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In the Midst of Omens

In the Midst of Omens

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A reimagining of the world’s oldest written story, this MM fantasy reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast is filled with romance, twists and turns, and gripping characters.

Synopsis

A king determined to be remembered for all time…
A jealous goddess who desires his throne.

King Gilgamesh rules the world’s preeminent city, the jewel of creation, Uruk.  

But that is not enough. His desire for legacy consumes him and drives his ceaseless ambition—until the gods step in. 

Their solution? Enkidu—a man with no past.  

Enkidu captivates and frustrates Gilgamesh, drawing the king’s attention from eternity. He’s the perfect solution—for everyone except the goddess Inanna.  

She has her own plans in place for Gilgamesh’s future until Enkidu’s arrival sabotages them.

No one spurns a goddess and gets away with it. Not even the king. 

Especially not the king.  

A reimagining of the world’s oldest written story, this MM fantasy reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast is filled with romance, twists and turns, and gripping characters.

Read a Sample

Gilgamesh’s ax hungered for blood. For the crunch of bones snapping beneath it and the howling cries of fallen enemies.

And he didn’t give a damn what his advisors thought about it.

That didn’t stop the advisor who’d joined the campaign from standing before his king with protests. Fuck if some god hadn’t bewitched Gilgamesh for him to have allowed Hirin to come with his men.

Most of the soldiers lingered back at their campsite, but Gilgamesh’s loyal hundred stood with them on a hill that looked down into a dark, quiet valley. Dozens of animal-hide tents rippled in a breeze which caused torches around the site to flicker.

Gilgamesh’s men leaned on their shields or rested hands on their swords. Fine blades were expensive and rare. He doubted the troops waiting for them in the valley possessed many. Every one of his hundred had one, yet Gilgamesh preferred the ax. There was something about the brutal intimacy of fighting so close. The leverage that went into the swing.

When Gilgamesh killed someone, he wanted them to see his eyes as they fell.

“...if we could delay another day and form a strategy, my king.”

A sigh built in Gilgamesh’s chest. Campfires glowed in the distant valley, golden flecks of moving paint that smudged the not-yet-dark horizon. He’d ignored Hirin’s prattling and lost the conversation’s topic. The time for action had come. 

“What is your concern, Hirin?” His men shuffled behind him. They buzzed with energy, ready to fight.

The advisor, who wore a colorful tunic and beaded shawl as opposed to the practical leather and linen of his soldiers, trembled. “If something were to happen to you, Lugal?”

Gilgamesh scoffed as he chucked his bronze shield onto the ground, causing dust to rise and glow in the dim illumination from the enemy’s distant fires. “What could possibly happen to me?” He nodded to his soldiers. Hirin didn’t want them to fight tonight. He’d rather they reconvene with the rest of their army to make a strategy, alerting their enemy and allowing them to prepare, and other foolish, advisor-like ideas.

“Not to be indelicate, Your Highness, but you could die.” Hirin rubbed his hands together.

Gilgamesh’s nose flared. He wasn’t some mortal child, incapable of protecting himself. He possessed god’s blood powers and he released his hold on them, allowing the magic to flow over the man. One would think Hirin might remember who he stood before as he shivered under their weight. The advisor bowed deeply, and Gilgamesh’s teeth clicked. He’d allowed Hirin to come because the man was loyal and well connected. Taking a moment to reassure the advisor wouldn’t delay the inevitable.

Hirin bowed again until he touched the ground before scrambling to his feet. “Forgive me, Lugal. You know I am a weak-willed man and not made of the same mettle as your fighters.” His eyes dashed to the broad, muscled men. Gilgamesh stood five hand breadths above his tallest soldier which signaled his god-descended nature even without others having to feel his power’s weight.

