Illya has always been different – fey, quiet, and cursed with the ability to see the lingering spirits of the dead. A younger son of a younger son from a backwater mountain province, he is a nobody in the king’s army until he comes to the notice of the Prince Knight himself, the spoiled, stubborn heir to the kingdom of Aldania. Caught up in a war that has raged for generations between Aldania and a neighboring kingdom, captured and imprisoned by a mad king, Illya and Prince Ashe discover a history of lies, betrayal and assassination, and the ghostly truth beneath it all. Opposites in every way, they forge a common bond that pain, war and betrayal will test to the very limit of their strength. To end a dynasty of madness and suffering, Illya must embrace the ability he has always hated, and look to the dead for answers.
Warnings: Rape, Dubcon, Violence, Suicide, Mentions of Homophobia, Sexism
Dynasty of Ghosts is a dramatic m/m fantasy romance novel. It is the second book I have read by this author, whose book Bloodraven is one of my all time favourites. This one is a bit more vanilla in nature, a softer kind of slow build romance with fantasy wars and politics in the backdrop. It still has this author’s penchant for violence and angst however, so mind the tags.
Writing is very good here, if you enjoyed Bloodraven as much as I did, this is more of a similar style of high fantasy world and plot weaving, but it veers more into drama and soap opera in the second two acts. The story follows Ilya, a ranger who can see ghosts, and Ashe, the crown prince who is leading his army in a war with a neighboring country. When the two of them get taken captive together they end up needing to rely on each other and begin to form a bond, a bond that will continue to blossom and progress even after they have managed to make good their escape. While it starts off like it is going to be a war and politics story, it actually spends most of the book with the development of their relationship as well as the petty bullying at court and the issues inherent to a royalty/commoner relationship. I did wish that it had focused a little bit more on the war side of things, as I very much was interested in the mystery of the centuries old blood feud, and would have liked to see things get resolved on that front. As it is, the ending to the book ended up being a bit of a let down, as most of the plot threads are not resolved at all.
If there is one thing that Nunn does exquisitely well, it is in crafting intense emotional engagement in the reader. I was glued to the book the entire way through. Both character’s voices are wonderfully crafted, their individual personalities coming out in abundance. Ilya is a quiet, shy, and introverted person while Ashe is a privileged royal who loves to be at the center of attention. The way they both approach the other is wonderfully explored, as is both of their inner lives. Since it is a slow burn romance, it very much keeps the reader anxiously awaiting when these two will finally get together, and I was utterly in love with both of them, each with their own flaws and strengths. However it does feel as though Ashe doesn’t quite develop as much as I would have liked by the end of it- he has a few minor moments of realizing how much he navigates the world with the privilege of royalty compared to Ilya but I would have loved to see that become actualized a little bit more. All in all though I was very emotionally invested in this story, and consequently could not put it down.
I was very invested in the world of this story, as there is a lot of lore and backstory going on as to why these two countries have been at war for so long, and mysteries abound as to what exactly happened all those centuries ago… mysteries that perhaps can only be solved by someone who can see and speak with ghosts? There is also the distant rumors that the fey used to live in Ilya’s families lands, and the possibility that Ilya himself may have fey blood, which could account for his unique abilities. This is all merely mentioned however rather than directly explored, and I would have liked there to be more delving into these things, more discoveries of the histories of these places and peoples. Nunn does create interesting worlds, but here does not deliver on the premise as much as I wanted. There is also a fair bit of sexism present in the societies; it seems as though women are not well thought of by most characters which is always a bit jarring to run into, and Ilya struggles with internalized homophobia due to having been raised in the country where the religious devotees are more strict than the city. This is an interesting detail of the world and lore, but it may be upsetting to read for some.
While this is a slow burn romance, there is a very dubcon scene in the very first chapter which sets the tone for the two character’s entire relationship, and the angst that they will experience on their road to becoming lovers. Ashe seduces Ilya to his bed and Ilya firmly resents him for it, considering it a breach of consent from the start. Ashe repents this action, and endeavors to pursue him better from that point on, despite his skittishness around him. It’s very nicely drawn out seduction and pursuit, as Ashe works hard to gain Ilya’s trust before they can become lovers in a proper sense, all the while driving himself crazy with how much he wants Ilya but cannot have him. It’s full of emotional turmoil and is very gripping reading, especially when they finally do get together, and while this is quite vanilla I did also find it very emotional and steamily written. There is also, of course, a few scenes of more brutal rape and torture by the villains in the story, and these are not long dwelled on but serve to give very nice hurt/comfort content which is always appreciated. Absolutely loved it.
All together I really loved this book and my time with it, but I was disappointed in its ending because it didn’t feel like it was complete. Too much was left hanging both in the actual war and ghosts plot, the dramatic relationship plots, and the character’s developments. That said Nunn has an incredible talent for making you absolutely gripped by a story and characters, so this was a book I absolutely devoured.
Have you read Dynasty of Ghosts? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!