All Rath wants is a quiet, peaceful life. Unfortunately, his father brings him too much trouble—and too many debts to pay—for that to ever be possible. When the local crime lord drags Rath out of bed and tells him he has three days to pay his father's latest debt, Rath doesn't know what to do. There's no way to come up with so much money in so little time.
Then a friend poses an idea just ridiculous enough to work: enter the Tournament of Losers, where every seventy-five years, peasants compete for the chance to marry into the noble and royal houses. All competitors are given a stipend to live on for the duration of the tournament—funds enough to cover his father's debt.
All he has to do is win the first few rounds, collect his stipend, and then it's back to trying to live a quiet life…
I read the blurb for Megan Derr's "Tournament of Losers" and was immediately sold. This one was such a fun fantasy read and exactly what I was looking for.
At 33, Rathatayen, preferred name Rath, is a dock worker and 'mostly retired' prostitute, living a simple life, which is rarely as peaceful as he'd prefer.
As the story begins, Rath is awakened not by the handsome stranger in his bed, but by thugs beating the crap out of him, because, yet again, his drunken asshole father has pulled another moronic, incredibly expensive stunt for which Rath is expected to pay.
Rath's Madame at the whorehouse eventually convinces him to join the Tournament of Charlet, a contest to marry into a noble family, where a large stipend is awarded to participants. Money that can pay off most of the debt.
And this is where things begin to get interesting, when Rath finds out that the handsome stranger he'd bedded not long ago, Tress, is actually one of the nobles who will be married off to one of the contest winners when the tournament concludes.
While the contest proceeds, they continue to see one another and their affections grow. Then grow some more. But Rath knows they have no future, as he must marry the prince (if he wins) and Tress must marry the winner of his own hand.
However, it's a really fucking small world sometimes and things aren't always as they seem, so maybe they do have a shot at happiness after all, but you'll have to read it for more info there. : )
My only real complaint about the book is that the first fourth of the story seems to drag on a bit, as Rath fears how he will repay the debt to avoid winding up face down in the river. But even after joining the Tournament of Charlet for the cash, the story is still extremely slow moving.
The pace doesn't really begin moving fast enough until after the first challenge, which is a knock-down drag-out melee, think flag football meets rugby meets MMA, where Rath is lucky to keep his teeth.
Oh, but beginning with the 2nd challenge, it was ALL GOOD from there on out, as Rath excels in several challenges and begins to draw the wrath of those cheating in the games, leading to beatings and death threats, if he doesn't withdraw from the contest.
But despite the threats and a few pretty harsh beatings, I loved how Rath didn't succumb to the pressure and fold. Instead, he proved himself genuinely noble and worthy of the hand of His Royal Highness Prince Isambard.
I also adored how every time that Rath needed him, Tress was always there, without fail, providing Rath the support that he needed, whatever that might be. Tress was also worthy of a would-be prince like Rath.
These two were really great together, but if you're looking for a steamy read, this one is mostly fade-to-black steam-wise, which is fairly typical in my experience with Derr.
I was sort of hoping that since Rath is a self-professed "whore", we might see some action, but nope, kissing is as hot and heavy as we get on-page here.
When all is said and done, though, this is still a fairy tale type of fantasy, so you can guess as to whether we get an HEA or not, but I'm fairly confident you'll figure that one out. I did pretty early on. : )
Although the book's romance most definitely shared the spotlight with the adventure elements (or the other way around, actually), this tale was a blast to read and the last three-quarters of the book kept me constantly on the edge of my seat, usually smiling or laughing.
So this 'almost 5-star' book ranks overall at around 4 stars at the finish line, mainly due to the somewhat lengthy setup chapters, which I felt could have been trimmed down a bit.
My ARC copy of the book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair, unbiased review.
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