Title: Tournament of Shadows
Author: S. A. Meade
Genre: Historical (1842)
Length: Novel (209 pages)
Publisher: Totally Bound Books (March 21st, 2014)
Heat Level: Moderate
Heart Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥ 5 Hearts
Blurb: In 1842, Captain Gabriel O’Riordan of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars is sent on a mission to Bukhara. His task—to try to free two of his compatriots from the clutches of a mentally unstable Emir. On his way, he encounters Valentin Yakolev, an officer in the Russian Army, who is also on a mission—to persuade the Emir that an alliance with Russia would be in his best interests. Gabriel, disguised as a holy man, is not happy to be the object of Yakolev’s intense scrutiny. After all, he’s working for the opposing team in the Great Game being played between their two nations. When Gabriel realises that his mission is little more than a forlorn hope, a game he has no chance of winning, he’s desperate enough to turn to Valentin to help and offer him anything in return. What he doesn’t expect is to have his plans to return to Calcutta scuppered by events.
Instead, he and Valentin flee north, fighting off bandits, their desire for each other and the hardship of desert travel. Their travails bring them closer together until a secret from Valentin’s past tears them apart.
Can they set the past behind them and move on together?
Purchase Link: https://www.totallybound.com/tournament-of-shadows
Review: Captain Gabriel O’Riordan and Valentin Yakolev meet on the dusty road to a citadel in a Moslem Middle Eastern land. The British operative, disguised as a holy scholar, notices the Russian’s interest in him and wonders at it, whether it is the interest of another clandestine diplomatic operative or something more personal, more intimate. Forced to be wary, Gabriel nevertheless must trust Valentin if he wants to free the British diplomats in the Emir’s dungeon. The two men have at least one thing in common: they are each weary of their clandestine espionage work. This most recent assignment turns out to take a hefty toll on them, especially Valentin who has spent a horrendous time in a deep hole with rats and scorpions. They connect as men who love men, but since Gabriel suspects the Russian of having a hand in an incident in Kabul where Gabriel’s friends suffered and were killed, even as they travel north through Russia he cannot let himself the trust the troubled man.
This is a fairly simple story with individualistic characters that suffers somewhat from not knowing if it is intrigue or romance. This would not be a problem if well blended, but as the steady, even relentless action just fizzles out as they start up the river to the north, the change from adventure to conflicts of the heart is a bit jarring. Along with some minor continuity issues, the result is an uneven tale. The meaning of the book’s title utterly baffles me.
However for the simple escapism of a couple dashing heroes getting it on in service to king – or czar – and country and the fluid writing and depth of characterization, it is certainly worth a read.