The Pedlar and the Bandit King

The Pedlar and the Bandit King - Kirby Crow I have been greatly anticipating this book for a while and this far exceeded my expectations. It's safe to say I'm now an avid fan of Kirby Crow and a definite supporter of all things Scarlet and Liall. Crow's story is full of interesting characters set in an complex fantasy world full of hints at deeper magic than that which lays on the surface. She describes this through her amazing writing and detail work that made me instantly fall in love with her as a storyteller and this story in particular.

I loved the slow buildup of the relationship between Scarlet and Liall as they come to eventually trust and respect each other. The connection they established felt real and all the more believable for it. I found it especially sweet that the two were continually drawn to each other, dreaming of each other, two halves seeking to become whole.

Scarlet's wandering tendencies as a peddler, and youthful confidence, spur him to make the decision to overlook the warnings others give him concerning the Wolf (Liall) and possible danger in choosing a method of travel that brings the two into acquaintance. There's an instant attraction between the two, one Liall is interested in exploring and Scarlet is determined to ignore. Liall's proposal of a different toll for Scarlet to pass and continue on his travels drive Scarlet to refuse out of self-preservation from what he believes to be wicked intent. This sparks a battle of wits (in Liall's mind, a game) between the two as Scarlet attempts time and again to get past Liall and his men in new and inventive ways of deception.

But Liall has enemies who have set their eyes on Scarlet as a means of revenge. When Scarlet's latest attempt to sneak past Liall in disguise goes wrong, leaving him humiliated and taking the game too far, Scarlet's anger gets the best of him and in turn he angers Liall. Humiliated and depressed, Scarlet flees for safety and runs right into the hands of Liall's revenge-seeking enemy. Liall saves Scarlet, and the scene (as well as the dreams) sets the tone for further workings of magic in the future. This, as well as another scene later on, convinces Scarlet through honor that he owes Liall a life-debt, one that prompts him to spend time with Liall and his men as he recovers. By now, the two have slowly gotten to know each other, becoming slightly more companionable on both sides, although Scarlet still refuses any offers of getting to know the man better. Eventually, the two go their separate ways, believing they will likely never meet again, but both too unsure of their own and each other's feelings to act on any of the feelings of attraction that have been simmering between them since their first meeting.

Shortly after the two have separated, Liall on his way home after many long years gone, and Scarlet to start the life he's been told he should want, Scarlet comes across Liall's enemy once more and learns that the Wolf's life is in danger. While having his own life threatened with imminent doom, Scarlet comes to a sudden clarity and realization of what his true feelings for Liall have been all along, finally coming to accept the attraction he feels for the other man alongside a need to protect him. Scarlet breaks free of the enemies around him, leaving the life he never wanted anyway, and running swiftly toward the one that his heart yearns for. Upon finding the man of his dreams, literally, and saving his life, Scarlet finally becomes sure of himself and feels free to open up to Liall. Liall worries for Scarlet's life, but the young man is not to be swayed on his decision to join Liall on his journey home, no matter the danger he may face. Now that he's finally found what his wandering feet have been leading him to all along, he's not ready to give up on following his heart.

This was a very enjoyable read, one that had me laughing more than I thought I would. I found it sweet, full of heartfelt love that had me smiling the whole way through. This is one I know I will definitely be reading again, just as soon as I find out what happens next between these blessed lovers along their journey.