A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows
Publication date: July 26th, 2022
Hardcover. 544 pages.
About A Strange and Stubborn Endurance:
"'Stolen me? As soon to say a caged bird can be stolen by the sky.'
Velasin vin Aaro never planned to marry at all, let alone a girl from neighboring Tithena. When an ugly confrontation reveals his preference for men, Vel fears he’s ruined the diplomatic union before it can even begin. But while his family is ready to disown him, the Tithenai envoy has a different solution: for Vel to marry his former intended’s brother instead.
Caethari Aeduria always knew he might end up in a political marriage, but his sudden betrothal to a man from Ralia, where such relationships are forbidden, comes as a shock.
With an unknown faction willing to kill to end their new alliance, Vel and Cae have no choice but to trust each other. Survival is one thing, but love—as both will learn—is quite another.
Byzantine politics, lush sexual energy, and a queer love story that is by turns sweet and sultry. A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is an exploration of gender, identity, and self-worth. It is a book that will live in your heart long after you turn the last page."
I read one page of A Strange and Stubborn Endurance and was fully hooked, and that feeling did not alter one bit throughout the entire rest of the 500+ pages of this story. If you love a character-driven novel, this will be a great choice because the characters are incredibly well-developed and bring so much life and enjoyment to the story. Before getting into this review, I just want to note that there are a number of difficult topics handled in this book, including fairly explicit sexual assault, so be sure to be aware of this going into it. Foz Meadows includes a content warning at the beginning of the book for convenience, and also notes that although this book does handle things such as sexual assault, the story is focused more on healing and does not contain repetitive assault or things of a similar nature.
A Strange and Stubborn Endurance follows Velasin vin Aaro as he discovers that he is to be forced into a political marriage by his father with a woman from the neighboring land of Tithena. However, as his family is about to send him off, it is discovered by a terrible event that Vel would be better suited to marrying the woman’s brother, Caethari Aeduria. In Ralia, same sex relations are forbidden, and this new plan for a political marriage comes as a shock to everyone involved for various reasons. Vel discovers a culture shock upon his arrival in Tithena, as well as a shock when mysterious attacks start occurring that seem to be targeting Vel. No one knows what exactly is going on with the mysterious attacks and what appears to be unrest within Tithena, but Vel and Cae now have to deal with both the stresses and danger of the attacks and threats as well as the fact that they have both been thrust into a new marriage that will require an immense amount of trust, understanding, and healing to be safe and successful.
The book splits perspectives between Velasin and Caethari, the former told in a first person narrative and the latter told with a third person perspective. The story alternates with main sections for a good number of chapters with each character before switching, and I really appreciated how Meadows chose to do this because it seemed to break up the perspectives really well without giving the reader whiplash from going back and forth too often. I also really liked how Meadows employed different POV styles for each character, as it helped to really set them apart and highlighted their individual personalities and journeys.
I really loved getting to know Velasin and found him to be a hugely interesting protagonist to follow. Because of a rather traumatic event that occurs at the start of the novel, we as readers get to watch Velasin slowly grow and rediscover himself over the course of this book and how he adapts to an entirely new culture and world while also dealing with something deeply personal that is affecting him strongly at the same time. I was happy to see him slowly come out his shell a bit and get to know all of his personalities as the story progressed, although I do hope there’s some sort of sequel or something because I would love to see even more of Velasin’s personality as it continues to expand and we get to see more and more of it.
And then, of course, we have Caethari, who has been trained as a warrior, essentially, in Tithena and who I think is supposed to be more of a “tough guy” in some ways, but really, truly, is not. Cae is an incredibly kind, gentle man whose care and tenderness towards Velasin was so beautiful to see. Again, I’d really love to see a sequel so that we can continue to get to see his and Velasin’s relationship progress, as well as so that we can just get to know more about Caethari’s personality and role in Tithena more.
A third character that I wanted to briefly touch on as well because of how much I loved him is Markel, who Velasin’s personal guard of sorts/valet as well as best friend. Markel is mute and so converses with Velasin largely via a form of sign language and with others via writing down his words. I really liked how Meadows incorporated his muteness as something that was both normal and still informative in ways, and how they gave a lot of respect and agency to Markel. I am not mute myself, so I can’t speak to the representation from a personal place, but it seemed very respectfully done and I really appreciated how much attention Meadows paid to Markel’s experiences and how his life is affected by the different interactions with various people and his treatment by others and the importance of all of these different aspects on Markel’s life.
In addition to the wonderfully developed characters, there was also a lot of really great political intrigue in this book as well. If you’re someone who doesn’t like political intrigue, then I want to tell you not to worry because I thought the political aspects of this story were done in a very accessible manner that never really took over the entire story in ways that made it hard to follow. The political intrigue is largely based around Caethari’s family dynamics and the somewhat typical fight for power and figuring out who’s the favored heir to take over things after prominent family members move on, and so forth. This plays a huge role in the plot, but at the same time it never felt overdone or overly cliched and I found that the other aspects of this story, such as the budding relationship building between Velasin and Caethari and Velasin’s healing journey were just as prominent, if not more than this other storyline. It all meshed really well together.
I really enjoyed learning about this new fantasy world, including both Velasin’s home country of Ralia and his new home of Tithena. Ralia and Tithena have incredible contrasting societal norms that it made for a really engaging time watching both Velasin and Caethari learn more about one another’s cultures, and especially in watching Velasin learn more about his new home. It was a lot of fun watching the surprise from various characters as they learned about something new and shocking about a different country, and I liked how Meadows handled that aspect of the story. There is also a magic system in this book that I found really interesting, but that wasn’t overly developed so I’m not sure I can really say too much about it. I’d really love to dive a bit deeper into it in a sequel, but I liked what we saw so far of it and how it doesn’t seem as though everyone can or wants to practice magic, and how it seems to have very specific uses and ways to use it.
And as much as there is a bit of a mystery and some great political intrigue and some interesting magic, this is also a delightful, beautiful romance between Velasin and Caethari. Getting to watch these two men fall in love with each other and learn to truly trust one another was the true highlight of this book, and I appreciate how well Meadows managed to balance of these themes and ideas.
Overall, I’ve given A Strange and Stubborn Endurance five stars. I absolutely adored this book and cannot express how much I hope that there is a sequel! I need more of Velasin, Caethari, Markel, and everyone else!