This was our the latest theme read for the Unapologetic Romance Readers group on Goodreads. Every so often (roughly once a month, but often times with a bigger gap depending on how lazy we are) the group has a "theme read" alongside the monthly read, to give people who aren't interested in one a chance to read the other. Radiance was the winner out of a group of nominations for a "slow burn" read. I'll admit, I was a little disappointed going into it, because I was really rooting for Mariana Zapata's latest--because she is the queen of the slow burn--but I gamely stepped up.
Well, this wasn't quite my cup of tea, and I have to say that I don't see that it was a slow burn, either. At all. The story is about Idilko, a human princess, and Brishen, a Kai prince. Kai are kind of like dark elves but with claws and fangs. The two are married as part of an alliance between their two countries, since both of them are of the royal line but aren't actually in line to inherit. But despite having never met each other and being essentially repulsed by each others' appearances in the beginning, the two are lovey-dovey pretty much right away. They're always calling each other "wife" and "husband" as terms of affection, they're sleeping with each other (literally sleeping) right away on the road and pretty soon after they get to Brishen's home, they're holding hands and giving each other little signs of physical affection. And then they suddenly decide they're physically attracted to each other and to do the dirty. There's really no "burn" here at all--it's basically all there to begin with. There's a little bit of apprehension and a good deal of culture shock to get over, but nothing that is ever seriously presented as a real obstacle to Brishen and Idilko being together.
The characters themselves are fine. I really liked both Idilko and Brishen, who both had good backgrounds and personalities of their own. The side characters were very promising, too, from Brishen's female warrior cousin to the neighboring lord-across-the-border who has a good relationship with Brishen despite their countries being at odds. Draven also does a good job building up the culture of the Kai realm. They're a nocturnal race, and a race with magic, in comparison to humans who have none; they have a basis of trade and a court that's functional but absolutely vicious at the same time. The contrasts between human Idilko and Kai Brishen are extremely apparent, and I think that really helps put the reader in Idilko's frame of mind as she struggles to adapt to her new surroundings and her new people. BUT. This book was supposed to be a romance, and I didn't get that at all.
There's another little side-plot going on here, with someone trying to kill Brishen and/or Idilko, and then something else with Brishen's mother being a royal and potentially homicidal bitch, that may or may not be connected to the central murder plot. Including the epilogue, this is pretty clearly a setup for future books that will deal more with political machinations and international relations than with building the relationships between the characters, which was the focus of this book. It seems like a strange combination, but maybe there will be another relationship built up in the second book.
Overall, I like the characters, and the writing and world-building are decent, but the book didn't ring as romance at all to me, and since that's what the description, cover, etc. all clearly indicated it was, I was definitely disappointed.
2 stars out of 5.