By: Foz Meadows
Genre: Adult Romance Fantasy/LGBTQIA
Publisher: TOR Books
Content Warning (as per the author): Sexual assault, suicidal ideation, and self-harm
In A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, Foz Meadows has created an excellent multi-faceted romantic fantasy. With its slow burn romance, magic, world building, political intrigue, and complete character arcs, A Strange and Stubborn Endurance was a standout fantasy for me, as Ms. Meadows deals with trauma of sexual assault, gender identity, love, and acceptance. The two main protagonists, Velasin vin Aaro (Vel) and Caethari Aeduria (Cae), are gay, and come from very different worlds with completely opposite views on same sex marriage and gender identity. In the very beginning of the book, Vel is sexually assaulted by a cruel ex-lover, Lord Killic. When the attack is discovered by his father and the envoy from Tethani, who is there to arrange a marriage between Vel and Cae’s sister, Vel’s father is outraged and disgusted. He knows that no one would believe he was assaulted, and Vel also knows his father would not care, as same sex relationships in Ralia, where he lives, are not acceptable and considered perverted. This notion is highly insulting to Keletha, the envoy, as they consider Ralian views on sex to be “stupid”. The arrangement is then made between Vel and Cae, as Keletha sees this as far better for both. To avoid a diplomatic issue, Vel’s father agrees, but disowns and exiles his son. Reluctantly, and with no choice in the matter, Vel leaves for his marriage dealing with the trauma of his rape. His best friend, who also serves as his valet, Markel is a life line for him as he struggles to cope in a world where there is no support for him. This sets the stage for what is a beautifully written fantasy.
The assault on Vel occurs at the beginning of the book. The reality of what has happened to him sets him on a course of anger, self-loathing, guilt, fear, and self-harm. Ms. Meadows handles his trauma with care and in a very realistic way. He does not want to be married, even if it is a marriage he could only have “dreamed” about, but knew could never occur in Ralia. Vel does not want to be touched by anyone, and the thought of being married and having to be forced in a marriage bed is something he will not do. Twice Vel tries to commit suicide, as he would rather die than be forced again. Throughout the book, Vel is dealing with the aftermath, struggling with his feelings, wondering if he will able to feel again, and scars that may never heal. It was also very realistic that Vel doesn’t see Cae and instantly become enamored of him, forgetting what happened. He is frightened and still carries what he sees as his fault the attack occurred and wants nothing to do with his arranged marriage, that was forced upon him.
On their wedding night, Cae has no expectations, and plans to have a separate room set up for Vel, but for that night there is only one bed and nothing happens between them. Coming from a hetero-normative society where arranged marriage is also the norm, he knows there are expectations on the part of a woman on her wedding night. Vel cannot endure being forced, and in the middle of the night, he tries to kill himself. Cae finds him and talks gently to him, ultimately discovering that Vel was raped by Killic. He is appalled that he now had to endure an arranged marriage given what he went through, and he assures Vel that he would never dare touch him or force him to do anything he did not want. When Cae saves his life, Vel realizes he is a good man. What is realistic as well is that after this scene, Vel doesn’t magically fall in love with Cae. Throughout the book, Velasin is dealing with his post-trauma. He reveals his guilt at not fighting back more, blaming himself, and how, despite it being a violent act, his body responded. Vel feels disgusted with himself, and both Markel and Cae, slowly help him work through his feelings, to place the blame on Killic, where it belongs. Nothing is Velasin’s fault, and he gradually allows people to touch him without recoiling from a hand on his shoulder or arm. I liked that it was gradual and not swept away the instant he lays eyes on Cae. Velasin was an incredibly complex character, and Ms. Meadows did a fabulous job creating him.
On top of what Vel is going through is the fantasy story of someone trying to break the alliance. Vel is the target of someone trying to kill him and blaming it on Cae. This part of the story was a great mystery to untangle and held many surprises. There is the use of magic as well, which for most of the book is rather subtle. Vel can wield a little magic, in which he can use fire and untangle knots. Untangling knots was an interesting choice, and even Vel makes light of it in terms of magic use. In Tethani, magic use is more prevalent. There is school to train mages, though we don’t see the extensive use of it with mages. They come to an agreement to be friends, as Vel tells him he doesn’t know if he can bear intimacy again. Cae understands, and their friendship grows. Their slow burn romance was pragmatic, as they work well together, and despite Vel’s hesitations and self-doubt, he begins to have feelings for the kind, gentle man that Cae is.
