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Thursday, July 28, 2022

A Strange And Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows (reviewed by Shazzie)

 


Official Author Website
Order A Strange And Stubborn Endurance over HERE
Read an excerpt from the book here
 
OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Foz Meadows is a genderqueer fantasy author with a pronounced weakness for Dragon Age, fanfic, webcomics and mornings that are so late as to technically constitute noons. She is a four-time Hugo Award nominee for Best Fan Writer, which she won in 2019; she also won the 2017 Ditmar Award for Best Fan Writer, for which she has been nominated three times. In 2017, An Accident of Stars was a finalist for the Bisexual Book Awards, and in 2018, ‘Coral Bones’ won the Norma K. Hemming Award in the short fiction category.
 
An itinerant Australian, Foz currently lives in California with not enough books, her very own philosopher and their voluble spawn.
 
 
OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: “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.

 
OVERVIEW: I'll start by saying that I am really impressed with Foz Meadows' storytelling skills and handling of sensitive topics. On the surface, this book is based on an arranged marriage between Velasin Vin Aaro, and Caethari Aeduria, a tiern from the neighbouring kingdom of Tithena, when a certain incident reveals Velasin's interest in men, and all the events that follow their betrothal. 
 
When I first heard about this book, I did think I might want to read it, but my interest grew as I heard many reviewers giving it high praise. Curious, I tried to get a copy and I am so glad I was approved for one. Not only was this an insanely fast read relative to its intimidating page length, but also one that made me think of many daily occurrences through a different lens.
 
"All I could do was go forwards, into whatever small scrap of future remained for me.”

The books begins with Velasin's father informing him of his wish to marry him to a Tithenai girl to further his political interests, and Velasin accepts dutifully, since he cannot fathom being accepted for his preference of men, and considers it to be the best life he can lead, given his situation. As certain events unfold, his interest in men is revealed, and he is promised to Caethari Aeduria instead, and sets off from Ralia to Tithena along with his valet, Markel. As they reach Tithenai, they find that past horrors follow, and many things happen in the rest of the book, which make it clear that Velasin's presence in Tithenai is not wholly welcome. Therby adding an element of mystery to the pages, as the characters try to understand who might be behind all the sinister happenings and the threats they face. This is told from both the point of view of both Velasin and Caethari.
 
Though a fantasy novel, Foz's brilliant characterisation kept me focused on Velasin, Caethari, and Markel, and I found myself hardly caring about the world the book was set in, which is well-built and feels very realistic. With respect to the world and the setting, both the cultures of Ralia and Tithenai seem very tangible and relatable. Velasin's  apprehensions when he moves from Ralia, a place where societal sanctions are employed to discourage personal choices that are considered deviant, and his transformation from his arrival at Ralia to the end of the book is done at a very consistent pace very well in line with his previous experiences. His fear of moving into an alien land with a different culture, and the kind of expectations that might be had, in the context of his marital life shows in every interaction he initially has with Caethari.
 
Velasin and Caethari might be one of my favourite pairs from 2022 releases, if not for a while. They are both sensitive characters who are not afraid to show vulnerability, and displayed a lot of thoughtfulness with not just each other, but with each of their relationship with others. Velasin's relationship with Markel and his fondness for him, and Cae's respect their friendship and past, as well as all of their protectiveness
toward each other, was splendidly done. This book has a set of diverse supporting characters, each with their own agendas and personalities that fall in many places along the spectrum.
 
It also contains a soft magic system that seems to have some consequences for the user, but this is not explored much. It added a wonderful layer to the story without being a big factor in the tale, and I cannot complain about that particular choice made by the author. The magic system played a small role in the plot, but this book is far from being plot-driven. The whole book focuses on Velasin and his relationships with others, and how they influence his choices and attachments, while he heals from his past trauma and learns to embrace his life.
 
CONCLUSION: If you love slow burns in fantasy that also contain politicking, you need this book. I declare Foz Meadows a master at handling difficult topics in a sensitive manner, and this book is a wonderful reminder that healing need not be a solo endeavour.

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