The Princes Man (The Five Kingdoms #1)
By Deborah Jay
5 out of 5
Think James Bond meets Lord of the Rings. Award-winning fantasy, THE PRINCE'S MAN, is a sweeping tale of spies and deadly politics, inter-species mistrust and magic phobia, with a touch of romance.
Rustam Chalice, hedonist, dance tutor and spy, loves his life, never better than when he's bedding a gorgeous woman. So when the kingdom he serves is threatened from within, he leaps into action.
Only trouble is, the spy master, Prince Halnashead, teams him up with an untouchable aristocratic assassin who despises him.
And to make matters worse, she's the most beautiful woman in the Five Kingdoms.
Plunged into a desperate journey through the mountains, the mismatched pair struggle to survive deadly wildlife, the machinations of a spiteful god - and each other.
They must also keep alive a sickly elf they need as a political pawn. But when the elf reveals that Rustam has magic of his own, he is forced to question his identity, his sanity, and worse, his loyalty to his prince.
For in Tyr-en, all magic users are put to death.
Tyr-en is one of the Five Kingdoms, and prides itself on being the most educated and civilised. But even in a country run by noble Families (all ranked by land and wealth), not everybody is acting honestly.
The closest relative to King Marten, Prince Halnashead, is in charge of security and recruits those best at playing the game of subterfuge. Two of his best agents are Charmer and Dart must work together to discover who is behind a plot to usurp the throne.
Rustam, also known as Charmer (no further explanation needed) is a talented dancer, who is confident in himself and in his unswerving loyalty to Halnashead and Marten. He never feels out of his depth, and his only real worry is making sure his appearance remains perfect.
Risada, our assassin Dart, is on the surface a respectable lady of the Second house. She keeps herself distant from the rest of the nobles, hardened by a constant fear and worry for her younger brother, and a desire to finally find her parents' killer.
The story initially revolves around the splendour of the noble houses, where the game is much more subtle, while they hone in on their suspects. But when they find things are on a bigger scale than they could have imagined, they suddenly finding themselves in the wilderness as they try to both escape their enemy and find new allies.
Jay paints a vivid world, that we are treated to in this dangerous adventure that tests our heroes to every limit. Including having them question everything they had ever taken for granted.
Rustam's trials and changes are most clearly portrayed. He was a very effective spy, but he develops some very useful extra skills, as well as throwing off the shallow persona and actually taking time to think about the world around him.
Risada stays true to herself, and to her friends the whole way through, but it is clear that the adventure has also opened her mind to possibilities she never considered.
I loved all the extra characters that were around, either in the background, or just coming forward for a chapter or two. They were all convincingly strong and well-written.
Princess Annasala; Betha; Leith - Jay has a knack for writing strong female characters.
And of course, we can't forget Nightstalker!
There were a couple of niggles I had with reading this story that stopped the flow a little. I found the section in the mountains, and the repeated troll problem a little long; I just wanted them to get to Kishtan.
Also I found it unclear how old Lord Melcard was, he kept being described as a handsome man, with dark features, always very reserved etc. I got the feeling that he was slightly older than Rustam and Marten etc. But then there was the reveal that the elf had been captive for possibly 30 years or more, which would make him twice that if he had been the one to do the capturing.
There was also a small issue with the format of the text. Whenever an Italic thought was used, the font of the whole paragraph was larger. I thought my eyes were playing tricks at first.
But overall, a bloody good read, with adventure and plenty of amusing turns. I can't wait for the next in the series!