ARC Review: A BARGAIN WITH THE FAE KING by Megan Van Dyke

I received an eARC from the author, who I know, in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Title in yellow on a girl in a big green dress in the woods
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 2 stars
Series: yes - first book

Synopsis:

Book cover for A BARGAIN WITH THE FAE KING: title in yellow on green skirt of girl in yellow woods

For Lia Ashmore, the only thing keeping her grief and guilt in check after an accident nearly killed her little sister, May, are her recurring dreams of Riven, a shadowed man who’s become her confidant, a pleasant escape from the pain of reality.

When May is taken by animalistic dark Fae, Lia journeys to Faery, desperate to save her sister. There, she comes face to face with three shocking truths: Riven is real, he’s not human, and in fact, he’s the King of the Forest Fae. They strike a bargain. He’ll help her save May in exchange for what he wants: Lia as his consort.

But saving her sister is not as easy as either expected, and a failed rescue attempt reignites an age-old conflict between Fae courts. As her relationship with Riven blossoms, Lia becomes increasingly entangled in bitter rivalries and political power plays.

In a world where no one can lie but everyone has secrets, Lia will have to decide who to trust. The choice alone could cost her heart, but the wrong one may demand her life—and her sister’s.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

This is a fantasy romance where the romance itself hit way too many of my red flags for comfort, and that really overshadowed my experience of the book. I could not get behind the central romance (the centre of the story) because Riven, the love interest, just screamed at me that Lia needed to run far far away from him. I think that’s partly an issue with the fae romance set up – that the tropes (might not be the right word) baked into the sub-genre hit way too many of those red flags for me. My two biggest nopes were his territorial nature and his lying.

Personally, the territorial went further than “just” territorial into not respecting boundaries. I doe not find possessive jealousy at all sexy/endearing. I see it as narcissistic controlling, unwilling for anyone else to have the attention, so demand it all, which means I feel like the possessive one doesn’t see their partner as an equal, but rather as someone to meet their needs alone.

But Riven went further than that for me. He didn’t tell her the nature of bargain before it was made (the fact that it basically involved sex) and then didn’t really feel like he was respecting her boundaries. He didn’t give her the option of another room. He pushed her way into her bath. He effectively pressured her into a kiss. The list goes on. It just made me feel so ick.

It felt like it was played off as sexy temptation because she ultimately liked it, but it didn’t feel like she ever consented to those things, not without pressure. And even if someone likes it in the end, the nope nope nope for me is the fact there wasn’t consent at the start, that he was really not respecting the boundaries – not even giving her a chance to lay down boundaries – is an enormous red flag for me.

The lying is another thing that seems part of the fae set up. Fae can’t lie with words so they lie by omission. I’ve already mentioned he doesn’t fully explain the bargain or its consequences (and all but the sex is told to her by someone other than Riven, and then also felt brushed aside by a “oh, I wished you’d told me but OK, I guess?”)

The worst one of it was the fact that the circumstances around her coming to Faery were just forgiven because he did one semi-decent thing for love? I’d guessed that reveal very early on (because he raised so many red flags for me that I just did not trust him and was already completely willing to believe him the villain) and it didn’t feel like it was properly addressed. Honestly, that was the sort of thing I think is completely unforgiveable and should have ended the relationship. But it’s just brushed under the rug by him doing one vaguely decent act.

It’s exactly the same issue I had with the end of Passengers (the movie) and, to be fair, Riven very much reminds me of the male lead in that. So if you had an issue with him/how that movie handled the relationship/that it was a romance, you probably will also not like the romance in this.

Lia throughout took everything as her fault. I could understand that at the start, as that’s her mindset lie, but she never seemed to get past that, to grow. To me, sure, a romance is about people falling in love, but also falling in love with themselves. The process of falling in love gives them a supportive environment to learn about themselves and grow in the process, to shake off the lies they’ve internalised. It’s not that the romantic love from someone else is necessary for that, but in a romance, it usually gets the characters out of a toxic environment to a better one which allows them that space.

Lia never got that for me, because Riven never gave her that supportive space, never was a mirror to show her what was great about her. And that’s because he was so possessive of her, and so every time he got upset because he didn’t like her talking to someone else, she saw it as her fault – and that internal narrative didn’t seem to change.

There are other books to come, companions more than sequels, but I doubt I’ll read any more of this series (though I did like Megan Van Dyke’s other book, which didn’t throw up flags for me) as I do think it is the fae set up that brings out these flags for me.


Read my reviews of other books by Megan Van Dyke:

Reimagined Fairy Tales:

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