This book reminded me of how real artistry always looks playful and effortless even at its most intricate. This is how this book read, easy and effortless like a juggler's performance and still captivating like a tightrope act. The narrative flowed smoothly, sometimes poetic, sometimes tinged with gentle humor, painting the setting and the characters alike in colorful, vivid pictures. The hard facts of life weren't glossed over, even drawn out in stark black-and-white at times, but there was no wallowing in misery, no straining after effect. Everything about this book is round and lovingly shaped, most of all Brute, the viewpoint character. A seven-foot giant with a, by general consent of his environment, unpleasant overall appearance and of mean birth, he faced scorn and rejection since childhood. But inside, he's the purest of souls and one of the sweetest characters I've ever met. Gray is Brute's fitting complement. A husk of a man when they first meet, brought low by hubris and vindictiveness, it takes only a touch of Brute's inane kind-heartedness to reawaken Gray's will to life. They're kindred spirits, Brute and Gray, as unlikely as it seems. Gray may regret past mistakes, but like Brute, he takes what life dishes out to him and makes the best of it with down-to-earth realism, passion and compassion instead of melodrama or self-pity. The story is set in the "classical" high-fantasy environment of a vaguely medieval estates-based society. But like the characterizations, there's a subtle down-to-earthness to the setting. No dragons, elves or evil warlocks here, only a touch of magic and a mythology that is very much a part of people's everyday lives, including gods and goddesses who can and will intervene as they deem necessary. This was at once a heartwarming romance and a wonderful fairytale. I fell in love with Brute and Gray and was reluctant to let them go.