About The Book
Sir Ezra is an Elysian Bell; he has a frightening potential that he keeps hidden deep beneath tight layers of steel armor. He secretly loves a dark Queen whose touch would mean his death.
Banished for brutally slaughtering the Prince of Erle and husband to the Queen, Sir Ezra can only dream of seeing her again. Every night, his soul travels to distant lands, remembering the Queen, her deep convictions, brilliant mind, unending work, hidden loneliness, and a single night of horrific bloodshed.
Recalled to the Queendom after eleven years, Ezra hopes to catch at least a fleeting glimpse of the woman he was sacrificed for. Instead, he finds a nation in rebellion and the Queen to be an elusive phantom. His only friend, Sir Marigold, challenges his presence and tells him that he is not needed in the capitol. Looking for both the truth and the absent Queen, Ezra finds only more secrets and enemies.
Ezra’s armor is dented, scarred, and ruined by friend and enemy alike; his secret potential is about to become unbound.
Sir Ezra has a problem.
He’s in love with the queen, who may be a vampire, and who has sent him into exile for eleven years to protect her kingdom. Only now is he allowed to return to the capital on a trade mission for his current employer, the Lady Kristen.
And we’re not talking garden-variety love here. What Ezra feels is soul-consuming, her-life-over-his, totally-undeniable passion, which the queen doesn’t seem to return. And some days, the only thing that keeps all that passion bottled up inside of him is his armor.
You see, Ezra is an “Elysian bell” – someone with a gift from the gods (or “dead gods,” often used as a curse in the story) whose feelings resonate and reverberate like the peals of a bell, affecting all those around him. This can be a powerful weapon, but it can also cause problems, such as when he broadcasts his love for the queen with other women (and gay men – more on that later) in close proximity.
When he’s finally called back to the city, he finds the queen elusive. Okay, so “elusive” is an understatement. We see about as much of her through most of the book as we did of Maris on the entire run of Frasier (and if you’re too young to get the reference, that’s basically zero). She’s always one step ahead of him, just leaving a room before he enters, heading out to a job site but the evaporating like rain on hot pavement the moment he arrives.
While in the capital, he uncovers a series of plots against the queen, along with the persistent (and damaging) rumor that she’s really a vampire.
I’ve read five of Hunt’s books now. This one is the first one outside of his “Dynamicist” world, and the most focused. There are only two character POV’s – Sir Ezra and his friend Sir Marigold, a female knight who is not-so-secretly in love with him. Hunt being who he is, there’s also a philosophical subtext here too, embodied by the other-worldly dimension of Eydos, which Ezra visits in his dreams, and which serves as a sounding board for him to work out his relationship with the queen.
Where this book shines is in Ezra’s passion for the queen, and his actions to protect her. Foremost among these are battle scenes with beautifully telegraphed gore that would make The Boys’ special effects wizards very happy. Ezra loves the queen to the depths of his soul, and there’s no door he won’t break down and no moat he won’t leap across to protect her, and if he has to shatter a few skulls to do that, so be it. Let the teeth fly.
We’re left wondering through most of the novel if the queen actually exists, and if she is truly worthy of Ezra’s unquestioning love. Sir Marigold asks him just that on a number of occasions. Pontes – the secretary for the Lady Kristen (to whose estate Ezra has been exiled) – does too. The man also carries a secret torch for the magical knight.
I wish Hunt had done more with Pontes in the story (whose name’s similarity to the Latin word for bridge, “Pontis,” has to mean something because this is a Lee Hunt book). Are gay characters accepted in this world? How long has he pined for Ezra? What’s he like inside? There are a few great scenes where he shines – like when he hands Ezra one of his precious ledgers to throw at a bad guy – but I couldn’t help feeling there was more to be mined there.
Overall, I loved the book. The “bell” idea is inspired, and the pairing with a possible vampire helped make this fantasy unique – something I prize. Ezra was equal parts full-speed-ahead and slam-on-the-brakes, and this central conflict drives most of the story, leading up to the last fifty pages where things reach a fever pitch.
And the ending resonates, much like the “bell” that’s the story’s main character.
If you love epic fantasy and crave something different, read Bed of Rose and Thorns. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Scott is the founder of Queer Sci Fi, and a fantasy and sci fi writer in his own right, with more than 30 published short stories, novellas and novels to his credit, including two trilogies.