Genres: Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Brown cast, gay MC, bisexual/demisexual autistic-coded MC, secondary pansexual character, secondary asexual nonbinary character, tertiary nonbinary characters, queernorm world
PoV: 3rd Person, Past Tense, dual PoVs
Published on: 30th August 2022
“A delicious tangle of romance, fealty, and dangerous politics.”—Tasha Suri
The Goblin Emperor meets "Magnificent Century" in Alexandra Rowland's A Taste of Gold and Iron, where a queer central romance unfolds in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire.
Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen's new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.
To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~top-tier, capital y Yearning
~there is kneeling
~dude is not the babydaddy
~a love, and service, out of legend
When I was a teenager and had no income of my own, upon turning the last page of a book I loved I would immediately go back to the first and start a second read. I haven’t done that in years, especially since I became a Proper Book Reviewer with ARCs to read (which come with deadlines), but – A Taste of Gold and Iron is a book I immediately want to reread.
This is a lush, sumptuous, ornate story full of desire and yearning; poignant, breathtaking, and utterly gorgeous. A Taste of Gold and Iron doesn’t just live up to its stunning cover, but actually outshines it.
(I know. Have you seen that cover?! I know. But it’s true! This book keeps all of its cover’s promises and then some!)
Kadou is a beautiful prince whose life, viewed from the outside, looks perfect. Under the surface, however, he suffers from what modern readers will immediately recognise as clinical anxiety and panic attacks, and a dread of confrontation – or accidentally doing harm – that makes him immensely sympathetic, even if he wasn’t also compassionate, honourable, and fiercely protective of his people (and he very much is). He considers his anxiety to be cowardice – which is a believable but incredibly sad interpretation in a setting that lacks our modern understanding of mental health – but he’s got to be one of the bravest characters I’ve ever seen.
Evemer is one of the khaya, an elite force who serve the royal family in all kinds of capacities before, often, graduating to government posts – and Evemer is the elite of the elite. He’s a perfectionist, rigidly adhering not just to the letter of the rules but their spirit too, upright and uptight and Unamused. After the prince is involved in a devastating scandal, Evemer is assigned to Kadou – of whom he does not approve at all.
Kadou can tell. It’s not fun.
And yet…and yet, these two slowly come together, like twin stars being drawn into each other’s orbits. What starts as ashamed misery from Kadou and simmering contempt from Evemer becomes, via Rowland’s masterful literary alchemy, something impossibly rich and shining; lead into gold, and we don’t need Kadou’s touch-taste magic to tell us how it tastes.
What surprised and delighted me was how (legitimately) complicated Rowland made it, and how long it took for Evemer and Kadou to get there; this is the slowest of slow-burns, soft and lush and thick with queer yearning. Reading A Taste of Gold and Iron was a little like watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly; an impossibly slow, yet inexorable, transformation. And knowing it’s going to happen does not make it any less marvellous – or hypnotising. Watching Evemer’s slow dissolution into flame, magma moving beneath that icy-perfect surface, discovering his own longing and desire, his capability for desire…learning the starry-eyed ideals locked away in his heart, how badly he wants a relationship of khaya to prince like those in the legends and epic poems… Or: watching Kadou reveal himself, piece by piece, layers drifting to the floor like silks…discovering for ourselves the strength he doesn’t believe he has, the strong iron core beneath the soft gold… And the two of them circling each other? Coming closer, working together, defending each other?
As if his very heart wasn’t lashed to Kadou like a ship to the compass star.
It sizzles, is what I’m saying here. The hair-washing scene! Good gods, I had to find a fan to cool myself down. And it’s all emotional – there’s nothing wrong with packing your book full of sex scenes if you like, but I can’t deny being more impressed by an author who manages to have a scene shimmering with intensity when absolutely nothing overtly sexual is happening. When it’s all honour and longing and being so deeply moved by another person’s gesture that you don’t know what to do with yourself.
Kadou’s whole body was comitting treason against him now.
Evemer had been trying very, very hard not to think about it. He would allow himself three minutes of thinking about it later, when he was alone with a locked door and his hands firmly clenched on his knees, and then he would definitively never think of it again.
Rowland expertly balances plot with introspection, with the result that A Taste of Gold and Iron feels like an impossible indulgence, a delicious, not-guilty-in-the-slightest secret, diving deep into their characters’ characters to languidly plumb their depths in ways that most stories seem to believe they’re not allowed to. I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who was looking for breakneck-speed action, but nor would I be willing to give up a single scene in this book as ‘unnecessary’. There’s so much that would be cut – or be impossible to reproduce – were A Taste of Gold and Iron to become a film, but this book is the embodiment of everything we want out of fanfiction – the emotion and human moments popular media rarely gives us, and that fans thus write for themselves. But there’s no need for fanfiction here (although I’ll be delighted to read any that gets written), because this book skips that part of the process entirely and just gives us all the emotion and human moments we could possibly want direct from the source – and the result is exquisite.
You’re a godsend. Those words from Kadou that first day at the Shipbuilder’s Guild, the prince glittering on his horse, had swept through Evemer’s soul like a breath of unexpected wind and lit a glow in his heart like a single star on a cloudy night. These words now, Who else can I trust, lit him up like a dozen stars.
I’d also like to take a moment to mention the representation, because besides none of the cast being white, as someone on the spectrum myself I read Evemer as also being somewhere on the autism spectrum – the adherence to rules, the tendency to take things literally, counting things to calm himself down, etc. It would also be easy to read him as demisexual. And then we have casual pansexual and asexual rep on-page, a handful of nonbinary characters, and Kadou’s anxiety and panic attacks, and it’s just – it all adds so much more depth to the story and these characters. And makes me, personally, so happy.
Ultimately? Rowland keeps us hooked with gorgeous prose and an immensely loveable cast of characters; with fabulous jewellery and lovingly described clothing; with personal confrontations and political intrigue; with flashes of unexpected humour and intricate, skillful worldbuilding; and with these two men, their rich inner lives, and the relationship that forms between them. There’s something to adore on every page.
If by some anti-miracle you don’t have this preordered yet, preorder it immediately!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go reread all my favourite passages again.