Editorial Review: The Stagsblood Prince by Gideon E. Wood
The Stagsblood Prince by Gideon Wood is the intriguing beginning to an epic dark gay fantasy trilogy. With a central focus on the agony of loss and redemption, it may be a challenging read with powerful authenticity for those who have struggled with addiction.
Whilst not written in the first person, the point of view of Prince Tel is the exclusive focus of the story. Tel is shattered in his teenage years by the death of both his first true love and his mother. He succumbs to the twin addictions of alcohol and sex to evade the responsibility of a king-in-waiting for most of his life.
When his father dies, and an embittered uncle assists his scheming younger brother onto the throne. Prince Tel’s response is to cling to the pacifism of his faith and accept that a drunken sex addict is a poor choice to rule Feigh.
But in his heart, Tel is a fighter for good. His conscience compels him to act when his brother Lag imposes atrocities on the people of Feigh and attempts to grow an empire by invading neighboring lands to eliminate the scourge of those with different appearance and faith.
Wood focuses on the xenophobic fear of those who appear different. While imposing the Stag and Doe faith is also part of Lag’s master plan; it is those who do not have the black hair of Feigh who suffer most. Refreshingly there is no focus on gender; the fact that Tel has a same-gender preference incites no more comment than the fact that the soldiers who fight and die are men or women.
The world-building of high fantasy is sufficient for genre enthusiasts to define the rules of a new world. Including stagsblood magic is as much about fear of diversity and inability to accept difference in ourselves or others as it is a plot device to enable Tel to bravely fight alongside those who swing swords.
The title character is the absolute core of this book. The abusive, pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding Tel is not a likable man when we meet him. Tel has pushed others away for so long, that even those who love him, cannot like him. The pace and writing of the first part of the book reflect Tel’s stumbling attempts to overcome his alcohol addiction and focus on sexual gratification rather than heartfelt intimacy.
The unfolding of the story through Tel’s eyes allows Wood to create characters you will care about. As Tel takes control of his addictions and learns to love and forgive himself, so too does the reader find Tel’s personal struggles increasingly meaningful.
While the book includes explicit scenes, it is the tenderness of the love story which shines through. The relationship between mature Tel and the young, blue-haired Omelan, Vared, is never easy. But it has nothing to do with the difference in age, religion, social station, and physical appearance. It is the fundamental human condition of learning trust, self-worth, selflessness, and overcoming fear of rejection that is so very relatable to the reader.
The Stagsblood Prince concludes with a neat wrap-up for those who don’t like cliffhangers or loose ends, but it will leave readers wanting more. With book two due out later in the year; Wood kindly offers a free download for those who would like to explore a unique perspective of the kingdom of Feigh through the eyes of the sensitive and vulnerable Vared.
If your preference is for character-focused fantasy that makes you smile, laugh or cry; and where the hero’s inner struggles are even greater than the physical challenges, then try the magic of The Stagsblood Prince.