Sander, the Duke of Roses of the small mythical Pyrenean country of South Abarra is used to the quiet life. He's been effectively banished to a vineyard in the countryside after a horrible “incident” at court when he was 17 and his superpowers were as yet uncontrolled. He's even looking forward to taking his boat out for a sailing trip to celebrate his birthday. First, he has to deal with the North Abarra Duke of Arles, Tarik, a man with a volatile reputation. It doesn't go well. But then Sander finds himself marooned on an island with Tarik, and as the two get to know each other, hostility turns to understanding, and then, maybe, to something more.
“Duking It Out” is in effect a modern fairy tale, with dukes in place of princes and superpowers in place of magic. It's got a lot less of a comic book vibe than I was expecting, but still enough to add some humor to the story. However, it might be best to think of this book as more of a romance than a comics-inspired superhero story.
With a romance, it's all about the main characters, and Sander and Tarik are two quite compelling ones. Sander is definitely likable from the start. Even though life has dealt him a bad hand, even branding him “the Monster”, he hasn't let that get him down. He's still a nice guy, and totally unprepared for his first meeting with the taciturn Tarik.
Tarik is quite a contrast from Sander, setting up a sort of enemies to lovers type of romance. Of course, as the story unfolds we get a good idea of why Tarik may be the way he first appears and he becomes a much more sympathetic character. The speed at which the two men turn from enemies to friends might seem a bit fast, but given the circumstances they find themselves in, it's not totally unbelievable.
Aside from the whole marooned on a desert island theme, there isn't much drama to the plot. The ending feels a little anti-climatic, as the whole mystery of how and why the two ended up stranded just kind of fizzles out. That's probably in part due to this being the first book of a series. Perhaps the whole question of what court intrigues led to the events of this book will resurface in the sequel(s).
“Duking It Out” is available from Amazon.
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