Book Review: The Hidden King (The Coming of Áed) by E.G. Radcliff

The Hidden King

Series: The Coming of Áed, #1

Author: E.G. Radcliff

Genre: Fantasy

Book Description:

Áed dreams of escaping the misery of the Maze, the dismal city of his birth, but his love for his makeshift family – his partner, Ninian, and an orphaned boy named Ronan – compels him to say.

When a crushing tragedy forces a new beginning, Áed determines to break out of the Maze once and for all – but not before deeply buried secrets flare up with formidable consequences.

Setting out for the legendary White City fueled by hopes of a bitter life, Áed discovers a beautiful world hiding unexpected danger. Navigating a treacherous path of friendship and deception, Áed must embrace a legacy he has never imagined in order to protect the only family he has left.

Rating: Immersive, Heart-gripping characters, Unforgettable

The First Review (No Spoilers Here):

When I started reading The Hidden King, I fell in love with Ninian and Áed right away. Ninian is in a gang he did not want to be, trying to do his best to take care of his partner and the child they found in the trash pile. He and Áed are so devoted to each other, and so sweet and loyal in their love for each other and Ronan, the child they’re trying to raise undamaged in the midst of a miserable city of damaged, broken people. All three of them have so much personality. Ronan is so bright and sunny, with a hint of mischief. Áed is so gentle and hopeful. And it’s so easy to feel the wonderful relationship between Ninian and Áed. The way their interactions are shown is so well-done!

I should say that I would recommend having The Last Prince on hand when you read this book. I started reading The Coming of Áed series with The Hidden King, but I found, relatively early in the book, that I simply had to get the stuff that happened before, in The Last Prince, and so then I finished The Last Prince before returning to The Hidden King. That’s as much as I can say without giving away any spoilers, but if you want to know why, that will be shared in the second part of the review.

For the rest of it, when Áed gets to the White City, he finds that the city of his hopes and dreams is certainly beautiful and full of unimagined abundance, to someone who has never had enough food on the table in his life, but that ostensible beauty and abundance hides horrors and evils as great as those of the Maze he’s left behind. But through everything, through Ronan’s fear of Áed triggered by a horrible accident involving something Áed didn’t even know he could do, through unimaginable pain and stress, Áed’s love and commitment to Ronan never falters. His determination to offer the boy the best comfort and support he can, and to get him the best life that he can, is never broken, even when the expression of it wavers before more pain, stress, and fear than anyone should ever have to endure.

But this isn’t a story I can say much about without getting into the spoilers, so for the deep delve and the feelings it provoked in me, for what I really loved and what stays with me, you’ll have to either postpone or bail that journey, or come with us to …

The Real Review (Where we don’t believe there are such things as ‘Spoilers’):

I’d love to share a lot of snippets of Áed and Ninian interacting, but you can go and read the preview on Kobo, or Barnes and Noble, or Amazon, wherever you prefer, to read all of that, and there’s only so much I can share, so I won’t.

Fast forward to Ninian dies. Yes, I said a lot of so-called spoilers would be here, and, by the way, that’s why I had to read The Last Prince before continuing the book. I just wasn’t ready for Ninian to die. I’d fallen in love with him from the first chapter, which introduced him like he was one side of a main character duo, and I just wasn’t ready to part with him and his life. So I read The Last Prince, and then I was ready to deal with Ninian dying.

It was a really heart-felt scene, and the rest of the story reads very interesting, as Ninian’s place is never usurped. The place he has in Áed’s heart is always there for him. So he has such a presence throughout the whole book. Áed and Ronan both miss him so much, and it’s so heart-rending. He has a secret from Áed that he’s never shared, and he dies apologizing and trying to fix it, and Áed’s heart-rending plea is so … well, I said.

Ninian’s starry eyes blinked, and the morning light from the window lent them clear, extraordinary lucidity. I need to tell you something.”

“What?” Áed knew he sounded hoarse, but the fear in his voice showed anyway. Final words were for final moments, and that time simply could not be then.

And then there’s this line, so so rough. Especially the last part.

The haze of smoke over his vision was anger at Morcant, who had so casually struck the blow that robbed Ninian of life and Áed of Ninian.

This book is so touching.

Áed opened his arms, and Ronan fell into them and buried his face in Áed’s shoulder. Áed held him close and the child trembled desperately. It seemed wrong that there should be an Áed without a Ninian. But here was Ronan; he needed Áed to stay.

So that becomes Áed’s purpose in life: to love Ronan and to protect and take care of him as well as he can. So Áed sets out to look for the White City, and to be as far as possible when Ninian’s gang comes calling. And on their way through the Inner Maze to the cliffs below the legendary White City, Áed and Ronan run across Morcant, the man responsible for Ninian’s death.

Every line of their confrontation, every reaction of Áed and Morcant is so true, so right. And, the other thing that lies behind it, is that earlier Áed was fantasizing about running into the Inner Maze and attacking Morcant so Morcant would kill him, too.>

“Do you know,” [Áed] said in a low voice. “Do you know what you did?”

Morcant blinked. “I won.”

Áed could no longer feel Ronan’s tugging fingers on his sleeve. The alley narrowed until Morcant filled his vision.

You killed him,” Áed said, and his voice was louder and not quite his own.

And after an exchange or two more, Áed is simply too furious to endure it. His body flaming with the concealed and until this moment repressed power of his half-faerie heritage, his flings himself on Morcant. And burns him to death.

And frightens Ronan. It’s so hard for both of them, because all Áed wants is to protect and take care of Ronan, and Áed is fundamentally a gentle soul. Never mind that it’s frightening for him discovering this new power he has that he can’t control.

