Author: SA Meade
Length: 55,000 words
In a shadowy game where defeat can mean death, a deal with the enemy can change things forever.
In 1842, Captain Gabriel O’Riordan of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars is sent on a
mission to Bukhara. His task—to try to free two of his compatriots from the clutches of a mentally unstable Emir. On his way, he encounters Valentin Yakolev, an officer in the Russian Army, who is also on a mission—to persuade the Emir that an alliance with Russia would be in his best interest. Gabriel, disguised as a holy man, is not happy to be the object of Yakolev’s intense scrutiny. After all, he’s working for the opposing team in the Great Game being played between their two nations. When Gabriel realises that his mission is little more than a forlorn hope, a game he has no chance of winning, he’s desperate enough to turn to Valentin for help and offers him anything in return. What he doesn’t expect is to have his plans to return to Calcutta scuppered by events.
Instead, he and Valentin flee north, fighting off bandits, their desire for each other and the hardship of desert travel. Their travails bring them closer together until a secret from Valentin’s past tears them apart.
Can they set the past behind them and move on together?
Here's the thing. I was struggling with a reading slump for a while, over a few months. Each book I picked up either didn't sustain my attention enough to keep reading to the end or left me feeling meh when I struggled to the last page.
Well, that was until I picked up this book. Everything about this book attracted my attention--the cover and the blurb--and I was hoping it would be the book to break the spell I was under and revitalise my love for reading. It did.
Set in the backdrop of 19th century Asia/Middle East as Britain and Russia fight to get a foothold in defiant Afghanistan and surrounding nations, Gabriel and Valentin are both spies sent on differing missions by their respective governments to Bukhara.
Two British officers/spies have been detained and locked up in the Bukhara dungeon by the Emir and Gabriel has been sent to free them. The Emir is described as mentally unstable because he isn't pandering to imperialist Britain or Russia. I didn't have any sympathy for the men who were locked up or for their fates. I actually applauded the Emir for doing what he needed to do to protect his people and deter colonisers.
However, I was rooting for Gabriel and Valentin throughout. This is a sweeping tale and I was hooked right from the start from their first encounter at the oasis in the middle of the desert when Gabriel's horse was injured until they arrived in Russia.
What I loved most about this story is the author's ability to not just paint pictures with words but to pull you into each setting and make you experience the details whether it's the scorching heat of the desert, the sweet taste of honey, the sound of warbling birds or the scent of aromatic stew.
My only problem with this story was with the 'black moment'. I thought Gabriel's reaction to Valentin's role in Kabul was overdone. Don't get me wrong I understand him being upset. But what he did was kind of over the top dramatic considering they were both spies. Spies do things that can get their enemies killed. It's in the nature of the job.
So what's my verdict? I enjoyed this book. I have to thank the author for pulling me out of my reading slump with this wonderful story and taking me on a sensual and suspenseful journey with Gabriel and Valentin. This is an easy book to recommend to fans of MM Romance and historical fiction. Now I'm off to check out what else this author has to offer.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.
S.A. Laybourn lives in Wiltshire with her son and two needy cats. She works as a freelance editor and sometimes writes stories. Her alter-ego S.A. Meade writes gay romance. She loves cooking, reading, gin and tonic and the occasional glass of wine. She is not terribly domesticated and has trouble finding things that she thought she’d put in a ‘safe’ place.
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