Author: Alexandra Rowland
Age Category: Adult
Publish Date: August 30, 2022
Print Length: 512
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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 a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
A TASTE OF GOLD AND IRON was one of my more anticipated reads this year. The synopsis oozes political intrigue and world-building. The gorgeous cover hints at something more alluring than policy. But, unfortunately, I found this book to be a disappointing, word-bloated, slow adventure.
Let’s get straight to the point. The official book blurb misleads the reader. It suggests that the story will involve a high stakes, tense, and intricate web of conspiracies to unravel. It also implies that a form of magic, touch tasting metals to discern their composition, will be a focus and highlight. This story lightly incorporates the former plot line and barely includes the latter one. Instead, this is a 500-page long character study about how expectations placed on individuals in positions of power and responsibility, particularly those who don’t want either of those things, can manifest anxiety and panic attacks and cause decision paralysis.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with writing a character who has, at times, debilitating anxiety. I have read and loved several books that have characters coping with depression, anxiety, or trauma. However, the anxiety of the main character, Prince Kadou, overshadows everything else in this book. And I don’t think that’s meant to be symbolism. The overwhelming majority of A TASTE OF GOLD AND IRON is inner dialogue questioning and second guessing one’s self. (I know this is an effect of anxiety.) But I felt like a lot of Kadou’s and Evemer’s thoughts went around in circles. While their conversations with each other ultimately helped them face their true feelings, the bulk of it was repetitive. As a result I found it slow-moving and struggled to keep an avid interest in the characters.
Despite knowing their innermost thoughts, I found it difficult to connect to any of the characters. Kadou’s older sister, the sultan, felt a bit two dimensional. I couldn’t stand Tadek, another of Kadou’s bodyguards, who, although loyal, is impulsive and nosy. The banter fell somewhere between cheesy and stilted, and unfortunately I didn’t find much of it charming.
My biggest disappointment, however, was the lack of a solid plot. The investigation described in the synopsis is more of a background element and was incredibly predictable. It almost felt like the world-building was an afterthought attached to a more formed idea of a love story. I also really wanted to know more about the magic system where some people in Arasht can touch taste metal. For a component so prominently included in the blurb, it receives about one total page of mention in the book. Everything about the world-building was minimal. I think it would have been better if the story had taken place during the actual Ottoman Empire to provide a better frame of reference of the surrounding world.
So, is there anything I liked about A TASTE OF GOLD AND IRON? I appreciated the inclusion and normalization of a third (or nonbinary) gender, asexuality, and queer romance depicted in Arasht culture. By that I mean they could be themselves and express their attraction for whomever freely. For lack of a better word, all romance or sexuality is the “norm.” I enjoyed the world- and magic system-building when it was included, but I wish more time had been devoted to it.
While I cannot wholeheartedly recommend A TASTE OF GOLD AND IRON, perhaps my review will help adjust expectations and result in better reading enjoyment by others. The mental health representation is important (especially to those seeking books that include it), but I wish the marketing had better reflected this aspect of the story.
Content warnings: blood, sex, death
Reading format: Kindle e-book