Hirin was attempting to be respectful despite his disapproval, and Gilgamesh needed to keep him on his side. As an advisor, he influenced a realm Gilgamesh couldn’t win through might alone. He clapped the man’s arm. “Of course.” Then he shifted to face the men who waited for his word. At a shake of his head, they’d retreat to the hill’s other side and sleep with unbloodied hands. But they had vengeance to take. “I believe our friend and advisor has forgotten who leads our group.”

Smiles slipped up their faces. They already knew what he’d say but were eager to hear it again. Gilgamesh rested a palm over the ax’s head. 

“Is it a mere mortal who leads you, the most loyal men of Uruk?”

“No,” they cried and raised their swords to pierce the sky’s deepening navy.

Gilgamesh laughed, his chest rumbling with it. “No, Hirin. You need not worry, for it is no mere mortal standing here tonight.” Gilgamesh grazed his hand down his beard before grinning. “These fine soldiers will face down this threat alongside the great King Gilgamesh, valorous ruler of the high-walled Uruk,”— battle cries rang out—“son of the great king and half-god Lugalbanda and the mighty goddess, Ninsun!” More cheers rose into a crescendo as the sound echoed. “The man who surpasses all other mortals in strength and deed!”

The men jumped up and down as they hoisted their shields in the air. The noise would wake the sleeping army below. Gilgamesh tightened his grip on the ax and turned towards the slope, directing his men forward. Already soldiers poured out of tents like ants from aggravated mounds. The evening’s activity had begun.

“You’re not just a god, Lugal,” Hirin whispered. His tone caused Gilgamesh to turn towards him, his nose wrinkling in a snarl. The advisor shook his head, his eyes glistening, and it cooled the King’s rising anger. “You’re one-third human is all I mean, my king. We love you and wish to see you have a long, prosperous reign.”

The soldiers ran, their shouts echoing. Gilgamesh remained still and stared at the advisor. It was brave to speak so boldly to the god-king of Uruk. There were many words Gilgamesh might have used to describe Hirin before that night, but brave would not fall among them.

“Perhaps when I walk out of this unscathed, you’ll learn to have more faith in me.”

The advisor’s shoulders dropped with a sigh. Gilgamesh turned and leapt down the hill. His strides were long enough that before his men met the approaching soldiers, he’d reached them.

He roared as he thrust an ax into a soldier who fell with a gasp and crumbled onto the dusty ground. Gilgamesh yanked the weapon free and plowed forward. His men consumed the other fighters like locusts. He’d laugh that this was the army Umma had threatened him with if the cost of their King’s pride wasn’t lives. 

The soldiers fell. They didn’t have the ability to challenge his men which sent a quell of disgust curling through Gilgamesh’s gut. They couldn’t help it. Gilgamesh possessed enough divinity in his blood that mortals grew weak in his presence. As long as his men stayed within half a league, every soldier they fought would tremble and weaken. That, perhaps, was the most frustrating aspect of life for Gilgamesh. Nothing was a challenge.

Yet his own damned advisor doubted him. Foolish man.

He slammed the side of his ax around, knocking down a pair of soldiers, and one dropped a torch that briefly lit a small patch of grass aflame.

Hirin had questioned Gilgamesh in front of his men over this pitiful gathering of so-called soldiers. The advisor was prone to an anxious mind, but Gilgamesh found his perspective useful. He understood battles that happened with words rather than weapons, though his presence annoyed like a fly biting his sweat-dampened back in a spot he couldn’t reach.

The enemy soldiers, who’d moved towards them with such bluster and certainty at the start, hesitated. As they made it into the circle that the power of Gilgamesh’s god’s blood reached, a sheen swept over their eyes and they stumbled, dropping weapons and tripping. They became like lambs led into a temple, their blood splattering the dusty ground of their unirrigated lands.

Gods, this army was a charade, brave men acting as an organized force while their city didn’t even have walls or modern record keeping. Gilgamesh wanted to roll his eyes as he shot half a dozen arrows that took down as many men. His body went through the motions mindlessly. He’d spent most of his life with a bow string in his fingers and the wind from an arrow releasing brushing his cheeks. So, his thoughts could drift to political implications and the reason he was out here prepared to end Umma’s king, Zage-Si.

