“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. 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.
CW: rape, suicidal ideation, self harm, animal murder
I’ve been eager to get to this book since the first time I got to know about it because I was sure it’ll be special. I’m also very thankful to the author for offering me an arc before I managed to snag an audio review copy too and I had such a good time alternating between the two formats. So I guess you can see which direction this review is gonna go.
Just before this book, I had started reading another arc but it wasn’t able to keep my attention. So I put it down and picked this one up hoping that this would be more interesting, and I was instantly hooked. It does start off with a difficult scene but I have to commend the author for handling the aftermath with a lot of empathy. And also for providing the content warnings, because if I encounter a suicide/self harm scene without knowing, it’s an instant DNF from me and my mood will be totally down for days to come later. But I knew it was coming and that made it easier to get through, and I just felt so so sympathetic towards the character. The writing is just very engaging right from the get go and the pacing pretty fast that I didn’t wanna put it down once I began. If it wasn’t for my dear friend Shazzie asking me to slow down coz I had promised to do a buddy read (which wasn’t entirely successful because of my over enthusiasm), I would have probably finished this in a day. I thought the endearing writing was equally complemented by a very well narrated audiobook, with both James Fouhey and Vikas Adam bringing the characters and their emotions to life with their spectacular voice acting.
Velasin or Vel is a gay man from a kingdom which is both homophobic and transphobic, and finds himself both in an arranged diplomatic marriage and a scandalous situation back to back. And then follows his journey, both physical and within himself, to find the place and person where he can belong and finally be himself, not having to hide his true self. While his anxiety, constant spiraling, and self deprecation felt very relatable, it was the other side of his personality that impressed me. He is inquisitive, a keen observer, a born charmer and diplomat who is quite capable of figuring out malicious intentions and motives and investigate political conflicts. But he is also lost when he realizes that he doesn’t have to hide his self anymore, can be open in his affections, and needs time to unlearn all the prejudices among which he grew up.
Caethari or Cae on the other hand is a lord’s son and soldier, who is shocked at his sudden arranged marriage instead of his sister’s but is also curious to meet his prospective husband. He is a much more straightforward person who doesn’t fancy himself capable of handling any political intrigue, and also can get shy around the person whom he finds attractive. But overall he is just a very nice and thoughtful guy.
And the way their budding relationship is written despite it beginning with a marriage, is hands down the best part of this book. Right from Cae trying to help Vel through his trauma and offering his friendship, to Vel taking it upon himself to investigate all the assassination attempts and trusting Cae implicitly, their bond starts with friendship and builds into something more, full of trust and affection. They are just so endearingly written that I found myself helpless but to fall in love with both of them, and root for them every step of the way.
Vel’s friend and valet Markel is also a significant presence in the book and I adored their bond. They have a history and the trust between them is inviolable, and I felt they got to express their feelings towards each other even more now that they are allowed to. And it was amazing how Cae made an effort to learn sign language so that he could get to know his husband’s best friend better. Liran is Cae’s ex and current friend who I thought was a delight even though he was only present for a couple of scenes. I just had this feeling that he and Vel would get along very well and tease Cae incessantly. There were also many of Cae’s family members and other people in his household who were all quite interesting and accepted Velasin pretty quickly which made me like them all.
To conclude, I’m absolutely in love with this book. It may have some difficult themes but they are handled sensitively, and along with them we have very easy to love characters, writing that’s engaging since page one, a very charming love story, maybe a bit predictable but still enjoyable mystery and political intrigue, and just overall a very lovely reading experience. I’ll especially recommend this to fans of Winter’s Orbit because it has very similar vibes, albeit in a fantasy setting. Also do give the audiobook a try because it’s excellent. I can’t believe this is the first book of Foz I’m reading despite following them for a long while, and can only hope I’ll get to read more of their works.
PS: Thank you so much to the author for providing me an eARC and Macmillan Audio for providing me an advance listening copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.