This is the time of Mark Alders and his definitely fantasy tale. In a medieval fantasy kingdom, there is a sad prince, Wilhelm, who likes men but has to marry a woman to have an heir, and an even sadder pauper, Pavel, a very young man who has to barter his body for a piece of stale bread. Between the two, the one more clever to me it seems Pavel: despite his young age, Pavel knows that he can't be fussy with his partner choices, even if he fancies the handsome prince who looks at him with hungry eyes, the ones who give him food in exchange of sex are the lower class men who do that behind their stores. True, there is not much romance in this part of the story, but it serves the reader to understand Pavel and his disbelief to Wilhelm unselfishness: Pavel can't believe him since in his life no one has never given him something without asking something else in exchange.
This is true for people, but Pavel has a very special friend, a chimera, a mythical being with the body of a dragon and the head of a lion, who has always protected Pavel since the boy was less than 10 years old. But the chimera, Odoacro, can't protect Pavel from the ugly things of the human world, and can't prevent the man to sell his body for food. And so the chimera decides to push Pavel in Wilhelm's arms, hoping for the prince to be kinder than the other men. When Pavel goes to Wilhelm with his usually blunt barter, sex for food, Wilhelm is at first excited by the prospect, but then also horrified: he doesn't want the man like that, in his naivete, Wilhelm still wants Pavel for love not for sex; doesn't matter if the man has sold himself to other men, with Wilhelm will be only love. And so he asks only a kiss in exchange for the food Pavel needs.
The way as Wilhelm behaves, confirms to the chimera that he is the right man for his young friend. In a way the chimera is the fatherly figure both men lacked in their life: Wilhelm's father is not exactly a supporting parent, but truth be told, it's probably the way any normal parent will behave in his same situation. If I'm true, I didn't like so much how he ends up, quite a bloody way, but all the second part of the story took a decisively turns towards fantasy that almost borders on myth and magic. It's strange, despite being very sexy, and the sex quite explicit, let alone the memories of poor Pavel and the way he had to gain his morsel, the story nevertheless maintain a fanciful taste, I don't know, I had the feeling that both Wilhelm than Pavel were more boy at play than real men at work. It was like all the work was done by the others, like the chimera or Catherine, Wilhelm's fiance, and to Pavel and Wilhelm only be left the good share, like they suffered enough before the reader met them, and now it was time for them to be happy.
On the contrary of other similar novels I read lately, The Pauper's Prize is a full fantasy tale, and of the old school. It is not, and it doesn't want to be, historically accurate; this is like one of those classical fairy-tales where you don't question if the dress of the princess is right for her age! For a first book I read by this author, I have to say that it's a nice discovery.
Amazon Kindle: The Pauper's Prize