Pros: Hot, fascinating, absorbing, riveting, and did I mention hot?
Rating: 5 out of 5
Ann Aguirre’s The Leopard King (Ars Numina) (Volume 1) is set in a different milieu than the other books of hers I’ve read (if you’re a fan of scifi go read the Sirantha Jax series!). It’s absolutely as wonderful as any of them. In this world, humans discovered the existence of the supernatural (called Numina) in 1876. Therefore, we come in past the typical troubles found in this sort of setting. Numina have long since claimed their part of the world and the humans keep to themselves. The Numina also have plenty of experience working with tech, some of it quite advanced. Numina come in several varieties: the Animari are shape-shifters, divided into cat, bear, and wolf settlements. The Golgoth can transform into… well, most people think of them as demons. The Eldritch are witchy folk with highly skilled assassins. A fragile peace has lasted between these groups for a hundred years, and it’s time to re-ratify the accords. Just one problem: the cats are supposed to host, and their leader, Dominic, has been in seclusion since his wife’s murder a couple of years earlier. His second, Slay, is entirely too violence-prone to guide peace talks, so he sends his friend, Pru, to figure out how to get Dom to come home. She’s determined to succeed, whatever it takes.
One of my favorite themes in this book is the idea that one doesn’t have to have just one perfect love in one’s life. Pru has been in love with Slay for a decade, but because she’s a Latent (she’s incapable of shifting form), he just considers her a friend with benefits. Dom was totally in love with his wife before her death. Yet Pru and Dom develop an incredible connection between them. I love the fact that in this book, while there are certainly challenges to the relationship throughout the whole thing, the pair come together pretty early on. It isn’t drawn out unnecessarily. We get to luxuriate in their relationship for a while.
Pru, being a practical and learned woman, makes an excellent leader at Dom’s side, helping to smooth over some of the rough spots between the cats and everyone else. All of the groups are really interesting, and aren’t all exactly what one might expect. I love all of the characters, from the heads of the wolf and bear clans to one of the Eldritch assassins and the prince of the Golgoth. They’re all engaging, and easy to get invested in.
There’s a wonderful emotional rollercoaster to ride. Just 7% of the way in on my kindle and I was already tearing up. Consent is a great minor theme as well, and I like that the book doesn’t pretend relationships exist in a vacuum–they’re complicated and messy and not everyone gets what they want.
The only tiny complaint I had was that I sometimes found it a little difficult to keep track of who was saying what. Otherwise this book was perfect for me.
Content note for suicidal ideation, self-harm, and explicit sex.