A review by thecanary
Champion of the Rose: Darest Book 1 by Andrea K. Host


It took me a day or so to put into words what so bothered me about this book.

Here's the thing. Soren, our main character and narrative point of view, served only as a focal point for Strake's development and turmoil. Strake goes through a lot of change, from an angry princeling to dealing with trauma, to being forced to manage his own temper and violent outbursts to, eventually, finding the strength to overcome his emotions and do what's right for the kingdom by forgoing vengeance.

Soren, on the other hand, is an empathic sort who finds courage in the first few scenes when she decided to rise to the challenge of being Champion, and pretty much stays that way throughout. Soren is subsumed by Strake's drama. If that were all, though, I would have probably just shrugged and move on.

But even beyond that, it bothered me how abusive and uneven their relationship was.

Soren spends the entirety of the book catering to Strake, walking on eggshells, censoring her words and opinions, falling for him as she watches him sleep, struggling to manage his angry outbursts, delighting in the rare moments when Strake forgets to lash out at her. Though both of them are traumatized by the magic that
Spoilertakes over their minds and forces them to have sex
Soren is able to move past
Spoilerthe rape
and focus on her mission within a chapter or so. Strake does not. In fact, he spends the majority of the book hating and lashing out at her, a fellow victim, without ever really meaningfully acknowledging her emotional needs or suffering.

(Aside: I did appreciate the book's decision to show the aftermath of this trauma for Strake. But not the execution of it.)

On an intellectual level, Strake sees Soren as inadequate for her job, useful only for her ability to carry a child, and both tells her that and treats her as such. When she does come through and offer valuable political insight, it's met with surprise and amusement, as if a pet dog had just performed a particularly clever trick.

More troublesome still, Soren caters to Strake's outbursts because he's king and because she's sorta feels for him (an emotion that may or may not have been born of the magic binding). When Strake manhandles her and is seconds away from
Spoilerraping her,
chillingly, she considers fighting back (she has the power to stop him), but decides not to, though she certainly is unwilling and terrified. If she hadn't been able to find the right words to deflect him at the last moment, what would have happened?

I spent the entire novel hoping that Soren would acknowledge her emotional connection with Strake and then,
Spoilerwhen finally free of the Rose
move on - perhaps to be on her own, perhaps to someone else as a romantic partner. Heaven knows, even Aristide treated her with more respect than Strake and Aspen seemed more than willing.

I would have enjoyed the relationship if it had been two characters struggling with their mutual revulsion, trauma, attraction, and so forth. Instead, Strake struggled and Soren was his target and whipping boy until one day, on his own time, he decided he was ready to move on and be nicer.

Perhaps if the book had acknowledged that this wasn't romantic, that it wasn't true love, that it was two people making the best of a realpolitik situation, maybe I could have stomached it. But it's an abusive dynamic, and it's uncomfortable as hell to read when it's presented as romance.

The ending: A Harlequin-style happily ever after, in which the woman has fully redeemed the selfish, beastly man through her gentleness, sacrifice and forbearance.