Gilgamesh didn’t take slights well.

Slights against his queen, even less so.

Zage-Si attempted to cultivate a reputation as the terror of the Lands Between the Waters. But this land was Gilgamesh’s. He would work to secure it; then he’d bind his legacy so tightly to the center of human existence that his name would still roll off the tongues of those who lived millennia beyond him. It was the driving force of his life and what caused his heart to beat. This side quest of taking vengeance for Umma’s slight aside.

This wasn’t a pursuit that would press his name into tablets so that endless years from now, others would speak of his deeds. No, the legend of the slaughter of Umma’s army might last a few months or possibly a couple of years as people passed the time over a bowl of beer. It would help further his reputation, but it wouldn’t stand against the winds of history. He couldn’t bother with that for now, though.

Gilgamesh bellowed another battle cry—a ‘hu’ that his men echoed—as he plowed another group of soldiers down. Warmth rose through his chest and curled in his stomach. He was god-born and god-blessed, designed for this purpose. And he had a hundred of the most loyal men in the land, fighting without so much as a shudder of hesitation. Who could stand up to him? 

Swords clashed as a cool evening wind brought the coppery smell of blood to Gilgamesh, inundating him with the deaths the foolish Zage-Si had wrought. Cries of defeated yet living soldiers rolled through the valley, only overtaken by the roars of success from his men.

Gilgamesh’s soldiers functioned as a unit, covering each other and slamming spears forward with swift movements. The men hinged from the hips and swiveled as they moved, bringing the full weight of their strength into their blows. Gilgamesh had trained these men himself, pulling them aside when he noticed a particular skill or discipline. Once he trusted them, he’d blood-marked them as his, making them immune to the weakness his god powers caused. They were like gems along his crown, small glimmers of all he’d achieved.

“Enough,” Gilgamesh roared after his soldiers had cut through hundreds of men. The remaining Umma soldiers stood—firmly, he had to admit—even if their weapons trembled in their hands. His men ceased fighting at once as the other army backed into a mass abutting their encampment’s tents. Their numbers had spilled out like a dark tide through the camp, but even for their size, they couldn’t stand against Gilgamesh.

He moved forward, his boots squelching in puddles of blood as he maneuvered around downed men. The clang of clashing weapons had given way to an eerie quiet, punctuated by a few lingering sobs and moans of dying men. Gilgamesh would make sure they all received swift ends if his men hadn’t handled it once he found who he was looking for. No soldier deserved to die slowly over hours as they imagined the destruction of their city they’d fought to protect. But, first, he had to locate their King. He would be somewhere among the men, despite evading the front lines like a coward.

“Your leader? Lugal Zage-Si?” Gilgamesh asked the blood-splattered soldiers ahead of him. He stood close enough that his powers reached. Men trembled under its weight. Gilgamesh could pull it back, but he didn’t. It was difficult enough to wrestle the magic down and even more challenging with his heart thrumming, his awareness of danger. 

No soldiers spoke, and he lifted his ax, tossing and catching it before directing it at a man standing in the front line. “One of you will direct me to your leader now, or”—he lifted his shoulder to indicate the group behind him who were still buzzing with exhilaration—“we’ll kill our way to him.” Still, the men paused, and Gilgamesh had to respect their loyalty. “Do not dishonor your king to believe he’d fear facing me. Is he not as brave as any of you men? Is he not god ordained to his position? Why should he tremble like a coward as you brave souls fight me?”

The Umma soldiers’ eyes darted to each other as sweat dripped down their brows. Gilgamesh could imagine their hearts pounding fiercely, yet they didn’t jump forward with an answer. He regretted his earlier assessment. Zage-Si had poorly trained his men, but they deserved their reputation. Loyalty burned in their eyes brighter than the torches some carried. However, a hesitation lingered among some; they knew Gilgamesh spoke true. Their gods had chosen their king, and the divine held his life in the balance.

