues with some elements in the story, I'm curious how this series will continue and would love read the next book.
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