So I finished Sage and King by Molly Ringle

Just like I said before, I had something new to read. I wanted to kind of scratch the magic itch and this time it led me to Sage and King. Prince Zaya's sister (aka the queen) and all of his remaining family are killed and he is appointed king when he never expected to be so, and he needs a sage named Col--or, well, a magician--to help him come to terms with magic itself. Which is outlawed in his country and the elders of the only place it is practiced in are hoping to turn Zaya's opinion on the matter. Gayness ensues, basically.

And I won't lie, I did read this for the fact that it was a gay romance, with the political plot as a side-dish that I did want to explore upon. I felt like it. I saw the premise, the fact that it was politics with magic attached, and I went, why not? So I went in fully expecting a romance and by god did I get one.

I don't actually have a fancy header for this one, nor do I have any images to sprinkle about either. This seems to be a really obscure book? Not in the sense that nobody has read it, but rather that I don't really find any pictures or fanart of it. Now I want you to hold onto that statement, okay? Hold onto it real tight while we get through the rest of the writeup.

What I liked

So, okay, the magic system in this book is actually amazing. You do magic by learning the magic properties of plants, and how to apply them. Some plants are eaten, others are simply chewed up on, others are applied to the skin, others smelled. Potions are a combination of different plants. In order to do magic, you need to externalize it as, or through, plants. This means you can do magic through trees, or turn things into flowers. At the end of the day however, you must bathe and cleanse off the magic left on you or else you'll be "contaminated" by it and it can make you sick and kill you early.

And I thought this system was incredible! All the things you could do through it, all the ways you could mix and match. The magic and the way it was used, the way mages worked, I found it fascinating. I kept picturing all the ways you could use it and how it could present itself. Mages also sort of have to "talk" to the plants they use, to their magic, to gain their sympathy. How cool is that? I truly, genuinely loved it. What a lovely system.

I did also like the character of Col, because of how conflicted he was about everything. At first he wasn't very keen on working with Zaya, then he got to know him and got attached, and his duties were causing him harm due to a secret he had to keep. Him having to deal with his emotions was a fun read. Outside of that divisive loyalty and his love for his studies, I did find him rather lacking, but Col definitely worked more for me than Zaya did.

Zaya being the lazy and lousy third in line thrust upon kinghood, who adapts quickly but is overwhelmed as hell like 90% of the time. Zaya's reactions to situations in the second half were fun and made a lot of sense for me.

I also really, really enjoyed the villain--Orzei, Zaya's oldest brother turned mad by a combination of shitty brain and magic overuse with no cleansing. And this isn't a spoiler because the book opens with this. Regardless, him being who he is and being extremely powerful made me want to see him more and more with each passing second. A real threat! I wanted to see him more.

Now I know that was really short but... alas, we come into the next section to elaborate on the thin state of my likes.

What I didn’t like

My god, I am not going to say no to a story where the romance starts as horniness, but the very second that Col and Zaya lay eyes on each other they're already thinking about sucking each other off. Zaya I understood--the man had spent like a couple of weeks suddenly cut off from his pleasures and overwhelmed and he just needed something, but Col? Col just made me mad. He thinks oh noooo the king is so hot I dunno if I can do thissss and then does it anyway. And then they have to spend every single scene either not jumping each other's bones OR actually jumping each other's bones at least once.

And don't get me wrong, I do love a forbidden/hidden romance where every second counts (it's one of my favourite tropes to toy with) but man. The author just either handwaves these precious moments they have to fool around together, or they work out without issue. Or they're just... there. What's tenderness when you can just have a sex scene right at the start of the chapter, right? And they fall in love in days. By the two's own admission they fell in love in half a month and were already ready to defy an arranged marriage to get married instead. Dude.

That's part of what gets me. The book takes place within a month, and I don't doubt the two of them could've fallen in love in that time, but it rushes to getting them together and then has an explosive argument where neither party can trust each other. Of course you can't, you're still strangers. You're barely getting to know one another, and you're doing so via lessons. Lessons in magic and sociopolitical stuff and whatever that do get really cute and sweet, but for me at least I don't think that's enough to think me so head over heels I'd risk ruining a political marriage.

There's also a lot of characters that are there just to be the best friend and that's it. I've already forgotten their names. For all that Col's supposed to love Heartwood (where Col essentially grew up and learned magic after discovering he had it) we barely see him interact with more people than his bestie and the elders, or talk about others beyond his crushes and previous bedmates, or do more than teaching Zaya and tending to his chores. I don't know, you could have had him teach, given he's supposed to be extremely powerful and apparently he had enough freedom from study that he was going to leave the country, and show it to us and Zaya both that Col is emotionally tied to this place beyond a vow not to break their rules.

Which leads me to the writing...

It's... It's not bad. It isn't. The author has a way with words to describe emotion and flow that I really enjoyed. The story is serviceable. The problem lays in the checklist of things that I noticed: the absent best friends, the quick romance, the "and everybody clapped" climax and ending (I'll get to that), the general feel of the whole thing... it felt like something was missing. A good chunk of something that would make this satisfying. Like I was missing context... and that's a feeling I have experienced before in only one other place.

