Title: A Ruin of Roses
Author: K.F. Breene
Genre: Fantasy Romance
What It’s About: Finley Mosgrove is fourteen years old when she enters the Forbidden Forest, and steals some everlass leaves from the field not too far from the entrance. She is chased out by a beast with golden eyes, and returns home, narrowly escaping death, with the leaves in hopes that she will be able to cure her grandmother from the sickness.
Several years later, at twenty three, Finley has created a potion that alleviates but does not cure members from the sickness that has befallen the village. Her grandmother and her mother had succumbed, while her father is laying sick on his deathbed. Knowing that she does not have many more everlass leaves left to get her father and their family through the winter, Finley makes the decision to go to the forest to pick some. She leaves her oldest brother, Hannon, in charge of their younger siblings–sister Sable, and youngest brother Dash, while she goes out to get the leaves. Entering the forest, she confronts herself with a wriggling tree that terrifies her and also with the hooting owl. Finley grabs the everlass leaves that she wants and makes her way back, when the hooting intensifies and she picks up on the fact that the beast is nearby. This terrifies her, and in her escape, she loses her pocketknife in the dark, but continues on until she gets home and locks herself inside the house.
The following evening, the beast shows up at her house and throws the pocketknife through the window. Finley wants to save her family, so she tells Hannon to take care of their siblings while she goes to draw the attention of the beast back to the Forbidden Forest. She says what she thinks is her final goodbyes to her family–after all, the beast has never let anyone leave the premises of the forest alive. She runs, and runs into the everlass field, where the beast becomes a man–Nyfain is his name. The two of them talk, and she begs him to spare her village, which he acquiesces to, so long as she gives up her life for them. He is confused as to why Finley treats the everlass so kindly, and prunes them–how did she learn to do that is very odd to him. Finley takes him up on that offer, and he picks her up from the everlass field and takes her to the castle.
At the castle, Nyfain stops by the big orgy party in the ballroom, and asks for Hadriel, who comes out of the party. He tells Hadriel that he has to check up on Finley and keep an eye on her. Then Nyfain takes Finley up to the tower and locks her in. Not too long after, Hadriel comes up and asks her if she needs anything–he tells her everything so openly, saying that he’s been screwed too many times by the demons that are in the castle, and Finley easily takes to him. The following day, she is introduced to her Lady-in-waiting, Leala, who realizes that there is nothing there for Finley to wear and with Hadriel’s help, they get Finley to the seamstress and seamster for new clothing that she could wear.
As Finley spends time in the castle, she learns that the curse that ruined their kingdom–and was really the effect of a deal brokered by the Mad King and the Demon King–had caused for everyone outside of the castle to age, while those inside the castle did not age at all. Still, neither those in the castle nor those in the villages could access their animals, losing all ability to shapeshift. The only person who was capable of that was Nyfain, and he did it at a huge personal cost to his animal–a dragon. He forced the shift, refusing to lose his dragon, at the onset of the curse; however, for that he lost the beautiful colors of his scales and the wings that would’ve let him fly. Over the 16 years that they had stayed the same, he continued to battle demons and tried to protect the villages around them from the demons’ creations, resulting in a lot of scars on his body.
Finley also reveals to Nyfain that the reason that she’s been going to the everlass field was to get everlass so that she could create her healing potion for the people of her village, which is why their deaths had plummeted to just one a year. This piques Nyfain’s interest, and he shows her the large everlass field nearby the castle, asking her to help him create the potion for the other villages. She agrees to help, but upon inspection she identifies that thirteen of the everlass plants are actually crowded–which can cause the plant to have toxic properties in an elixir that often result in death. She realizes that it’s done on purpose, and Nyfain reveals that it was the former Queen’s work. Finley feels her animal rise inside her and quickly becomes aroused for Nyfain, who continues to push her away after egging her on. She also needs additional ingredients to make the potion, so Nyfain offers her to pick a garden. Before Finley can choose a garden, she is hanging out with Hadriel who almost mentions something about the curse that took over the land–this mention triggers a magical gag that almost chokes Hadriel to death, so Finley runs to Nyfain to help heal him.
Not long after that she encounters the magic of an Incubus demon while in her sleep, during which she almost has a wet dream featuring Nyfain, but then feels like something is violating her. This causes her distress and wakes up to try to fight back. Nyfain shows up and kills the demon outside of her door before he takes her out to harvest the everlass for the elixir. Their close proximity on the way back into the castle causes Nyfain and Finley to start making out, in order to make it clear to the demons that no one but Nyfain can have Finley–after all, she is his prisoner and he wants to make sure that it is clear that no one can touch her to give her the space to feel safe.
Finley chooses the one garden that she can see from her tower, and decides to check it out, only to find that it was once the former Queen’s garden. It is attached to the Queen’s bedchamber and Hadriel tells Finley that it would cause Nyfain anger if she were to enter. She explores the room, finds a rosebush and is on her way back out when Nyfain unlocks the door. Suddenly everything falls into place–Nyfain is the prince, the golden dragon she remembers flying overhead when she was seven. He is the one that the villagers used to say would change the kingdom, and he came back when the Queen had died. The revelation is so shocking to her, and she is alarmed that Nyfain had lied to her about who he is–but he reminds her that he is not a nice man, and also tells her that he knew that her village has been able to do something with the everlass. He points to the rosebush–a flower that his mother used to love because it described her–embedded in the floor of the room and tells Finley that the only real living section of the rosebush is the one that stands for her village. It’s how he has known that they have managed to slow down the death rates in the village.
Finley runs to the tower, packs her stuff, and runs out of the castle, through the woods, where she gets caught by the demons and their creations. Nyfain saves her only for him to get scratched by one of their poisonous fingers. Finley takes Nyfain home to Hannon to get him patched up and as she researches how to draw the poison out, she goes out to find the crowded everlass, which she feels is the right thing to use to draw the poison out. She is correct, and creates a potion that saves Nyfain’s life. She then realizes that all this time, Nyfain had been protecting the village by killing the demons that come into the forbidden forest before they are even able to make it to the village. As Nyfain rests and heals, they try to explore their feelings for each other, and even though Finley attempts to use her animal’s power to make him stay, he puts them all to sleep and leaves Finley’s house. So Finley runs after him because she does not want him to get hurt and die.
My Thoughts: This was a very refreshing twist on Beauty and the Beast, but more a shapeshifter version of it–where a curse hit a kingdom of shapeshifters and all of them should be able to shapeshift but cannot. While the language may be crude for some folks, and Hadriel is one of the most out there characters that I could think of, I really loved the story. I loved the push, tug and shove of the relationship between Finley and Nyfain, as they come together and get to know each other. I cannot wait for Finley to find out who she is as an animal, and I suspect that both Finley and Nyfain will fall in love with each other. That said, it’s a bit annoying that Nyfain lies so much about things to Finley, and it would be so much easier if he didn’t. Overall, I loved the story and I cannot wait to see where it takes it in the next book of the series.