Rating: 5 out of 5
Ann Aguirre’s Ars Numina series is almost over. One more book to come after The War Priest (Ars Numina Book 5). Book five picks up right when Callum–head of the bear clan–sets off for home from having attended the festivities at Raff and Thalia’s place. Joss, Pru’s cousin who loves to sing, hops along for the ride. When they arrive at Burnt Amber, they’re almost intercepted by a Golgoth squad, and have to race the re-activating mine defense grid to get there safely. Joss realizes that maybe coming along on a whim wasn’t the smartest thing she’s ever done, but she’s there now, and she might as well help out. She has a total love-at-first-sight crush on Callum, but he’s grouchy and unapproachable. His own people seem afraid of him. She offers to help boost morale in town while they’re under siege, singing for the locals. We quickly discover that Joss’s presence tongue-ties Callum as well. Just one problem: Callum belongs to a religious order that forbids sex and other close relationships. Because of this, Joss becomes determined to be his friend, to help him shoulder some of the burden of wartime, and to help him out when his scant people skills fail him. While she’s there, she hopes to help him figure out who’s been giving medication to their enemies.
Joss and Callum are such wonderful characters. They try so hard to just be friends, and she does her best to lend him her strength without expecting anything in return. She doesn’t want him to break his vows for her, or to submit to temptation and then regret it. I really appreciate this approach. She isn’t doing some trade-kindness-for-sex thing–she genuinely wants to care for him to whatever extent is reasonable. It’s just that neither of them can contain their desire.
I really like the diversity in sexual and gender orientation in these books. For the most part I wouldn’t classify them as LGBTQ+, although it’s clear from background information that a fair number of the characters are either bi- or pansexual. It’s just taken as normal that there are same-sex relationships and non-binary characters, and I really appreciate books where that’s just presented as ordinary. Maybe the more it gets depicted as an everyday thing in media, the more we’ll come to see it that way in general.
There’s a fair amount of fighting in this book. The bears are under siege and running low on supplies. The mine field is the only thing holding off the Gols. They have to hope that the Gols continue to think their armament factory is within the walls, rather than outside a little ways, or the Gols might get hold of their munitions. Joss is not a wilting flower either–she’s never killed before, but she makes a great scout (being a bobcat) and can do some real damage when needed. All of the women in these books fight to various extents, which I appreciate.
There’s also some seriously steamy sex in here! Their relationship takes a while to build up to that point, but it really satisfies once it happens.
I can’t wait for book six (well, I’m going to have to, probably until sometime next year), and I foresee going into withdrawal once the series is over!