This post includes reviews of the following books in the Riehse Eshan series:
A Knife and a Blade (#1) | A Whisper and a Breath (#2) | A Shadow and a Storm (#3)
A Knife and a Blade (Riehse Eshan Book 1)
This novel is the first in a series that looks like it will extend the full arc of the romance across all three books, so if you’re looking for immediate steam, this might not be for you. However, as someone who is just as interested in well-written fantasy with strong characters, I was quickly immersed in this overall story and okay with the burgeoning romantic aspects being solidly on the back burner for much of this installment. The opening of this low-key fantasy world hits with immediate action that leads to political intrigue, one of my favorite elements of this genre. Blaike includes an interesting twist with Mat’s multiple levels of mistaken identity that had me invested in his storyline even separate from that of his relationship with Ren.
However, where this book truly shines is the fantastic interplay between Ren and Mat. The cultural differences between their respective societies already lend to conflict, and the forced proximity of their situation allows these to repeatedly come to the forefront of the story in a way that also shapes their understanding of each other. As an added layer of drama, Ren is a bit of a psychopath—though whether as a result of nature or nurture is unclear. He tries his best for those he cares about, but not at the expense of getting what he wants. And he wants Mat, even when the slow reveal of Mat’s true identity gets even more complicated than anyone ever expected.
This book does feature the dark elements warned of in the back cover blurb, but it did not end up as dark as I expected it to be. This doesn’t mean that Blaike goes light on the drama since this is still very much an enemies-to-lovers story, with this installment taking place mostly while Mat and Ren are still firmly in the “enemies” phase. The ending is a cliffhanger more for how their relationship might evolve following certain events, with immediate plotlines resolved to my satisfaction. I think a lot can be said for how difficult I found it to hold off on jumping immediately into the next book before I wrote this review.
A Whisper and a Breath (Riehse Eshan Book 2)
This book picks up pretty immediately where the previous one left off, not leaving readers wondering for long how events will play out. Soon enough, Mat is heading home with Ren, which both men have fairly mixed feelings about. Except where the physical is involved because Ren definitely feels positive about that. Overall, this book more than catches up on any of the steam readers might have been missing from book 1 as we approach the fun midway bit of the enemies-to-lovers arc when both elements occur simultaneously. I appreciated that Blaike balances a narrow line between Mat feeling angst about how his “relationship” with Ren would be regarded by his culture rather than Mat descending into direct self-loathing.
Things are even more complicated for Ren, much to his chagrin. He might be developing Feelings, and he isn’t quite sure about anything involved there (except the bits where he gets to have his hands on Mat). Another delicate balance Blaike achieves here is simultaneously turning the heat levels up a notch but still making the connection between Ren and Mat feel like a deliciously slow burn.
All of this occurs in the tiny realm of privacy carved out by those closest to Ren. Outside, he is a prince of (decent and complicated) political power, with Mat as his political prisoner. The fantasy element of this series has been an interesting background detail, beyond Mat’s occasional abilities, until it bursts into sharp focus for the external plot of this book. As much as I was enjoying the developing dynamic between Ren and Mat, I was also swept up in the interesting internal and external political twists faced by both men. These twists only escalate toward the end, creating the best sort of reader emotional whiplash.
The cliffhanger is real this time, and I had to force myself to slow down long enough to write this review before I dive into the next one. I am enjoying this fascinating series, and I’m officially along for the ride until the very end.
A Shadow and a Storm (Riehse Eshan Book 3)
This book, luckily, once again starts right where the previous cliffhanger left us. Now that we’re so familiar with these characters, it’s easy to sympathize with Mat’s frustration and accept Ren’s inability to have a “normal” reaction to anything emotional. The resulting immediate angst comes from two different directions, but it’s an effective emotional hook that works well with the fascinating new political developments, which have only grown in intensity from book to book.
Even after Mat and Ren reunite, their circumstances mean we’re back to a slow burn, physically, that still manages to be incredibly hot. Then, when that burn ignites, it’s absolutely explosive. This stage of their journey is appropriate for the confessions of love that finally emerge, but I appreciate that Blaike ensures this proper acknowledgment of what they mean to each other does nothing to diminish their delightfully contrary dynamic. Meanwhile, none of this happens in the previously relative safety of Ren’s palace, and they face a new set of prejudices, heartbreaking in a different way from Quareh’s strict gender roles, as Blaike develops another cultural facet of this well-crafted low-fantasy world.
As a function of who they are to their respective countries, Ren and Mat’s connection cannot be separated from the inevitable political maneuverings between two factions at a knife’s edge. As a slightly impartial observer, I’d argue that their romance gets in the way of peace because they could have put forth their genuine friendship to aid in building a truce. But that’s not nearly as fun or dramatic as what actually happens, with ridiculous political manipulation that wouldn’t work for anyone but someone with Ren’s loose grasp of mental stability. Not to be outdone, Mat being Mat results in the most epic plot twist yet to this engaging storyline.
Though I knew at this point in the series that I was facing another cliffhanger ending, I do have to note that each book does contain a full arc that results in a satisfying resolution—the ongoing story just doesn’t conclude there. It’s that last 15% where everything goes haywire, and I white-knuckled my way through this ending. Another last-minute “surprise” villain could have been repetitive after the previous book, but this time the source comes from a vastly different direction and works well with both the established groundwork of Blaike’s world building and the buildup of intensity for this series. I’m already counting down the days until the final book.