An utterly perplexing book. This is the most competently written unromantic romance I have ever read, and I just don’t know where to go or what to do with that sentiment. Did I miss the point? Is there such a thing as an ace romance? Because I am down with that as a genre, although maybe now that I think about it, is there a genre for discovering your bestie? Because I am also down for reading more of discovering besties. Why isn’t there more of that in adult literature?
Bonds is about a magical, modern world with political power consolidated in the hands of powerful magic users. Heritable magic traits mean the power structure is an aristocracy, and the U.S. is known as the Royal States. Our hero, Jack, has left the Royal States because he hates the aristocracy–and because he’s been hiding his own aristocratic-level talent from them (classic trope: I’m the Thing I Hate). His dramatic role in preventing an oil tanker from spilling oil onto France’s coast brings him to the attention of the Princess of Maine, namely, as her patient. In her brilliance, she realizes his world-class talent and sweeps him off to become part of Maine’s Kingdom. He discovers as they travel together that someone is out to kill her, and that’s just not acceptable.
The dialogue is decent. Some of it feels background-level. Some brings in humor:
“Kevin, please add a note to Mr. Alder’s file that he is a manly man and classifies as a danger to himself due to ego, pride, and an unfortunate knowledge of medical treatments.”
“I’ll mark into his file that he is skilled with first-aid treatments and should undergo additional training to make sure he’s on par with Maine’s first responders.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is the remarkable detail it gets into with Jack’s magical skills. He works with water/liquids, and when we meet him at the oil tanker, there’s a lot of interplay about whether he’s dealing with crude oil, a mix, or something else and how he’ll apply his skills. It might be more than a lot of people wanted to know, but I appreciated the depth.
Classic romance tropes, great set-up, interesting plot to provide structure for the relationship and the magical world all make it intriguing. (Note: the magical aristocracy feels very much like Ilona Andrews’ Nevada series). The problem? Zero feels. Literally, this reminds me reading when I was nine or ten. All head-based. In the first few pages of meeting her, here’s how Jack responds: “According to her expression, someone was about to die, and I hoped that someone wasn’t me. Then again, if she wanted to kill me, there were worse ways to go.” (spoiler for space)
[He then apologizes, thinks to himself he should “escort [myself] to the nearest dog house,” and later notes, “I didn’t know why I valued the respect of a woman I’d just met, but it likely had something to do with my status as a living man rather than a dead one.” I applaud the admiration and respect, but is there sensation or feeling in there? No. When they go to a fancy dinner together: “I refused to look at her, as I’d discovered her pale blue, form-fitting dress captured my attention in all ways, made me thing inappropriate thoughts about my doctor, and did a lot to convince me that a life bond with her wouldn’t be too bad.”(I believe this is the first time he mentions being attracted to her body).
Feels? That’s actually one of the first hints we have that he notices she has a body attached to that wonderful personality. I’m all for that, but hint of potential attraction isn’t really followed up on. Jack states to himself several times he’s determined to maintain his professionalism, and… he does. Even to the extent that his thoughts are mostly “I’d work hard to ensure she never discovered I was at high risk of liking her as more than just my doctor.” There are no lapses about how he feels, just that he keeps thinking,“I couldn’t afford to think of Melody as anything other than my doctor.”He never lays awake imagining working next to her, or considers kissing her beautiful lips (I made that up; her lips are never referenced).
So it’s super-interesting as a book where two people come together, get to know each other, and solve some issues, maybe adopt a cat along the way (so much cat!). When it comes to romance, it’s all head-based affection. Seriously, I can’t even remember a lingering kiss. I think there’s supposed to be a bedroom scene, but it fades to black long, long before (spoiler). It literally is like a nine year-old’s version of a relationship (at least according to 1950s nine year-olds).
I’ll also note that I had problems believing in Jack as a male character heavily involved in rescue work, but that could just be my experience. For awhile, I tried on the character as a female with a nickname ‘Jack,’ and that worked just as well. Which says something about gender-neutral and romance, but I’m not sure what.
This is definitely one of those books that your mileage will vary based on expectations. What it most reminded me of was an Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series, minus the romance. Yeah, you read that. Good action, generally benign world-building, family politics, magic. But no romance. Not that that’s a bad thing–unless your book is marketed as a romance.
Two and a half stars, rounding up because it is really otherwise very competently written. Had I not been told to think that these two were falling in love–and utterly failed to believe it–it would have been four stars for fun.
Wow. That has got to be a rather unique experience, the romance novel without the romance. That’s like a western without guns, a spy thriller without covert operations, or a steampunk novel without steam and punks.
Uhhh, we could create a dozen new genres this way! 😍
ha! Good point–we might be creating a whole mess of genres. Although one might argue a spy thriller without covert operations and steampunk with out steam or punks are… lit fic? 😁