The second book in Jessica Dawn’s
Paladin’s Path series, The King’s Course, picks up right after the events of the first book. Peleb, Cheka, and the rest of Bird Squad are slowly making the rounds of the other royal children, ostensibly to check on them after the assassination attempt on Prince Hyon-Wii during his birthday celebration. In reality these trips allow Cheka – the actual Prince Hyon-Wii – to ask the gods to back him as he prepares to challenge Queen Hyajen for the throne. But intrigue seems to be around every corner. As Check tries to convince the gods to support his claim to the throne, Peleb has his own secrets to keep as the new god of spring, and his own mission to kill the Queen. Peleb soon learns that a member of Bird Squad may also be plotting to kill not only the Queen, but Prince Hyon-Wii too. Through all the political machinations and threats, Peleb also struggles with his budding relationship with Cheka, which had seemed to flourish, but then goes cold. When Peleb is promoted to Warden, to serve as part of the Queen’s personal guard, Peleb must make choices that may affect not only the royal family, but the pantheon of the gods as well.
So many secrets have been bubbling just under the surface in the previous book and they all explode to the forefront in The King’s Course. I won’t give you details – no SPOILERS – but sufficient to say that pretty much every member of Bird Squad has a secret, and as these secrets come out they create tension and allow the characters to bond together. Peleb’s story is the main character arc, and his development undergoes a lot of growth in this book. Peleb is a man who has only just recently discovered that he is a god, the reborn god of spring. But he can’t seem to manage some of the simplest godly powers like making flowers grow or teleport from one location to another. While struggling with developing his powers his relationship with Cheka first blossoms, then grows cold, and blossoms again. I love the dynamics of their relationship, especially the ups and downs, as it mirrors what we mere mortals go through in our own relationships. Peleb’s growth as a character is well-developed and you can feel his struggle.
The other thing that I love about The King’s Course is the role that the gods play in it. The world that Jessica has created has a pantheon filled with multiple gods, who hearken to the ancient Earth pantheons of the Greeks, Norse, and Chinese. These are gods who meddle and interfere in the mortal realm and are very present in the people’s lives. The gods have depth to them as well, and you can see the world-building craft Jessica brings to the story though the small backstories given to the gods. You get a sense for why Cheka (a.k.a Hyon-Wii) must seek out their support, and also why the gods are reluctant to give it and put Cheka, and Bird Squad, through their trials to see if he will be a fit ruler. The history of the world comes to life through this interaction.
This is also a strong LGBTQIA+ story. Every member of Bird Squad is a member of this community in some way. Peleb and Cheka are gay, Aon-Je is lesbian, Kres presents as female but identifies as male, and Jest is the god of chaos, so they are pretty much any and every gender that they want to be. It was great to see the romance between Peleb and Cheka grow in this book – the kiss that didn’t happen in The Paladin’s Path finally happens – but for me the most memorable interactions come when Peleb and Bird Squad emphasize to others that Kres is a man, despite outward appearances. Their support for him not only show the inclusivity of the group, but the friendships that have developed among the team.
The King’s Course is a wonderful fantasy story that blends intrigue, romance, and action into a seamless whole. It is a great follow up to The Paladin’s Path.