Are you looking for a good horny summer read? I have the book for you: A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland. It’s coming out August 30th, 2022 and while it is not perfect, it is an excellent modern romance with details I hope we see more of in the genre.
A Taste of Gold and Iron is set in a not-unfamiliar world, a sort of reskinned Europe where the main setting of Arast is Turkey, nearby Oissos is Greece and Vinte is clearly France. Now often this can be done really lazily but Rowland hasn’t just slapped new names on things and called it good. They clearly did their homework when it came to using real world concepts and layering in the new ideas and fantasy. The result is a world that feels grounded and familiar enough that you don’t have to get lost learning an entire fantasy politics system or geography. Now, I’m on record as being the type of person that likes that thing, but I was honestly impressed at how seamless it all felt. It left the focus on the characters and the drama rather than spending an overly long time worldbuilding.
Our main two characters are Prince Kadou and his kahyalar (think bodyguard/manservant) Evemer. It’s the classic story: Prince accidentally gets Bodyguard’s friends horribly killed, Bodyguard gets assigned to shamed Prince, Prince has a panic attack…hmmmmm okay maybe not so classic. More on that panic attack later. Kadou and Evemer spend the book uncovering a plot against Kadou’s sister, the Sultan Zeliha, and also making a lot of oaths of fealty. The politics and ethics of power and fealty are a big theme in this book and the Kadou/Evemer dynamic hinges less on class than oaths, obedience and a hair washing scene that would make Charles Boyle sweat.
Where the book and the world shine are in their representation of LGBTQ+ matters. People of all genders and sexualities are very present in the narrative, and have their own internal lives and personalities beyond just being queer. One of my favorite things is that Rowland has introduced a third nonbinary style gender, oryasilar, who use Çe/Çir pronouns. The best part about oryasilar is that there is no in-world explanation for them, no side comment about some historical fact that justifies why there is a third gender here. Because nonbinary people don’t need special explanations. They exist and in this and any world, and we don’t need justification for that. Rowland just starts dropping characters using these pronouns and it’s great. Beyond that, the world of A Taste of Gold and Iron features people of all genders in all roles and power levels of society, again without explanation because you don’t need an in-world explanation for a female Sultan. They just happen.
Ostensibly, the villain of this book is the cohort scheming to take down Sultan Zeliha and her family, but I’m here to tell you the real villain of this book is anxiety. Full disclosure, I am neurotypical so take these comments with a grain of salt. Kadou spends most of the book battling not assassins but his own mind. As a young prince raised to understand that any exercise of his power will cause ripple effects and damage on the smallfolk, plus a healthy dose of what we would call clinical anxiety, Kadou is often a bit of a mess, though a highly relatable mess who sometimes can’t handle a conversation, drinks to self medicate, and experiences panic attacks. It features throughout the book and one of the best choices made by Rowland is that it isn’t “solved” at the end of the book. Anxiety isn’t something that gets solved by beating the bad guys and falling in love, it’s always going to be there for Kadou.
What worked: The world, the characters, the steaminess
What didn’t: Pacing, undeveloped villains
Ideal Reader: Anybody YA and up looking for a light summer read that’ll get you all hot and bothered under the collar
Another highlight of these books is the extremely steamy makeout scenes. They are excellent, Rowland does an incredible job building the tension and excitement of each moment without getting super graphic. As I said in my Siren Queen review, it’s always a delight to find a sexy sex scene that doesn’t need to invoke bodily fluids. Each scene is packed with emotion and sensuality without getting clinical.
Probably the only place the book really suffers is pacing, and I will fully admit this is more of a me problem than anything. It is a pretty slow start, with Rowland taking the time to really flesh out the characters and their relationships. It absolutely pays off in the back half of the book where I was cackling at times because some of the scenes were so funny and exciting. But it’s a slow climb to get there, and the ending peters off in a very anticlimactic way. In my opinion it could have cut off a few pages early; the last scene is not bad, but it is unnecessary. The non-romantic side of the plot isn’t super fleshed out, the villains don’t have much motivation or background, but ultimately this isn’t a thriller/intrigue novel. It’s a fun romance and it succeeds at that.
A Taste of Gold and Iron goes on sale August 30, 2022. Thanks to Tor for providing us with an advanced reader copy.