In Book Two of the “Seven Realms” quartet, the author of The Warrior Heir and its sequels continues to amaze with her ability to keep a large-scale piece of world-building interesting, convincing, and hopping with action. This installment takes us out of the Queendom of the Fells and shows us more of the seven realms, particularly the Academy of Oden’s Ford—a sort of multi-disciplinary university and an island of peace on the neutral ground between two war-torn kingdoms. It heightens the risk the main characters must face just to survive from day to day, aside from the complicated tangle of intersecting agendas, alliances, and enmities that keep them all on edge with each other. And it creates a powerful sense of the romantic and political possibilities in store for them—most of which fall somewhere in the range between “recklessly dangerous” and “hopelessly doomed.” Forbidden magic, betrayal, assassination attempts, possession, blackmail, kidnapping, attempted rape, comportment lessons, and a deadly serious form of dormitory hazing are just part of the curriculum during Year One at a school that is most definitely not Hogwarts.
If you read The Demon King, you may remember that the Seven Realms were once a united Queendom… Until the wizards of the Northern Isles invaded and tried to subvert the sovereignty of the queen. Sometime between then and the dangerous romance between one Queen Hanalea and a great wizard, now remembered as the Demon King, things got really bad. The magic almost destroyed the world. Since the Breaking, as that period is known, the queenly line, the wizards’ council, and the upland clans who control the making of magical amulets have been held in tension by a magically-enforced accord known as the Næming. As this story unfolds, the Næming continues to come unraveled, drawing the Fells closer to the brink of a civil war—which would be especially disastrous, given the ambitions of the cruel and warlike kings of the neighboring realms.
It is through those realms that Raisa, the Princess Heir of the Fells, must ride on her way to the military officers’ school at Oden’s Ford. So, obviously, the trip to school is full of danger for her, even protected as she is by the young cadet who is the love of her life—though the magic that binds him to her means they can never be a couple. But there is danger behind her and ahead as well. The High Wizard wants to force Raisa to marry his son, cementing his control over the royal line. If he can’t catch her, he may have Raisa killed and then focus his designs on her younger sister instead. Much depends on Raisa getting past the border checkpoints, through hostile territory, and into the Academy without being captured or recognized… and then, somehow, getting the education she believes the future Fellsian Queen will need while, at the wizards’ college just across town, the children of her worst enemy are learning to use magic.
Meanwhile, at that very wizard’s school, former street-lord and Raisa’s sometime kidnapper Han “Cuffs” Alister is fending off the same wizardly Bayar twins and their equally odious cousins, studying magic on the dime of the same upland clans who helped raise him, and who are now sworn to kill him if he crosses their interests. His only confidant is Fire Dancer, a clan youth who—unlike any uplander before him—has also gone to school to study magic. But while Dancer obsesses over how to create trinkets for storing magical power, Han finds himself forced to study defensive and offensive magic, just to keep his head on his shoulders and his neck out of the noose. The headmistress of Mystwerk House (Han’s college) wants to use him as a pawn in her intrigues within the Wizard Council. A mysterious tutor named Crow comes to Han in the dreamworld, promising to make Han the perfect wizard assassin—while operating his own, sinister agenda. Fiona Bayar offers herself to Han, asking in return that he help put her on the throne.
And then there’s the girl Han knew in his his street-lord days, who stirs up trouble of her own… not to mention Raisa, whom he knows as Rebecca. As a romance develops between this strangely matched pair, it becomes increasingly obvious that the secrets they don’t know about each other could destroy any chance of happiness for both of them—could even destroy the Queendom itself. But this book doesn’t show us where all this leads. It takes us only as far as the end of their first year at school, when Raisa falls into the worst hands you could have imagined… and then she and her kidnappers, together, fall into even worse hands… and when Han, outraged by the disappearance of his friend Rebecca, yet still oblivious to her identity as the princess the clans are now forcing him to protect, must leave school with his wizard training unfinished.
For the time has come for Han to face the danger written in his fate, whether he is ready for it or not. And as for Raisa, the question at this crisis is whether she, and the queenly line in which she stands, will survive. Somehow, though these characters are not always as high-minded as you might wish, you’ll reach this point caring enough about what comes next to be on the lookout for Book Three: The Gray Wolf Throne. And for those of you who can’t wait to see the saga through, Book Four, The Crimson Crown, became available in October 2012.