Oak King Holly King by Sebastian Nothwell
Fantasy romance released by Sebastian Nothwell on February 14, 2022
Shrike, the Butcher of Blackthorn, is a legendary warrior of the fae realms. When he wins a tournament in the Court of the Silver Wheel, its queen names him her Oak King – a figurehead destined to die in a ritual duel to invoke the change of seasons. Shrike is determined to survive. Even if it means he must put his heart as well as his life into a mere mortal’s hands.
Wren Lofthouse, a London clerk, has long ago resigned himself to a life of tedium and given up his fanciful dreams. When a medieval-looking brute arrives at his office to murmur of destiny, he’s inclined to think his old enemies are playing an elaborate prank. Still, he can’t help feeling intrigued by the bizarre-yet-handsome stranger and his fantastical ramblings, whose presence stirs up emotions Wren has tried to lock away in the withered husk of his heart.
As Shrike whisks Wren away to a world of Wild Hunts and arcane rites, Wren is freed from the repression of Victorian society. But both the fae and mortal realms prove treacherous to their growing bond. Wren and Shrike must fight side-by-side to see who will claim victory – Oak King or Holly King.
It has been so long since I bought this one that I actually don’t remember why I picked it up, other than I am always a sucker for a good shifter romance. (My assigned theme for this month was “animals” and I’m going to say two characters named after birds one of whom IS a bird is, uh. close enough.) Anyway – love a shifter romance, also love a historical romance, historical + shifter + supernatural shenanigans = autobuy, for me. Also the cover is beautiful.
Shrike is a fae on a mission, and that mission is to not die in combat at the solstice. He also has to (re)learn how to navigate the mortal world in order to get Wren to help him with not-dying on the Solstice, and learn how to be both a lover and a true partner to Wren. And he’s helping Wren solve a mortal mystery. I think what I liked best about Shrike was that his POV always felt . . . a little alien, for a lack of a better term, but still suffused with love and kindness and respect for Wren and his baffling-to-Shrike boundaries.
Wren is a man pulled between two worlds and deeply anxious in both of them. His reasonably orderly (though muted) life gets absolutely upended when Shrike shows up, and then thoroughly flipped over when his potentially scandalous drawings, and then his employer’s disreputable ward, both disappear. Wren also has to learn to be loved, and to be brave, and to live, not just exist.
This book had all of the things I enjoy in a historical supernatural shifter romance: Fae, the Wild Hunt, hilariously indignant Victorians, rich and lyrical description, a twisty-turvy mystery, and a period-accurate trans character (who is not of of the MCs) who gets a happy ending. Also all the baddies get what is coming to them. It’s a delicious puff pastry of escapism.
The one thing that I found jarring is also a MASSIVE spoiler, but I can say this: I arched both eyebrows but it didn’t ruin the book for me. I just didn’t feel like the characters had done quite enough on-page growing and changing for me to buy the narrative heading in that direction.
Overall I thought it was great, and I’d definitely read this author again. Would recommend it for any and all of your cozy rainy fall/winter reading needs.
You can buy a copy here.