A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland is a sweeping fantasy epic, full of soaring romance, political intrigue, and criminal conspiracies. This lush world is loosely inspired by the Ottoman Empire, brought to life with a rich mythology and intricate world-building. There are gods and temples and festivals, royalty and oaths of fealty, sea serpents, and human lie detectors. And some people — including Prince Kadou — can touch-taste the purity of metals like gold and silver with just their fingertips.
The first chapter is a little dense with world-building, but don’t let that scare you off. Once Evemer is introduced, all bets are off.
WARNING: *fangirl mode has been activated because, y’all. Y’ALL. This book. I have no words, only screams.
This is a fantasy in more ways than one: there’s no sexism, no homophobia, no gender binary. Araşt is a matriarchal society, and there are multiple nonbinary characters (çe/çir), as well as characters that appear to be ace, demi, bi/pan, and gay, though the specific terms aren’t used. There’s no question of whether nonbinary people or queer relationships will be accepted; it’s just an ordinary fact of life in this world, which is so fun and refreshing to read.
Now for the main event: Kadou and Evemer, loves of my life. Alexandra Rowland just gets me, okay? This book feels like fanfiction, and I mean that in the best way. It has that x-factor that takes a book from “great” to “I’M OBSESSED”: Complex, compelling characters, and an almost indulgent focus on their relationship told through alternating points-of-view that let you see them being extra AF about each other internally (and externally).
A Taste of Gold and Iron is a slow burn enemies-to-lovers, in that Evemer doesn’t like Kadou for, like, 5 minutes, and then they both spend approximately a million years oblivious to their feelings while somehow simultaneously pining. They’re ridiculous. I love them so much.
I don’t like him. I just think he’s interesting. And pretty. And mysterious. And can kick my ass and save my life. But I definitely don’t like him. — Evemer, basically
Evemer doesn’t think Kadou is a worthy prince, but it’s his job as a kahya (a bodyguard, but one that also helps Kadou dress and bathe and shave [!!], etc.) to serve him loyally, and die for him if necessary. But he quickly realizes there’s more to the prince than meets the eye, and once you earn Evemer’s respect, the guy is the definition of ride-or-die. Though, Kadou also just has that effect on people.
Kadou, my beautiful, anxious little prince. He wants so badly to do his duty to his kingdom, and to his sister (the sultan), and to the kahyalar in his service. Through Kadou, the book ruminates on questions of loyalty and reciprocity, the duty of care that rulers owe their subjects, and the responsibility that comes with power. But his constant anxious thoughts and unexpected panic attacks make him doubt his own judgment and worth.
The depiction of anxiety in A Taste of Gold and Iron is startlingly, painfully accurate — it’s more than just worrying too much; it’s the way Kadou obsessively frets over every little thing, constantly apologizes, and feels like he’s not good enough and is an inconvenience to everyone around him.
“He pulled all the pins out of his hair and unbraided it—his scalp ached even more to be released from that tight binding—and spent the next half hour staring into nothing and reviewing every word that he had said to anyone that day, inspecting each interaction from several angles to determine which ones he should be crushingly embarrassed about, and to what degree.” — A Taste of Gold and Iron, pgs. 48-49
Kadou and Evemer are so soft with each other, and so desperately fond. I highlighted practically every scene they’re in together, or even just thinking about one another. Every single moment is just utterly thrilling, whether it flutters your stomach or makes your heart ache. They see the best in each other, even when they can’t see it in themselves. And over the course of the story, largely due to their mutual faith, stoic, bad-at-words Evemer and anxious, insecure Kadou grow to be more confident, open, and trusting.
It’s about the yearning. It’s about the devotion. It’s about the tenderness. It’s about trying to hold onto whatever small piece you can of someone you think you can’t have or won’t get to keep. It’s about saving one another in a million small ways and more than one big way. It is PEAK romance, tbh. Rowland’s powerful, emotive prose will make your stomach feel like you’ve just gone over the crest of a rollercoaster or jumped off a cliff into the open air, as you watch Kadou and Evemer fall into seemingly star-crossed love.
There are also plenty of light-hearted moments, with almost modern humor and sarcasm that somehow doesn’t seem out of place in this ancient-feeling world. I have to give a special shoutout to Kadou’s puckish armsman Tadek, who is hilarious— full of quips and banter and mischief — but is also utterly devoted to his prince. He drives Evemer completely crazy, and it is delightful. (OT3, anyone? 👀)
In addition to Tadek, the book is populated with a large cast of lovable, lively secondary characters, including nonbinary kahya Melek, whose ability to touch-taste is stronger than even Kadou’s. And then there’s the kahyalar captain Eozena, a badass and commanding Black woman, who has a soft spot for Kadou and his sister, Zeliha, as she’s known them since they were children and once saved Kadou’s life. She is also extremely Tired™ of everyone’s — especially Kadou, Evemer, and Tadek’s — shit. (Which, fair.)
So, to recap, A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland is absolutely scream-into-your-pillow amazing, and I’m totally obsessed, and you will be too. I’m begging you to please read it ASAP and then write ALL the fanfiction because I need more of Evemer and Kadou being utterly ridiculous about each other injected directly into my veins immediately. (Rowland also told the Discord that they’ll be dropping some fic of their own, so keep a weather eye on Ao3 👀)
A Taste of Gold and Iron is available today, August 30, 2022, wherever books are sold. The publisher provided an advanced copy for an honest review.
The Goblin Emperor meets “Magnificent Century” in Alexandra Rowland’s A Taste of Gold and Iron, where a queer central romance unfolds in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire.
Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court―the body-father of the queen’s new child―in an altercation which results in his humiliation.
To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.