At first glance, Grace Draven’s “Radiance” seems like it should be some new take on “Beauty and the Beast,” starting with the arranged marriage between the king’s niece, Ildiko, and the youngest prince of another kingdom, Brishen. The fact that Ildiko is human and Brishen is one of the Kai — dark-skinned, fanged, clawed and nocturnal humanoids — only feeds this assumption. And just as Ildiko thinks the wedding will be a success if she can refrain from puking on anyone, we’ll be happy if the story doesn’t bang our heads on every predictable cliché. And it doesn’t.
Ildiko and Brishen’s marriage takes the Kai out of neutrality in a war between Gaur — Ildiko’s country — and Belawat. As the least important members of either royal family, they mostly ignore the large-scale politics. Instead, Ildiko focuses on adapting to her husband’s culture and surviving one of the delicacies of his people: pies housing live scorpion-like creatures. No dinner is complete without stabbing the pie and eating the beast inside. Every marriage has its obstacles.
And what marriage isn’t plagued by an irrational mother-in-law? The “Shadow Queen” doesn’t like her new daughter-in-law any more than she likes either of her children, her husband, her lovers or anyone at the Kai court, but Ildiko’s entertaining quips and refusal to be cowed are annoying enough to merit at least one assassination attempt. The scorpion-like creatures aren’t just in pies, but in Ildiko’s sheets as well. Thankfully, they are easily dispatched by readily available decorative axes.
Simmering below court machinations and Ildiko and Brishen’s growing affection toward each other is the war. It’s easy to get caught up in Ildiko’s wit and Brishen’s touching humanity, their blossoming romance outshining the oncoming storms. But war is upon them, and when the first move is made, the newlyweds are the first to suffer. We can only hope it will be an eye for an eye in the sequel.
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