Unexpected solace comes in the form of Lord Teverem, a sad, quiet lord who assumed the title when his brother was killed in the explosion for which Istari's father is to blame. He is kind and sweet and a sorely needed bright spot in Istari's life—until Istari meets his family and learns of a dangerous family secret with unexpected ties to Istari's past, a secret that could drag Tallideth and Belemere right back into war…
♦ 89,000 words
WARNING: Attempted suicide
Kept hostage at the royal court of Tallideth, Prince Istari spends his days alone. Though he’s bored, he’s used to being shunned. His first friend in Tallideth ends up being Lord Teverem, whose brother was killed by Istari’s father’s actions. But Teverem doesn’t hold that against Istari, and is willing to get to know him.
When Teverem’s family is threatened, Istari offers the protection of royal marriage. Istari had hoped to marry for love, but he’s willing to do what he can to keep Teverem and the children safe. Istari and Teverem end up finding in each other, and the children, the family they never really had. But to be happy, they’ll have to deal with those who want to destroy their new-found family.
This book takes a while to get going. I’m a fan of Megan Derr’s worldbuilding and story-weaving, so I didn’t mind, but it definitely takes patience to see how the plot will play out.
The romance plays second fiddle until the second half. Teverem and Istari develop a friendship and bond over the children, Teverem’s adopted nieces and nephew, but they don’t think of each other amorously until later on.
A low-key romance isn’t unusual for Megan Derr, but in this case it’s more so a result of who Istari and Teverem are. Both are demisexual, and aren’t particularly interested in sex. It’s not until they can spend time alone and really get to know each other that either of them begins thinking about the other romantically.
I enjoyed seeing how their friendship meant so much to both Istari and Teverem. The book is told from Istari’s POV, so readers experience first-hand how lonely and dejected he had been his whole life, and how being around Teverem and the children brought him so much joy.
Teverem comes across as timid at first, but it becomes clear later on that he had a core of strength. It just took Istari’s faith in him, something Teverem hadn’t gotten from anyone before, for Teverem to shine.
When Istari and Teverem eventually move on to being something more, it didn’t take any stretch of the imagination. They just built on what was already there. The two were sweet together, and clearly very happy with their small family.
I don’t want to give away too much of the mystery plot, but it was a fun ride. It involves political intrigue, family drama, and even some moral ambiguity. The plot was complicated, but not convoluted. There are a few twists and turns which connect to the first book and to both Istari and Teverem’s pasts, so it definitely kept me guessing and interested.
I did think that the solution was a bit too neat and easy. But it wasn’t entirely unbelievable, and I was happy with the way everything came together in the end.
Overall, ‘The Painted Crown’ was a very enjoyable read, with a slow and sweet romance, and an entertaining plot. I’d recommend this series if you’re looking for some MM fantasy with lots of political intrigue.