Book Review: A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer

Title: A Brother’s Price

Author: Wen Spencer

Publisher: Roc

Publication Date: July 5th 2005

Genres: Science Fiction, Romance

Shelves: Female-authored, Female-dominant

Have you ever had a book sitting on your shelf that sounded so good, so perfect, that you were reluctant to read it? A book you were afraid to read because you didn’t see how it could possibly live up to your expectations, and you’d rather hold onto your dreams of what it could be than have them dashed by what it really was?

For me, that book was A Brother’s Price, and not only was the read absolutely perfect, it was more than I dared hope it could be. In fact, Wen Spencer’s reverse regency, alternate history, female-led romance was so good, it so utterly consumed me, that it left me with a whole other problem – a book hangover so profound that I couldn’t even look at another book for days, much less talk rationally about this one.

The story is set in a world that’s sort of a cross between Medieval and Western culture, complete with queens and castles and lady gunslingers, but one where gender roles and stereotypes are completely flipped. Men are so scarce in this world that they’re protected as children, sold or traded as breeding stock when they’re of age, and then shared with their dozen sister wives, kept at home to care for their twenty children while the women go out to work, go off to war, and protect the homestead. These men are sweet, docile, biddable creatures, akin to the innocent damsels of regency romance . . . and I have never read of a world where I felt so at home, even with the horrors of the cribs.

What makes it work is the sincerity with which Wen Spencer treats the material, flipping the gender roles but then allowing the story to continue just as it would in a more traditional romance. There’s no heavy-handed moralizing to the tale, no biting edge satire, and no ranting commentary about equality between the sexes. Aside from the romance tropes, there are no tired clichés trotted out here to smack the reader upside the head and force them to question the how and why of what they’re reading. She allows this to be just what it is, a romance full of love and adventure, and I have never been so enamored of a story or its characters in my life.

Jerin is one of my favorite characters in all of literature, a chivalrous damseau-in-distress (not my term, I borrowed it from another reader, and I love it!) whose sweetness and naivete are so endearing. His first kiss with the Princess is the stuff dreams are made of, and his swooning over her, even while fearing he’s not of noble enough stock to be considered as a husband, is just wonderful. More importantly (and impressively), as the romance broadens and he must win over the Princess’ sisters, the diversity and variety in those scenes of seduction and courtship is just delightful.

More than just a romance, however, A Brother’s Price is also a fantastic fantasy novel full of daring rescues, dastardly plots, political machinations, clever espionage, and pitched battles on land and upon the waters of the canal. Aside from the gender roles being flipped, it’s precisely the kind of swashbuckling adventure that you’d expect from the genre. It works because of all the elements (the concept, the romance, and the fantasy), succeeds because of the sincerity of the telling, and excels because of the passion of the characters.

With all of that said, I’m left with yet another problem – it’s a standalone novel, and yet I need to go back . . . I need more of this world . . . these characters . . . this story. Spencer has shared some sequel snippets on her Patreon (which excites me greatly), but there’s been nothing new on it in 3 years (which saddens me just as much). One can dream, however, and for the first time ever I’ve subscribed to an author in hopes of more.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀

(yes, that’s a 6/5, and I’m not sorry!)

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