Review | A Taste of Gold and Iron – Alexandra Rowland

About the Book

The Goblin Emperor meets “Magnificent Century” in Alexandra Rowland’s A Taste of Gold and Iron, where a queer central romance unfolds in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire.

Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen’s new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.

To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.

512 page (hardcover)
Published on August 30, 2022
Published by Tor
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This was a library loan. Support your local library.

I kind of picked up this book on a lark at the library a few weeks ago and absolutely devoured it. 

Set in a beautifully wrought fantasy world, A Taste of Gold and Iron tells the story of Prince Kadou, who is disgraced after an incident. Assigned a new bodyguard who does not approve of Kadou’s conduct, the book starts out with a lot of emotional turmoil, which is where I really have fun. Give me all the emotional turmoil. 

Kadou stood out to me instantly. As someone who has a panic disorder, his moments of anxiety and panic attacks were some of the most real, visceral, relatable moments I came across in the book. More, Rowland put such obvious care and empathy into writing that part of Kadou. In fact, as soon as I realized that was part of his character, I got really into the book. I don’t think I’ve seen anxiety/panic portrayed so realistically in fantasy, and I didn’t realize how much I wanted to see that part of me portrayed until I read it. 

More, Rowland has a knack for easy acceptance and normalization of the representation you’ll find in these pages. This has a one/two punch effect that profoundly works for me as a reader. What I mean is, first, we need to see more of ourselves in the books we read. Reading about a character who has panic attacks, and then having those panic attacks as portrayed as just part of who he is, is really validating to see. And that is across the book, from the LGBTQIA+ characters, to the panic attacks, to… everything. Normalization, and the quiet acceptance due to said normalization is powerful.

We need more of that in the books we read.

The worldbuilding was absolutely sublime. In fact, I’d suggest reading this book if you want a crash course on how to introduce a nuanced secondary world without infodumps. Rowland presents readers with a stunningly realized world with no detail overlooked. So much so, I had to sit back and admire it more than a few times. In my editing, I run across the issue of authors really struggling with how to introduce complex, strange ideas to their readers without overwhelming them with information or making them feel like they are in a classroom taking a history class or something. Rowland never stepped over that line in this book. The information and world is crafted and presented so well, so easily, it sort of slid naturally into the dialogue or into the setting. There was never any point when I had to stop and make sure I understood something correctly. The world absolutely flowed, and due to that, felt so much more real than many other secondary worlds. Honestly, it was probably one of most well-crafted aspects of A Taste of Gold and Iron.

Kadou’s sister is the Sultan of Arasht, a nation that thrives on commerce and trade. She assigns Kadou to hunt down a counterfeit smuggling ring which has the potential to rock the foundations of not only their nation, but the royal family as well. His new bodyguard, Evemer makes it hard. Hindered by his prejudice of Kadou, for a while their relationship is extremely prickly until slowly, Rowland chips away at the wall between them. Evemer starts seeing that Kadou is more than what he appears, and Kadou starts trusting Evemer with more of his secrets and himself.

Their relationship unfolds at a pretty steady pace, though I would consider it a slow burn, once they start clicking, it’s clear that the different way they think and operate complement each other, and by the end of the book, they are each other’s strengths. I loved their evolution and how natural Rowland made it seem. Perhaps my one pitfall here would be that some of the scenes are extremely cliché. I also felt the Rowland’s joy in these moments, and I knew they must have been a blast to write, so I didn’t fault them too much. 

The relationship dynamics here are often laced over palace and family intrigue, politics, and mystery. This is, perhaps, where I felt the book was the most unbalanced, because while all of that was interesting, it never quite managed to captivate me the way Kadou did. Perhaps that’s because I was so invested in Kadou and the portrayal of his anxiety that the rest of the book lacked a little luster in comparison. That is all me, however, and no fault of the author. Though I do think it’s worth mentioning. In some ways it felt like more attention was put on character dynamics than mystery. However, this is a character-driven book so honestly I think this is me wanting more Kadou than anything else. Take it as a complement, I suppose, because she wrote a character I loved so much that every time I wasn’t solely focused on him, I wanted to be. 

The magic is subtle but just as well done as every other part of the book and fits into the world as effortlessly as everything else. From people who can “taste” metal with their fingers (and thus judge its purity), to others who can tell if someone is lying by looking into their eyes, the magic is just as nuanced as the world and is so smoothly woven in, it felt as real and natural as the world around me.

Perhaps that is where Rowland shines as an author. This book is about a lot of things, but what really impressed me are the relationships, and the different kinds of them. Not only between characters, but between elements of the world, the magic, and even the relationship forged between the book and its reader. Rowland has a knack for knowing just how to pull threads and when. The tension and setting are used to their maximum potential, making every scene sing and each character moment have an impact. Plus, the lyrical prose worked for me on a fundamental level. 

It’s not a perfect story, it did feel a little unbalanced to me (though honestly, that just might be me, as I said above). Regardless, I absolutely blasted through this book. I could not put it down. Highly recommend for readers who enjoy fantasy romance, character-driven plots, and detailed worldbuilding. 

4/5 stars