Similar to The Pillar and Treasure, this is another story of a magic healer and a man in desperate need of healing, both of them social outcasts in their own way. While The Pillar felt too similar to Treasure, this novella felt unique to both of them, even though it uses the same basic themes. That could simply be due to getting the POV of the one being healed, rather than the one doing the healing, but it really is more than that.
The world of the Downs is lush and vividly described, and while it holds many dangers, it's also easy to see its appeal. The city, which goes unnamed, is more mysterious than the mysterious, legendary Downs, and I wonder if that was on purpose. We never really see the city before Enitan is convicted and removed from it and literally cast out into the Downs. I would've like a bit more worldbuilding for the city (why did the people settle there and why did they stay, for instance) and how it came to operate the way it does, but in the end, those things don't really matter.
What matters is Enitan learning to think of himself as someone with value, and Rig learning to let go his past regrets, finding healing in himself as he heals another. The story takes its time as these men get to know each other and Enitan regains his strength. There's no insta-anything here, just two men learning how to live and love when neither of them expected to have any reason to.
Why yes, I just did use my "fluff" tag for a book about the zombie apocalypse. What of it?
This was cute! Like puppies and kittens in springtime! Just ignore the killer mutant hordes coming to eat your face off. You'll be fine. There's even a quiz at the end that ramps the cuteness factor up to eleven.
I did think the romance was a bit on the thin side, but that didn't really bother me, since this is a fun breezy read and anything too angsty would've messed up the tone. Still, if you're looking for steam, look elsewhere. The epilogue could've answered a couple of extra questions than it did, and it was never explained what caused the plague, but again, not a big deal that it didn't.
I don't know how a story can be this long and still not really show any of the relationship buildup, but this one somehow manages to do it by skipping weeks of relationship development at a time. One minute, Sean is cleaning up Mr. Deuvaux's foot after he cuts it on a broken glass, the next minute Mr. Deuvaux is hiring Sean as a personal assistant, the next minute they're flirting in a tailor's shop, and so on. Is it really that hard to SHOW the MCs actually getting to know each other on page? And no, all their overly-detailed and long, drawn-out smexy times don't count. At least not for me. If you like lots of sex, you'll probably love this book but I was mostly bored.
There was one point after the Big Misunderstanding when Mr. Deuvaux was wondering when Sean became such an important part of his life, and I honestly didn't know how to answer that because we were only ever told a few little things that Sean did for his employer. We never saw that bond form. It felt more like Mr. Deuvaux latched onto Sean because Sean just happened to be standing in the room when Mr. Deuvaux's doctor told him to sober up.
Then there's the subplot with the hotel manager Mr. Trant, who is blackmailing his employees if he finds them having dalliances with the hotel clientele, making them steal items for him or he'll fire them and report them to the police. I was hoping that would at least provide some sort of on-page action, but most of that happens off-page too.
But hey, at least there's that four-chapter long foreplay and sex scene at the Dionysus Club that would never end. *sigh*
It wasn't all bad though. There were a few cute scenes and I liked what we saw of the other hotel staff who were Sean's friends. The period details were well done and there weren't that many grammar errors.
Did they say "yeah" in pre-Christian times in Scandinavia? IDTS. Modernized speech and ideologies aside, this was a decent summary of what could've been a good, longer story. The battle scene was extremely rushed but hit all the highlights. The characters were well-written but their relationship wasn't really given the room to reach that depth where I would've found the ending earned. This was also supposed to be enemies-to-lovers, but someone forgot to tell the characters that.