Markel is wonderful, loyal character. He cannot speak, and he and Vel have developed their own sign language. They care deeply for each other, as Markel has stood beside him since they were children, when Vel took him in from one of the poor areas of Ralia. He desperately wants Vel to be happy, and tells him he can allow himself to feel again. Their relationship was truly touching. There were many other characters in the book. The envoy, Keletha, is gender fluid, and they are quite disgusted at how their relationships were treated when they arrive at Ralia. Two of the women soldiers accompanying them were married for five years, but given Ralian views on same sex relationships, they were not allowed to be together. It is Keletha who says “fifteen days on mountain roads, and I had rather ride them over again than subject myself to his [Vel’s father] hospitality.” They were such an amazing character.
The pacing and prose were so well done. I was drawn in from the start, and though Vel’s assault was not easy to read, it was necessary to set up his character. The pacing was even, and I felt there was always something happening. There was never a time where I felt bored. The book is told in the first-person narrative of Vel for one section, and then third person narrative of Cae in the following section. I liked this choice and never found it confusing. We needed Vel to tell his story from his perspective. It is the only way that we, as the reader, knows his feelings of the trauma he survived. I felt Ms. Meadows handled his feelings gently, having him vent his anger when needed, slowly allowing people in, and starting to realize that nothing was his fault. I cared about Vel and felt his pain and anguish. I felt happy for him when he knew that Cae was truly a kind and caring person. Vel deserved to be happy, and his arc was excellent. While we are privy to what Cae feels, it is not necessary for his narrative to be in the first-person. Cae is Vel’s support, his husband, his friend, and helps him work through his trauma. Their slow burn romance and attraction is truly beautiful. I love how Ms. Meadows put so much love and acceptance of the LBGTQIA community in this book.
A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is Foz Meadows’ romantic fantasy that deals with complex themes of sexual assault, the aftermath, love, and acceptance, set amongst political intrigue trying to break an alliance between two nations. Ms. Meadows tackles the bias against the LBGTQIA community in this totally engrossing novel. Velasin vin Aaro (Vel), one of the main protagonists, is gay, but is sexually assaulted in the beginning of the book by an ex-lover. Disgraced in his home nation of Ralia, where same sex relationships are both unacceptable and considered perverted, he is forced into a political marriage with Caethari Aeduria (Cae), who lives in a nation with the complete opposite views on sex, gender identity and marriage. The handling of the aftermath of Vel’s rape, was done with care and understanding. He must deal with his self-loathing, anger, guilt, and feelings of disgust at being touched throughout the book, vowing he would rather die than be forced again. Cae turns out to be both kind and caring, and assures that he would never force Vel to do anything he does not want too. It is both Cae and Vel’s best friend, Markel, who help Vel slowly realize that none of it was his fault, and is valued as the person he is. The slow burn romance between Vel and Cae was beautifully written, both shy as they know their feelings for each other are growing, though Vel may not be ready to love just yet. I enjoyed the pacing of the book and the mystery of who is trying to break the alliance. This was important as is forces Vel and Cae to work together to solve the problem. As they do, Vel begins to trust again. There were many twists and turns in this story, and I never saw anything coming. It was so well done. I highly recommend A Strange and Stubborn Endurance. I highly recommend it not only for fans of fantasy, but any other reader as well.
Summary (from NetGalley)
Stolen me? As soon to say a caged bird can be stolen by the sky.”
Velasin vin Aaro never planned to marry at all, let alone a girl from neighboring Tithena. When an ugly confrontation reveals his preference for men, Vel fears he’s ruined the diplomatic union before it can even begin. But while his family is ready to disown him, the Tithenai envoy has a different solution: for Vel to marry his former intended’s brother instead.
Caethari Aeduria always knew he might end up in a political marriage, but his sudden betrothal to a man from Ralia, where such relationships are forbidden, comes as a shock.
With an unknown faction willing to kill to end their new alliance, Vel and Cae have no choice but to trust each other. Survival is one thing, but love—as both will learn—is quite another.
Byzantine politics, lush sexual energy, and a queer love story that is by turns sweet and sultry, Foz Meadows’ A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is an exploration of gender, identity, and self-worth. It is a book that will live in your heart long after you turn the last page.
You can find out more about Foz Meadows on her website at: https://marymcmyne.com/about/
My thanks to TOR Books and NetGalley for providing me with an eBook.
Purchase a Strange and Stubborn Endurance on Amazon
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Foz Meadows is a queer Australian author, essayist, reviewer and poet. She has won two Best Fan Writer awards (a Hugo Award in 2019 and a Ditmar Award in 2017) for yelling on the internet, and has also received the Norma K. Hemming Award in 2018 for her queer Shakespearean novella, Coral Bones. Her essays, reviews, poetry and short fiction have appeared in various venues, including Uncanny, Apex Magazine, Goblin Fruit, HuffPost, and Strange Horizons. Meadows currently lives in California with her family. A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is her fifth novel.Follow Me on Social Media