SPOILER WARNING - this review spoils the heck out of book two and the beginning of book three. Do NOT read if you've not read the first two books in the trilogy. Proceed at your own risk.
Damen's secret is out, and everyone knows he is in fact Prince Damianos of Aikelos. Vere and Aikelos are on the brink of war, with Prince Laurent's uncle, the Regent, amassing his forces, and Kastor, Damen's usurping and treacherous half-brother also on the war-path. The only way Damen is going to be able to reclaim his throne is with the aid of Laurent, the man who swore to kill him. Can Damen convince Laurent to set aside his enmity to face the bigger threat, his uncle?
Can the hesitant trust and growing love between the men be rekindled, even with Laurent being fully aware of Damen's true identity? Will they survive to enact revenge on their usurpers and can they have any future together, with full knowledge of the terrible actions of their pasts?
Here's where it gets hella spoilery, people. Seriously, do not read this if you haven't already finished books one and two. So yeah, Laurent knew about Damen, from the beginning. Having grown up in the viper pit that is the court of Vere, fighting the influence of his wicked uncle (who it's clear sexually abused him shortly after Crown Prince Auguste and his father died), Laurent is presented with his worst enemy as a slave, and told he's not allowed to harm him, or risk diplomatic relations with Aikelos. Of course he twists the situation so he can flog the living daylights out of Damen. Of course he mentally tortures him. This is the man that killed his brother! It makes the trust that builds between them, the friendship that turns to romance so much more remarkable, because while Damen didn't know that he knew, Laurent went to bed with Damen, despite his many (understandable) sexual hang-ups, even knowing exactly who he was.
He trusted him with an army and gave him control over one of his border forts, even knowing that he was the Prince Killer from Aikelos. The uneasy truce they form in the beginning of this book is an uncomfortable one, because you just want them to kiss (and more) and make up and turn the combined might of their brawn and intellects towards pummelling their enemies.
While the first book is slow and a bit confusing, because we don't have all the cards yet, and the second book is full of espionage, double-crosses, intrigue and romance, this book starts out well, but sort of collapses a bit towards the end. The stakes are oh so very high, but then the ending is sorted out oh so neatly, almost depressingly so. Everything falls into place just that little bit too conveniently and it all happens a bit too quickly to be entirely satisfying.
Not that the book before that isn't extremely enjoyable. Damen is back in the northern reaches of Aikelos, needing to muster support from the powerful lords of the country, all the while convincing them to support him against his treacherous half-brother, despite the fact that he's in open alliance with the true ruler of their enemy neighbour state. Damen and Laurent make an uneasy truce and have to prove themselves worthy of support, and outsmart the men who have taken what is rightfully theirs. This bit was a lot of fun, even if the angry tension between Damen and Laurent got on my nerves. I totally understand it, it would be massively unrealistic if they just jumped into each other's arms and let bygones be bygones, but still. I wanted my HEA.
And yet I complain when in the end, I did get a HEA for my dudes, but it just seemed to come a bit too easily. Still, in its entirety this trilogy is excellent, and I had such a fun time reading it.
Judging a book by its cover: These books have had a variety of covers, depending on the release. The newer, wide-release editions of these books are not exactly all that exciting, but play in rather well to the fantasy and political intrigue aspects of the trilogy, rather than the "two dudes are gay for each other and have some sex, but that is really a very small part of the whole". Various pastelly colours, with a brick wall, battlements or a tower in the background. A fancy font. A rearing lion. I think the marketing department has done a good job making really very neutral covers.