SPFBO Review: A Triad in Three Acts

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“Your Path is muddy, Kelnaht, but don’t think avoiding the puddles will make it easier to travel.”
Kelnaht, a cloud elf, is a truth seeker caught between love and faith, when a murder reveals an illicit affair between two tree elves he desires more than he can admit. Kelnaht’s former lover Ianys once betrayed him, and the shunned forester Taruif is not allowed to talk to anyone but the guide, their spiritual pathfinder.

The guide mentioned puddles, but I envisioned lakes, deep treacherous lakes, and I was drowning.
Then a stripling goes missing from the tribe, and heavy rainfall hides all traces of his whereabouts. With days creeping by without a lead, it’s hard to keep the tribe’s spirits up, more so when Kelnaht’s own future depends on the elders. Taruif has been shunned for almost twenty turns, but now that a possible forester’s apprentice is coming of age, the elders consider reducing his sentence. Taruif could be set free.

“I have great responsibilities, but my path ahead is as foggy and blurred as the path behind me.”
Later, when several children fall ill with more than a summer bug, truth seeker Kelnaht is assigned to investigate. What he finds is deadly and threatens the life of every underage child in the tribe, including Ianys’ daughter Atèn. Then a wounded traveller is found in the forest, left to die after a vicious attack. 

“There is always a way.”
Kelnaht, Taruif, and Ianys are meant to be together, but old promises and the decree of the elders prevent them from claiming each other openly at Solstice. Kelnaht can investigate murder and foul play, but he can’t see how he can keep both his lovers without breaking the rules. But if he believes in the guide’s words and trusts his faith in Ma’terra, they will find a way to clear the fog and puddles from their paths.

Goodreads Link: A Triad in Three Acts: The Complete Forester Trilogy
Author: Blaine D. Arden
Genre: High Fantasy Romance
Rating: 5/5 stars

First of all, I have to say that I appreciate that the author uses the word “triad” to describe a polyamorous relationship between three people. There’s this new trend toward using “throuple” which is supposed to be “three+couple” and I think it sounds so awkward and weird. Why invent a new word when “triad” is right there? I guess people can use whatever word they want to describe their own relationships, but when I was part of a triad, we all preferred that term.

That said, this is an interesting story because it’s part mystery/crime procedural and part romance, all in a small fantasy setting with elves. There are cloud elves, who have wings and can fly short distances, and there are tree elves, who have more of an affinity for their forest home. They all live in a village with homes made of trees, mostly peaceful. Everyone also develops magical talents around adolescence which directs their vocation.

Crime seems to be rare, but when it happens, the protagonist Kelnaht is the truth-seeker who can use his magic to examine evidence, trail people, and even probe people’s memories. This makes him part crime scene technician and part detective. Over the course of these three novellas, you can see how he solves three cases including a murder, a missing youth, and a mysterious illness. It’s interesting to see how magic can do similar things as modern forensic science while also having special advantages like the memory probing. I don’t read a lot of crime or mystery stories but I appreciate that these were done well.

In the second part of the stories, we see the developing relationship between three men: Kelnaht, Taruif, and Ianys. Although same-sex relationships and polyamory are not taboo in their village, they still face societal obstacles that prevent them from openly being together. Each one is a distinct character who brings something different to the triad and they relate to each other as individuals as well as a group. The dynamics of polyamory and gay male relationships read very realistic to me. Unlike previous books that I reviewed where I had trouble with lesbian characters written by male authors, I felt that this female author could write gay male characters in a nuanced, non-stereotypical way.

I will note that there’s explicit sex throughout this trilogy, so if that’s not your thing, then this book probably isn’t for you because you can’t just skip over a few paragraphs. However, I thought that the sex wasn’t gratuitous or unnecessary because it still focused on the emotions of the characters and showed another part of their relationship, the way that the dynamics developed between the three of them. This is definitely a romance because the sex is part of showing their love, not erotica for titillation. (Not that there’s anything wrong with erotica, I just want to describe this book accurately.)

Trigger warning: when Kelnaht probes suspects’ memories for clues, he relives the moment through their eyes. For example, he experiences the moment when the murder victim is strangled as if he was the one committing the crime. The violence is not explicit in this book but it’s still disturbing to read a first-person account of killing someone.

Overall, this book was an enjoyable read. Breaking it up into three novellas instead of one long novel probably contributed to the quick pacing. The detailed world drew me in naturally, the mystery elements were compelling, and the triad relationship was very sweet. If you like steamy gay romance, I’d recommend this book, especially to fans of Jacqueline Carey. (I don’t know many other authors who write gay fantasy romance, sorry.)


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