Listen, I see bakers and fake dating in a fantasy setting and I’m immediately sold…
Book: Meliora by Talli L Morgan
Publication date: 7th June 2022
Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge by author. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Anxiety/panic attacks; discussion of terminal/chronic illness; discussion of poverty, both systemic and individual, and classism; restriction of access to healthcare.
Winter Fae takes a job at the Summer Palace with two goals in mind: keep his sister alive, and keep his family’s secrets safe. He intends to keep his head down and avoid drawing attention, but that plan crumbles when he crosses paths with the notoriously reckless Prince Arturo, who’s last in line for the throne and would rather see the world than rule it.
Arturo claims he knows someone who can cure Winter’s sister for good, if Winter can trust him enough to travel across the country. But Winter’s family has attracted enough suspicion over the years, so he needs a damn good reason for disappearing with the prince.
And what’s a better excuse than elopement?
This book is completely adorable, and anyone who loves cosy, warm fantasy should absolutely have this on their radar. I actually started it the moment I got it, which is pretty unusual for me, and I ended up reading straight through in just a couple of hours, because it’s the most delightfully readable, fluffy fun! I’m really loving the current trend towards more slice-of-life fantasy – the stakes in Meliora aren’t world-changing to anyone except Winter and Arturo, and that means this is a very personal story with lots of space for character development and fun moments. It’s a queer fake-dating road trip with an anxious baker and a dramatic prince, and if that description already makes you smile, you won’t be disappointed.
Winter is a really lovely protagonist, one whom it’s easy to find relatable. He’s such a kind person, and I loved how his innate need to help people was depicted as both a nice thing and a flaw; he tends to take on too much of other people’s problems as well as his own, and a large part of his development is learning that he doesn’t need to try to fix everything alone all the time. His anxiety was very well-portrayed – I thought it was nicely accurate, though the depictions still suit the lighter tone of the book. Also, not to spoil anything, but I loved that even though this was a fantasy world, there were still actual existing treatment options for not only physical health but also mental health – it means that the book doesn’t need to follow a ‘finding a magical cure’ path (which is usually iffy), but instead has space to discuss access to healthcare, which I don’t think I’ve seen before in fantasy. A lot of Winter’s motivation revolves around maintaining his sister’s access to treatment for her physical illness, but he doesn’t consider that he might also need some help with his anxiety, and that’s a very interesting thing to do with both the character and the world.
I also really loved the romance between Winter and Prince Arturo, and how it unfolds from their first awkward meetings, through Arturo’s determination to be friends and Winter’s fake dating plan, to flashes of attraction that threaten to complicate their fake relationship. This is a queernorm world, which means the romantic drama is solely based on their personalities and backgrounds, and not on the fact that Arturo is trans or Winter nonbinary – I truly love when I get to read stories like this and people can just be unapologetically who they are. The banter between the two of them is delightful, and if you’re like me, and love gentle snark and flirting between two idiots who very clearly fancy each other but are in total denial about it, you’ll be very happy!
Basically, this is a fantastic summery fantasy rom-com that manages to tackle some serious issues while still leaving you with a smile on your face. I’d love more stories in this world – Arturo’s sister Elisa, who’s both princess and medical student, is someone I’d particularly like to know more about! Five out of five cats, for sure.