All the Hidden Paths by Foz Meadows (The Tithenai Chronicles #2)
With the plot against them foiled and the city of Qi-Katai in safe hands, Velasin and Caethari have begun to test the waters of their relationship. But the wider political ramifications of their marriage are still playing out across two nations, and all too soon, they’re summoned north to Tithena’s capital city, Qi-Xihan, to present themselves to its monarch.
With Caethari newly invested as his grandmother’s heir and Velasin’s old ghosts gnawing at his heels, what little peace they’ve managed to find is swiftly put to the test. Cae’s recent losses have left him racked with grief and guilt, while Vel struggles with the disconnect between instincts that have kept him safe in secrecy and what an open life requires of him now.
Pursued by unknown assailants and with Qi-Xihan’s court factions jockeying for power, Vel and Cae must use all the skills at their disposal to not only survive, but thrive – because there’s more than one way to end an alliance, and more than one person who wants to see them fail.
COVER ARTIST: Micaela Alcaino (Art), Lesley Worrell (Design)
PUBLISHER: Tor Books
LENGTH: 544 pages
GENRE: Fantasy, Romance
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Minor Character(s), Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s), Trans Minor Character(s).
ALL THE HIDDEN PATHS picks up just a few weeks after A STRANGE AND STUBBORN ENDURANCE, barely a month into Velasin and Caethari's marriage. Vel has been trying to understand his new position as if he were a Ralian woman and a wife to a man, instead of the husband to a husband that he is. Unfortunately, sexism tied up in that Ralian paradigm makes the comparison fall apart just when he would need it most, as he surprised to find that marrying into Caethari's line grants him privileges he assumed would be barred to him (to whatever degree the idea crossed his mind at all). Cae, for his part, is still grieving the death of his father and sister, but, due to the murderous role Laecia played, his grief for her loss is especially fraught and not easily untangled.
The new storyline follows the Tierns as they travel to a new part of Tithena and find themselves plagued by accidents, assassination, attempts, and a military official who seems bent on finding something to pin on Cae. Cae and Vel had agreed to be friends, but neither them is sure of their feelings, nor whether their more romantic feelings are reciprocated. Cae, for his part, fell in love with Vel during the first book, but Vel needed more time to see whether he'd be interested in Cae as more than a friend and logistical partner.
This is a politically twisty book, with several important factions and many events happening in quick succession. As such, it introduces and resolves so many significant plot points that it would require a great number of spoilers to list them. Cae is increasing his command of Markel’s sign speech, which allows him to speak directly to Markel without requiring Vel as an intermediary. This removes some barriers for Markel, and lets Cae communicate with him even when Vel is indisposed. Markel has played a major part in both books, but here it feels easier, almost effortless, because the reader is assumed to know him already, and thus less needs to be explained.
One thing I’ll say about the ending is that it managed to neatly explain why such a complicated series of events had happened. The antagonist's motives and tactics were flawed not because they knew more than the reader does, but because they didn’t quite know as much. I don’t know if that’s precisely a twist on a mystery story, but I’m quite enjoying the dynamic across both books. I was initially concerned about how the seduction plotline was going to play out, as I dislike pointless miscommunications that seem to exist only to heighten tension and stress out the characters. Ultimately, I’m quite pleased with the timing and balance here. The whole thing was exactly what I wanted from it, I had a great time reading it, and I want the next book to be here already even though I know it’ll be a while. I'm also interested in a new character who narrates some sections in between Cae and Vel's portions, I’d be interested in reading future books that follow him, if they ever were on offer.
Graphic/Explicit CW for sexual content, grief, fire, panic attacks/disorders, blood, violence, injury detail.
Moderate CW for cursing, alcohol, homophobia, dissociation, vomit, sexual assault, sexual harassment, animal death, parental death, suicide, murder, death.
Minor CW for ableism, infidelity, domestic abuse.
Author's Note: Contains instances of dubious consent and undernegotiated kink.