It’s 1799, and on the magically hidden South Pacific island of Eidolonia, the humans are locked in a war with the fae. The fae were already on the island when humans arrived, and the relationship between them has always been uneasy. Now, a group of fae led by Ula Kana seeks to destroy the humans and get rid of them once and for all. The only way for the humans to elicit the help of the other fae is to agree to a truce: Ula Kana will be put into a magical sleep — and in return, a human royal must be put to sleep as well. Prince Larkin is that human, but he didn’t volunteer. Instead, he is being secretly compelled to go along by witch Rosamund Highvalley, in order to create peace between the humans and fae.
In 2020, Merrick Highvalley is a modern-day witch and descendant of Rosamund. Merrick finds himself frequently in trouble for using his magic in violation of the government rules, but the current leaders are a corrupt bunch and Merrick has a rebellious streak. Prince Larkin has now been asleep since 1799, and is a national hero for the way he saved the country. When Merrick stumbles upon some of Rosamund’s old notes and magical artifacts, he can’t help but be intrigued. He hopes that something in there might help him cure his father’s illness. Instead, Merrick finds a portal that leads to the very bower where Larkin rests in his magical sleep. And before he knows it, Merrick has managed to accidental awaken Larkin. The only problem is that once Larkin awakens… so will Ula Kana.
Fearing trouble for both of them, Merrick hides Larkin while the prince adjusts to life over 200 years after he first went to sleep. Larkin is disoriented by modern life, but he also is wary about reporting to the authorities; none of them noticed when he was magically compelled to agree to sleep and he isn’t sure he trusts them now. But Ula Kana is back to her old ways, terrorizing the Eidolonian cities and wreaking havoc. Merrick feels incredibly guilty, knowing that he inadvertently put this all into motion, and he is determined to do something about it. When he realizes that Rosamund’s notes include her plan for containing Ula Kana without the need for a human counterpart, Merrick decides to venture into the fae realm and try to implement the plan himself. With the authorities on his back, and determined to do something to help his people, Larkin goes along.
The world of the fae is a dangerous place, and Larkin and Merrick must undertake three complex negotiations with the fae in order to secure Ula Kana’s capture. Not to mention that there are plenty of creatures in the fae realm that would more likely kill them than not. On top of that, it doesn’t take long for Ula Kana to discover their plans and she continues to hunt them through the fae realm. But Merrick and Larkin are determined to see their quest to the end and save the people of Eidolonia — if they can make it out alive.
Lava Red Feather Blue is a story that combines the fantasy and modern worlds together in an interesting way, with a bit of a Sleeping Beaty twist. Unlike most fantasy I have read, this story largely takes place in present day, except for some early scenes where we see Larkin being compelled into his magical sleep. We spend about half of the book in the human side of Eidolonia, as the story sets up and we see Merrick and Larkin try to navigate keeping the prince hidden, as well as Larkin attempting to adjust to the modern world. Eidononia is a magically hidden island, but it exists within our real, contemporary world, just with a lot of magic users. The second half of the story then takes the men into the fae realm where there is more of a traditional fantasy feel, yet still with a sense of modern life (Merrick has a cell phone that allows him to magically check in with the human side, for example). This combination makes for an interesting setting and some nice world building. I enjoyed the wide variety of creatures the men encounter in the fae realm, as well as the way magic is worked into the human side of things.
As you may have noted from my lengthy introduction, this is a story that takes a lot of set up, and the early part of the book feels like it is laying a lot of groundwork. Given that this is a longer book, it does take a while to get going into the action, but I did really like seeing Merrick and Larkin get to know one another, deal with government threats, and figure out how to implement Rosamund’s plan. When the story shifts to the fae realm, it takes on somewhat of a road trip feel as they embark on their quest. There are three fae with whom they must negotiate to get their help capturing Ula Kana and each require their own trials before they agree. I found the fae realm to be creative with all the various creatures, as well as challenges the men face, and it is a good chance to see Merrick and Larkin bond and begin to fall for each other. That said, I felt that the encounters with the fae didn’t seem quite as intense as I would have expected. Instead, things seemed a little repetitious and not to have quite the urgency I wanted. This holds true for Ula Kana as well, who is supposed to be this terrifying, almost all powerful fae, but who mostly flies in and out scaring them before being chased off by other fae. We do learn a little bit just why Ula Kana is so much more hostile than the other fae, but there wasn’t enough substance to her character to make her really feel like the big bad threat that is presented.
I enjoyed both Merrick and Larkin as characters and think their relationship development felt natural. They are forced to depend upon each other almost from the start, and there is a nice connection that grows as they follow their quest. These guys are both willing to risk themselves for others and manage to be brave and resourceful when it counts, but also not too perfect. They feel real and I liked the juxtaposition of Larkin as this 18th century royal paired with Merrick as a modern day witch.
A couple of other notes. This story brings up some nice themes around the rights of indigenous people. In this case, the fae allowed the humans to settle, but found themselves on the losing end of land deals and shady practices from humans who wanted increasingly more territory. While Ula Kana’s methods are clearly wrong, the story does recognize that the humans have played a big role in creating this conflict as well. I also appreciated that Eidolonia is presented as a totally LGBTQ-friendly place (even in 1799, where Larkin has a male partner). Not only are same sex relationships commonplace, but those outside the gender binary are also totally accepted during both time periods (Merrick’s sibling is nonbinary).
Overall, I found this one an interesting fantasy with a somewhat different style than most I have read. I enjoyed getting to spend time in both the human and faery realms, as well as having a fantasy that largely takes place in the modern day world. I think the story is a little too long and there feels like a lot of set up to get things going. At times, the quest seemed a little slow and the threats not quite intense enough. But in the end, I found this one engaging and enjoyed the story and the characters.