Prince Severin has been brought up to put duty before all else. Now, his duty is to marry and produce an heir. He has his choice of princesses. Unfortunately, his passion is for princes.
Havyn has been a slave all his life. When his powers are discovered, he finds himself purchased and freed by a Prince and apprenticed to the royal wizard, Ildar. His duty is to stay chaste to keep his powers strong. Unfortunately, his passion is for Severin.
With kingdoms at war, the throne hanging in the balance, and magic in the air, can the two men find happiness together, or is duty more important than love?
The Chosen opens on a familiar landscape: an almost-medieval alternate universe; two neighbouring kingdoms - one civilised, the other not - barely maintaining a peace between them; princes, wizards, slaves who are not all that they seem to be, and the less-common twist of forbidden love, not just between prince and slave, but between men.
This is a well-written and fairly fast-paced story of Severin's struggle to be the man that his father wants him to be - prince, heir, husband - while he fights his growing attraction to the young man purchased at a slave mart on a whim. The characters are likable, but hardly groundbreaking. The prince struggling under the burden of responsibility; the crotchety old wizard and the slave trying to adapt to a new life of freedom: these are old motifs and have been written countless times before.
Indeed, little in this story feels new. There is nothing to test or surprise the reader, instead one sinks into this story, welcoming it as an old and familiar friend. We know the places, and we know the players. That doesn't make the telling any less enjoyable: the characters are likable, well-written, and as a reader I found myself wanting them to get it right and work it out and live happily ever after. This is a fairytale, after all.
There are a number of places where I felt the exposition fell flat - why was Severin in Oscia to begin with; what brought about Ildar's sudden reversal in opinion; why was Severin never told that his elder siblings died - and what was the relevance of that, anyway? There are holes in this plot, not least in the denouement (much of which seemed to come from Havyn's POV, despite Havyn being in a state of semi-conscious delirium or full-out unconsciousness for most of it) and at times I felt that the author was trying to pull too many strings together at once, but the crux of the story - Severin's and Havyn's journey, both figuratively and literally - is clear.
Severin is surrounded by all of the intrigues of court, the machinations of those who seek his kingdom, and those that merely desire his body. The combination of his and Havyn's total inexperience in the bedroom makes for a sweet story rather than an overtly sexy one, heavy on romance which veers close to instalove but falls just short of tipping over that edge.
Havyn, for his part, is not a normal slave. An affinity for magic, quickly realised, becomes a signifier for something else, something other-worldly about the young man with dark hair and violet eyes. Gisby weaves a myth of deep legend, of gods walking among men. As descendant of another race, Havyn possesses powers that mere mortals do not.
There are also a host of secondary characters who made for welcome reading, not least the lusty old sea dog who I felt could have stood far more page time, and seemed rather short-changed at the end of the story. The two warriors tasked with protecting Severin during the course of his travels were also a nice addition.
What Gisby tried to achieve here was a big ask - she created a universe in which the prince and sole heir was under pressure to marry and produce the next in line to the throne: something that became immediately pressing when Severin's father was assassinated. Reconciling that set-up with a gay HEA was never going to be easy.
Despite its flaws, which I felt came more from over-ambition in the narrative than poor writing, this is an enjoyable story, an easy, feel-good romp through a world rife with magic and mystery, missing princesses, oracles, sea voyages (and seasickness!), stolen kisses and political intrigue. Gisby puts a refreshingly new spin on an old tale, and ultimately I believe she does pull it off. Severin and Havyn are sweet characters, a joy to read about, and more than that they deserve their happy ending. In a world where romance novels seem filled with arrogant bastards, these two made for a refreshing change, and it was a pleasure to accompany them on their journey.
The Chosen is available from Amazon.
Kate Aaron is the bestselling author of contemporary and fantasy gay romances.
Find all her books on Amazon, ARe, B&N, iTunes, SW, Sony & Kobo