Fanfiction from fandoms I am not into.

Remember what I said about no fanart? Yeah, this is why. Sage and King is fanfiction. Or at the very least, according to the acknowledgements, inspired by BBC's Merlin and specifically the ship merthur. I am prefacing this by saying that I write fic sometimes, that I have had my own fic ideas that I've taken and made original, that I haven't seen Merlin nor do I care to, and that I am not bashing the ship. But when I read that this was inspired by it suddenly a lot of the writing made a lot of sense, and not in a good way.

It felt like those stories we sometimes concoct in order to just have an excuse to make our blorbos kiss. Those stories where the plot is there, but it's not nearly as interesting as the characters. Stories I have read where there feels like something is missing because I don't go into that fandom, but I wanted to check out their fanfic game anyway. And there's nothing wrong with these stories! It just... feels and reads differently when this is published fiction. I felt tricked, not gonna lie. But that offense lasted mere seconds before it made way for the "oh, so that's why it felt like this" wave of frustration.

The Spoilers Section

The climax was great--a final confrontation with Orzei where he uses Zaya's coronation's eve to talk to Zaya and eventually hold everyone hostage to meet his wants--and I really liked how tense it was. It'd been established that transformation magic has dire side effects, and it actually surprised me to see that Zaya, after being transformed back from an iris, actually had a scar and two disfigured limbs that he kept. It would have been so easy to say he fixed them up, but no, they're permanent. You don't see that often, stories willing to disfigure their main characters so swiftly. It actually made the magic system stronger for its decision not to backtrack for this special case.

Col freeing the people was also a great scene to picture. Col being frozen and used as a bargaining chip, slowly dying, was also tense and I really liked it a lot. I knew he wasn't going to die, but I was still on the edge of my seat to see him save himself--except he didn't! He did almost die and it took an entire city's worth of mages to revive him, and after that he was still out of it. I liked it.

Now here's where my praises for the ending cease.

God, the ending was... too happy. So, Col (and others) have performed magic in front of the public. In front of several thousands, in fact, and the newspapers will spread that to even more than that. The king was seen kissing a mage and not the woman he was supposed to be marrying for political affairs, the woman he invited to the country. Keep in mind magic has been outlawed for, what, a thousand years? People fear mages so much sometimes that they send them to Heartwood to be "cured". The entire premise of the mages of Heartwood pushing Col towards Zaya, as stated IN THE BOOK ITSELF, is to convince Zaya to come around on the magic ban and actually let them practice in public, which is unfortunately Orzei's same goal when he makes his demands in the climax. If we go by the magic system itself, people were disfigured by Orzei's magic.

And yet everyone loves Col and magic is accepted almost right away.

Yes, magic has healing properties. Yes, some people practice hidden and help their towns. Yes, some religious figures are mages in disguise who "perform miracles" to keep the religion going and themselves safe (oh my GOD why didn't we EXPLORE THAT). And yes, the book tries to say that at the very least some of the higher standing figures of the council and even a religious figure all quit when Zaya proposes allowing mages to practice again and no longer outlawing magic as a whole, but you cannot tell me a thousand or less years of social and political conditioning haven't ingrained themselves so thoroughly in the people's minds that they're cheering in the end for a public display of magic from Col at Zaya's coronation.


A big thing about his backstory is that, when he was six years old, he performed extremely powerful magic for the first time. It scared the shit out of his family and they sent him off to Heartwood, and only then did they accept him. Then, when his sister was pregnant, Col could tell there was something wrong with the pregnancy and requested he be called for when she was ready to give birth--which his family did not do, and she died as a result, so they fought about it and he is estranged from them a little. Or, well, low contact. Either way, Col thinks his family resents him for his magic, and he's very well within his rights to think so given the fact that they gave him up to Heartwood at such a young age.

Yet his parents show up at the end and they're elated and oh so happy and proud of him and it was all just a misunderstanding!! It's like at the end of it all no one but Orzei was allowed to be mean or evil and everyone and everything had to be happy.

I feel like this book could've benefitted from the timeframe of Col and Zaya's knowing one another being longer, because Col was supposed to go live at the palace with Zaya anyway. Orzei could still be a threat, but then you have the fanatics and people opposing Zaya's unban on magic. That could've been interesting! But it's not what we got! GAH.

Final Thoughts

It's so odd to say that despite all my gripes with this book I still enjoyed myself anyway. That I found myself laughing, cooing, and grinning with it. Although I guess it's not that odd, considering it is a fun ride from start to finish. I described it to my girlfriend as "a quick bite sized romp for scratching an itch", and that is what it is: the romance between a newly appointed king and his sage, and them dealing with the world around them. That's what it is, and it doesn't try to be more, and at the very least with what it is, it succeeds at keeping itself going. Would I recommend this? Sure, if you want something lighthearted, fun, and cute. But if you're expecting something more, nah, don't do it.

Written on May 5, 2023