I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2017 Reading Challenge. For more info about what this is, click here.
We read this as part of a monthly "theme read" in my romance book group. The subject was slow-burn romances. I love slow-burn romances, when it's done well, that is, and when I saw that this was a fantasy romance, I was even more excited. More so, because most of my friends loved it, and one of them compared the author to R. Lee Smith.
Don't be thinking that this is alien-smut, though. For most of the book, it's actually quite chaste. Ildiko is a "Gauri" human woman and Brishen is a "Kai" man (something I imagined as being like a "dark elf"). The two are lesser nobility, and are being married to forge an alliance between their kingdoms.
They actually meet first in a garden, and both are charmed by each other despite the animosity between their two races. They're delighted, then, when it turns out later that the "stranger" they each had met is actually their husband/wife-to-be, respectively. Even though neither finds the other attractive (though both are considered the ideal form of beauty for their own race but ugly to each other's races), they know that they've got a good deal, and appreciate one another's humor and kindness.
The best thing about RADIANCE, for me, is that it's about two very kind, humorous, nice people falling in love with one another not because of their looks but because of their deeds. The relationship that develops between them is at first amicable and platonic. When Ildiko goes to court with Brishen, he's impressed by her bravery and her determination to conform to his people's ways, and in return attempts to help her get through the worst ordeals (like eating scarpatine pie - picture a chicken pot pie, only made with giant scorpions instead of chicken, and the scorpion is still alive). Draven also portrays culture shock well, with both characters feeling lonely and frustrated with their faux pas.
What killed this book a bit for me was the last 10% when something sad happens. I think that probably put some people off the book - especially those who like super happy, picture perfect endings. It didn't bother me as much, but it was enough to put a damper on my previously untempered joy. One of the people in the romance group also pointed out that the epilogue will confuse you if you don't want to read the sequel, as it doesn't really add anything to the story (which ends on an HEA note) and is pretty much solely intended to set up the sequel.
I really enjoyed RADIANCE, though. The characters and the writing were great, and for a story where pretty much nothing happens except for the characters interacting with each other - this is largely a character-driven piece - the world and the characters are developed enough that it was still a interesting read. Anyone who is tired of romance novels where the characters act like assholes to one another should pick up RADIANCE.
4 out of 5 stars.