Jaw muscles twitched on some. He understood the trails their minds wandered as clearly as if he could read them. Lugal Zage-Si should be fearless, brilliant, strong, battle-ready, educated, politically savvy, and as handsome as a god. Why didn’t Zage-Si stand with them when Gilgamesh fought alongside his men? Gilgamesh understood the demands on a king all too well, understood the workings of these men’s minds and the hesitation forming in their postures.

Namtur, an Uruk soldier with a long, sharp nose, shifted towards Gilgamesh. His eyes spoke everything his lips wouldn’t say. Gilgamesh’s men could take these soldiers. They didn’t have to let them weigh things out. They could kill their way to the other king.

Gilgamesh raised a hand to stall his forces. The fight’s energy still buzzed around them, their breaths sounding over the winds that flittered sand around their boots. His queen would not like it if this turned into a bigger slaughter. A few hundred Umma soldiers dead, she’d understand, especially after what Zage-Si had done. If Gilgamesh took out their entire force with a handful of men, shamed them to the rest of the world, however, she’d be more than angry with him.

He could imagine the crease that would form between her brows, the words she would throw around. Diplomacy. Relations. Policy.

A sigh built in Gilgamesh’s chest even while staring down the thousand armed men before him. He loved Shamhat, but at times she was like a nattering younger sister, constantly telling him his sash was unknotted. Like Hirin, though, she made the city stronger for it. Perhaps he viewed his wife strangely. But their relationship didn’t possess the romantic or physical interactions most did. So maybe that idea was the most accurate picture or their partnership.

He imagined telling Shamhat he viewed her like a sister. The way her nose would wrinkle, and she’d draw back like she’d taken a taste of rancid wine.

The Umma soldiers parted, creating a funnel into the camp. Wind flapped the animal-hide tents about, crackling them as his soldiers waited for him to decide. Gilgamesh knew an ambush when he saw one. The slight tightening of grips on weapons, the way noses flared to suck in more air.

One of his men—Abgal, the group’s oldest and steadiest member—looked at him from beneath thick brows. He felt it too, then. Gilgamesh nodded and turned back towards the Umma forces, tapping his fingers to his forehead. “To our lady in heaven, Inanna.” 

“To Inanna,” his men echoed, and their energy shifted as well.

They were ready to exercise their training, lift spears in swift movements, drop this entire camp of men if required. Gilgamesh couldn’t remember when he’d started using a blessing for Inanna as his subtle signal that they were about to step ankle deep into shit and needed to prepare, but a smile touched his lips.

Inanna, the most honored goddess of Uruk—deity of romance, sex, fertility, beauty, war, and justice—could go fuck herself as far as Gilgamesh was concerned.

Tropes

☀️ Sunshine/Grumpy

🌹 Beauty & the Beast retelling

🗡️ Stuck With an Enemy

💔 Wounded Hero "Beast"

🐉 Dragon

🏳️‍🌈 Gay Romance

👑 Spoiled Royal/Smart Provincial Man

🧝‍♀️ Angry "enchantress" goddess

🥀 A race against fate

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Customer Reviews

Based on 3 reviews
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S
Sarah Bell
So beautifully written!!

Nicole Bailey is exceptional at painting the most vivid scenery and plot in the fantasy/mythology world. I was captured within the first sentences and hooked until the end. Her writing style is like poetry, she leaves moments to catch your breath, to fully feel the story develop. I had never heard of Gilgamesh before and I’m totally grateful I’m going into this duologu blind because I have no expectations. I can fully just sit back, read and enjoy. I loved this first book in the series, Enkidu is so soft and cozy and watching him peal back the layers of Gilgamesh like an onion was so heartwarming. But Shamhat, that woman is my idol. An absolute weapon of a woman fully aware of her power. The ending of the first book was perfect in that it rounded the story together but left just enough of a cliffhanger for me to be ready for the second as soon as it’s released! While it wasn’t my favourite book Nicole has written, it’s certainly still beautifully written with a fully engaging thoughtful plot!