When they get to the White City, it’s one of the oddest things. Áed gets chased by what he takes to be muggers and breaks into a house, where he manages to convince the person living there to take care of him. He soon encounters the mystery of so much food that one can eat until one is uncomfortably full and then have leftovers. But the White City isn’t the city Áed has dreamed. He soon learns the sinister reason why no one has ever returned from the White City: people from Smudge (that’s what they call the Maze in the White City, which is called Suibhe by its inhabitants, by the way) are arrested and imprisoned when they are found in the White City, due in part to King Seisyll’s madness and an accident he got himself into many years ago.

Áed says, at some point, that it seems not fair to call the Maze ‘Smudge’ as if reducing its people and their joys and troubles to a smudge of dirt on one’s shoe or the pavement, to something simple, though the gods know he hated living there. Somehow, that seems so much like something Ninian would say or think.

The name of the lady who has taken him and Ronan in is Boudicca, and unbeknownst to Áed, her brother Cynwrig is the General of the August Guard. When Boudicca takes Áed and Ronan out on a Festival Night, they return to find Cynwrig. It isn’t long before Cynwrig discovers who they are, and he overrules his sister’s pleas and their obvious plight to arrest them and take them before King Seisyll in the morning.

This is where I start to really dislike Cynwrig and what happens after doesn’t make it any better. Cynwrig is by no means guiltless in the grief that follows and Áed’s torture. He knew Áed would most likely end up in the dungeons – possibly Ronan, too. He had no reason to suspect Áed of being any danger to his city, not after he was clearly no danger, but a friend, to his sister. He followed orders that he knew sprang out of madness and egotism in order to arrest harmless people in need, knowing that the best that Áed could expect was to be thrown into a dungeon for the rest of his life, never again to feel the breeze or see the light of the sun until he died. That is cruel, and to be honest, I detest Cynwrig almost as much as the torturer himself, Óengus. If Cynwrig ever thought instead of simply pawning his choices off on someone else, he would have done differently.

But what I love most of all is how much Áed cares about Ronan, how that drives him always, constantly, no matter what. It’s the most beautiful thing. Though, as an aside, I want to mention that I liked Judoc, the other prisoner Áed talks to. His offered comfort, his words and sympathy, even though they can’t touch, manage to feel so tangible. I loved this passage, and I feel for Judoc, it’s so horrible to be all alone, so I don’t hate him at all, but at the same time … some of the things he says feel kind of cruel. And I love how nothing matters to Áed except doing his best for Ronan. These words mean so much more in the book, but I have to share them anyways.

Judoc spoke carefully. “You asked about the guard. Tell me you’re not planning what I think you’re planning.

Áed didn’t reply right away. When he did he spoke slowly. “There’s nothing for it. I can’t stay here another day.”

It was actually possible to hear Judoc shaking his head furiously. “No. No, put that thought from you mind.” There came a clank as the man leaned on the bars of his cell. “There is nothing you can do that I have not already tried, and you can tell how much success I’ve found. Do you know what they’ll do to you?”

I don’t care.”

Oh, Áed, I LOVE!! –

Judoc was undeterred. “How much can you take, Áed?” A pause sank, as heavy as a stone. “There’s an edge to this life. Get too close, and you won’t come back. So I ask you: how much more can you take? Another session with Óengus? Starving for weeks?”

And here’s Áed’s apology to Judoc. I feel like Áed doesn’t need to say he’s sorry to Judoc, but the fact he does!

Áed pressed his knuckles to his temples, where the exertion of raising his voice had sparked a throbbing headache. “I’m so sorry. You’ve been nothing but kind to me, and I know you don’t want me to leave you alone. I know I might not … well, I know it’s dangerous. So, I’m really, really sorry.” Swallowing, he let the decision wash over him. “But I have to try.”

Áed is the kind of person who might have stayed, just for Judoc (regardless of the fact he can try something Judoc can’t), at least for a while, but he needs to find Ronan and make sure he’s okay.

That was one of the things that was really real. Áed’s pain is never glossed over (but I’m not going to share every quote I would want to!) but that doesn’t kill his care for Ronan. Some things must always endure. I crave hope. Confidence. That horror doesn’t have to defeat love, and this story has that.

Oh, Áed, this is one of my favourite parts! He’s just waking up, in Boudicca’s flat after managing to get his ride from some guy who thought he’d got into a fight, and – !! I can almost taste the next paragraph!

Relief washed over Áed, so potent he almost fainted. Ronan had never been in the dungeon. He had never smelled Óengus’ putrid breath or felt the bite of the torturer’s instruments. He had never been trapped in that infinite darkness. The golden-eyed guard had a soul, and Ronan was safe.

I loved Ronan. I love his childish attitude, his bright vigour, how companionable he is, how it occurs to him that he hasn’t given or had a hug from Áed since he got out, how he plays and asks questions. He’s insensitive sometimes, but it’s an innocent insensitivity that I think brings, in the long run, a lot of light to Áed. He has so much personality, and he’s so sweet, and I like how he doesn’t want Áed to become King. Though Áed’s reasons are personable, too (he decides that this might be the opportunity to do good in the world that he’s always prayed for, though taking care of Ronan is always the priority). The tension between them, and the way they make up, and how Ronan loves Áed, and how he often struggles to say what he means, I loved all of it so much!

And Áed has such a spine, too! I love how when Cynwrig asks him who he let him out, he says, “I did.”

I could go on and on and on, but I think I will stop here. Just saying: there’s more and it’s so good! I want to share some quotes about Ronan, but I wouldn’t know which ones to share, there are so many of them!

Review for Book Two and Prequel: The Last Prince

E.G’s Website

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