A Weird and Stubborn Endurance Review: A Queer Fantasy Romance About Confidence
Truly, we live in the golden age of queer fantasy. From continental epics and fairy tale reimaginings to seemingly futuristic dystopias and worlds built on complex systems of magic, these are stories that run the gamut from thriller to romance and everything in between. The best of the lot, however, are usually the ones that mix together various genres and elements in a way that feels fresh and new or gives readers something they’ve never seen before.
And the new Foz Meadows novel A strange and stubborn endurance does just that, simultaneously providing readers with a lush, fully realized fantasy adventure, a delicate exploration of healing and trauma, and an incredibly satisfying and sexy slow-burn romance. The book’s world-building is rich and engaging, its secondary characters detailed and memorable, and the politically-driven plot at its center is compelling. Yes, it’s the kind of book that may take you the first 50 or so pages to settle in – Meadows takes readers right into the action of the story and hopes they’ll be able to both follow along and understand. the rules of the world find each other, but once our two leads meet, the emotionally captivating bond between them will have you turning the pages as quickly as possible.
The book follows the story of Ralian aristocrat Velasain vin Aaro, who is promised to marry a princess from the neighboring country of Tithenia, as part of a diplomatic effort to improve relations between their two kingdoms, which have long been historic rivals. But when the sudden return of an abusive ex-boyfriend reveals the truth about Vel’s preferences for men, his father disowns him, leaving the young man with what seems like no future. Until a Tithenian envoy reveals that their kingdom has no such laws or taboos restricting same-sex relationships, and that Vel’s future wife has an equally eligible brother. Exiled from the only home he’s ever known and reeling from the trauma inflicted on him by his ex, Vel accepts the change and crosses the mountain to marry a man he’s never met, just hoping things will get better. will do better than the smoking box of his life behind which he lives.
Upon arriving in Tithenia, Val is stunned by many things: the delicious food, the unfamiliar religious practices, and the kingdom’s much more relaxed attitudes towards sexual and gender identity. The kingdom’s eldest heiress is herself married to a woman, and Tithenian society is comfortable not only with the use of pronouns to denote when someone is trans or non-binary, but also with encouraging the use magical solutions to enable its citizens to best live their lives as their true selves.
Never having experienced this kind of widespread acceptance of her sexuality and identity before is quite overwhelming for poor Vel at first, a situation which is made worse by the fact that her new husband Caethari Aeduria is not the monster he feared, but a nice one, terribly attractive. a man who looks like everything he could have wished for in a partner.
Spoiler alert: The absolute best part of A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is the slowly developing relationship between Vel and Caethari, a delicate push and pull that shows rather than tells us about the couple’s growing feelings for each other. another, then from a genuine desire to make their unexpected partnership work. I know I can’t be the only person who swoons a little over a well-done marriage of convenience trope, and Meadows executes it brilliantly here.
Sure, trying to uncover the identity of the person trying to kill you is probably reason enough for any pair to close in pretty quickly, but the fact that we’re allowed to see Cae’s stubborn will to being a person her new husband can trust and Vel slowly understanding that he’s allowed to want things that make him happy is a joy to watch unfold. (Also, I mean, maybe you can resist a man who wants to learn sign language just because he wants to be able to communicate with his new husband’s mute servant, but I’m not that person. Swoon.)
The aforementioned murder plot mystery is apparently the driving force behind the novel’s back half, as Cae and Vel must unravel complex threads of political loyalties to determine who, precisely, is so invested in the failed political alliance. what their marriage represents. But it’s also probably the least important part of the story she tells. (You can also guess the twist that comes in the last quarter of the book long before it happens – I did, and I’m not normally very good at such things.)
There’s plenty of gore and shocking twists, though for me it was the most interesting as our heroes try to figure out who, precisely, they can trust. And while the climactic showdown between Cae and those who seek to harm him Vel is more than a little ridiculous – with events ranging from kidnapping to setting someone on fire – the trust that our new husbands are forced to show off to each other to survive, anything better than the messy price of admission to make it happen.
Note: For all the fading romance involved in this tale, it should be noted, however, that A strange and stubborn endurance deals very strongly with assault and the aftermath of sexual trauma, including suicidal ideation at various times. And while the book does a great job of realistically presenting the ways in which Vel’s healing and recovery doesn’t – and really can’t – happen in a straight line, it does contain images that may prove upsetting for some readers.
A strange and stubborn enduranceis available now.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the editor of Paste Magazine, but loves to dabble in all kinds of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.