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…
Forced into a tournament he can’t win but also can’t afford to lose.
Set during a time and place where the class system is firmly in place, Tournament of Losers is a very clever and original concept for a story. The main character, Rath, caught my attention immediately. He’s in the lowest of the classes and is self-aware enough to know he’s where he’ll be until he dies, so he lives one day, one job at a time and tries to stay out of trouble. Easier said than done when his father is so worthless more than one person suggests he’s literally worth more dead than alive.
His father’s latest scheme has Rath facing a three day deadline to acquire an astronomical amount of money or die. Thus the Tournament of Losers. If he can survive to the second round he’ll have the money he needs. If. If he could win…but the chances of that are so far south of slim to none, he won’t even consider it. He’d need more than Fate on his side. But what if he had something stronger than Fate in his corner? What if he had love?
This story is a romance at its basic plot. I wondered who would be the other half of the equation and how Rath would find time for a relationship with everything else going on. I liked how the author works it out and seeing who it would most likely be before it was confirmed, it led me to start speculating about how this story might turn out. Rath seems to be an equal opportunity whore (his word) so it could have been either a man or a woman. No matter the outcome of the tournament, falling for Tress was clearly going to change his life. I liked Tress a lot so, I was totally okay with that.
I was intrigued when I realized that someone or maybe a group of someones didn’t want Rath to do well, or even be in, the tournament. But who and why?
Since Rath is from the rougher, dirtier side of town, the story has a gritty feel to it but isn’t terribly dark. He has a cynical sense of humor and the majority of the Low City people I met seem to genuinely like him. I think it’s because even though he has to take care of himself the best way he knows how, he looks out for those who have even less and treats his fellow Low City dweller with respect…or at least the ones who deserve it.
I found it interesting to watch Rath’s growth in this story. He starts out as a likable character but he still had room to improve and remember his dreams to be more than the class he was born into. If I had to have a single critique about the book, it’s that the ending just ends. I mean it ended the way I figured it would but I think it would have been nice to have had an epilogue to show how Rath’s life changed after the tournament and how he changed the perception of the royal family and those who dwelt in High City. It just seemed that the differences made in class and how people were treated was so important to Rath, I could clearly see him being the one to cause change.
The story reads at a smooth pace. Not so fast that I got lost and not so slow that I felt the need to skip to dialogue. Readers who enjoy a good MM fantasy should give this one a read. There isn’t much in the way of descriptive sex but there is loads of romance.