This new series from the writing duo of Gordon and Ilona Andrews is a spin-off from their long-running Kate Daniels series. This book takes place between the penultimate book of that series, Magic Binds and the upcoming and final book, Magic Triumphs. While the Hugh chapters of the book do reference events mentioned in Kate Daniels books, Andrews provides enough information for new readers to follow the story, even if they might lack some of the emotional context long-time readers have acquired.
When I heard that Andrews was writing a book for Hugh, I was mystified. In the Kate Daniels, novels Hugh is a brutal, remorseless warlord for Roland. He cut a bloody path through Atlanta, killing many of Kate's near and dear friends and allies. He is not a heroic figure. He was a capital V-villain. But in Romancelandia, the line between hero and villain can be quite thin and if a secondary character has a name there is someone out there hoping for their book. I didn't think I was one of those people, and then I read the excerpt and I reconsidered.
Hugh is reframed in this book. He continues to be the fully-committed brutal warrior in the ridiculous over-sized horse. Having been exiled and cast aside by Roland, a near divine being who was like a god to Hugh, he has been un-moored and has spent nearly a year drowning himself in alcohol, until the surviving members of his Iron Dogs come find him. The Iron Dogs were a hand-picked corps of elite soldiers in Roland’s armies, who are being punished and persecuted for their abiding loyalty to Hugh. They are being killed off by Roland's men and they need to regroup for safety. Starving and down to their last coins, Hugh chooses to accept an unlikely alliance to save his people.
Elara has a castle full of followers, and mysterious adversaries very determined to push her out of it. She needs Hugh and his troops to provide protection. She offers him a bargain. A marriage of convenience, where she will provide them income and a secure location and he provides protection. Both are desperate enough to make the bargain without looking too closely at each other's past.
Elara and Hugh's flirtation through mutual antagonism is one of my favorite tropes. Their tit-for-tat battles while putting on a nice face for bystanders just made me gleeful. I love particularly how their hyper-awareness of each other, due to their suspicious natures, means they see each other in a way no one else does. They see past the bluster, and facade of control, to see when they are fearful or hurt. They are both under incredible pressure as leaders. Although they both have trusted friends on their sides, in the end they are both alone in making the hard choices for their communities. They have a lot of unvoiced feelings and secrets yet to unpack and I am eager to see where things go next for this couple.
I can't wait to learn more about Elara, her powers, her past with the Remaining and the reason she left with her Departed and just how Hugh will come to terms with what she truly is. I expect Ilona and Gordon Andrews to continue to unpack the dangers of religious devotion and where the lines are drawn between adoration, love and loyalty.
Whether you are a Kate Daniels fans already or just dipping your toe in to this world, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
A version of this review first appeared at Anacoqui.com.
The reviewer purchased a personal copy of this book.
Content Warnings: Past Trauma, War Violence, Alcoholism,