J
Julie @ One Book More
So good!!

I love Nicole Bailey’s books and was so looking forward to reading a reimagining of The Epic of Gilgamesh. I’ve never read a retelling of Gilgamesh before, and In the Midst of Omens didn’t disappoint! The world-building, characters, and relationships are all fantastic, and I adore Bailey’s writing style.

I was so intrigued by Gilgamesh – his strong sense of responsibility and duty, his conflicting feelings about love and life, his obsessive need to leave a legacy, and his tumultuous connection to a goddess. It all makes for a thought-provoking read. Gilgamesh is a man of contradictions, and Bailey crafted him in a way that shows all the different layers to his personality. His arc explores his ambition and loyalty, his duty to his people, his compassionate and passionate nature, and his desperation to be remembered after he’s gone. It’s a fascinating and multi-faceted examination of a complicated character, for sure.

Something I always love in Bailey’s books is how the stories highlight so many different types of relationships and love. In this book we see the platonic love between Gilgamesh and his wife, the polyamorous relationship Shamat shares with two others, and the main romance between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Gilgamesh and Shamat have such a unique relationship, and their platonic love for each other knows no bounds. They are both so committed to each other, and the strength of their bond is at the forefront of the book.

Of course, the romance between Gilgamesh and Enkidu was definitely my favorite. I can’t resist a swoon-worthy romance, and this couple has a wonderful opposites-attract love story. I need more of them!! lol The plot and world-building are strong, too. Well-paced and immersive, it’s the type of story that pulls you in quickly.

Though this is a reimagining, I don’t think you need to know much about the original story to easily follow this one. If you have, you’ll be impressed with Bailey’s knowledge of the original story and how she puts a fresh spin on it. I’m excited to see what happens in the next book!

C
Cheyenne Robinson-Bauman
Another great book from a great author!

5 ⭐ CW: (provided by the author) grief/loss, death, war, gore, cussing, sexual content

In the Midst of Omens by Nicole Bailey is book one in the Legend of Gilgamesh duology. Another mythology retelling banger from Nicole! As usual, her characters are wonderful and compelling, and you can't help but love them and root for them, even when you already know what will happen based on the original story. Nicole weaves a new story from the oldest written story in history and makes it as gay as it was meant to be! It was a trip seeing my name in the acknowledgements of this book. I have been a staunch Nicole Bailey hype person since connecting with her on Instagram. You won't regret reading her books.

We follow Gilgamesh, King of Uruk and blessed with god-blood. He is ruthless, selfish, and arrogant. He is known for taking many wives and pulling other kings off their thrones and shaming them in front of their people. Gilgamesh is constantly looking to the future, trying to craft a legacy that will outlive him, making him unable to live and enjoy the moment. When the gods create gods blessed wild man, Enkidu, Gilgamesh finds himself contending with something new and not so easy to defeat.

I loved Enkidu right away! I loved an unconventional cinnamon roll. Enkidu is so innocent and pure, and exists to humble Gilgamesh and bring him down a peg. He's kind of like a muscular manic pixie dream girl lol. Gilgamesh is a little hard to stomach at first until Enkidu shows up and starts sanding away those edges. I do love the way Nicole has depicted Gilgamesh; he's both generous and selfish, loving and fierce. I also loved Shamhat as Gilgamesh 's Queen. She was so strong, and wasn't afraid to stand up to her husband. She had so much agency.

Though this was based on the Epic of Gilgamesh, this was a love story through and through. It was beautiful seeing two very masculine figures learn to be vulnerable with each other and learn how to love. It was very sweet, and also quite spicy 🥵. Not only is this an MM romance, but we also see polyamory between Gilgamesh, Shamhat and her partners, including a FF relationship. Nicole has also found a way to include nonbinary characters as priests of Inanna. Of course, Nicole can't just let us be happy at the end, so I'm very much looking forward to book two to see how it all ends.