Here is the first book of the "Seven Realms" series, by the author of the "Warrior Heir" trilogy. Unlike that earlier trilogy, this story is set not in a magically-enhanced version of our present-day world, but in a fully imagined fantasy world in which wars are fought with horses, bows, swords, and magic. Where both trilogies are alike is that the fate of a whole world rests in the hands of a handful of sexy and highly sexed teenagers. In other words, young adults who have grown up on (and perhaps out of) Harry Potter will take to it like fish to water. For in the Queendom of the Fells, history begins—and could very easily end—with a reckless romance between two beautiful young people: a queen from a long line of rulers of the indigenous vale folk, and a wizard from a magically-gifted race of conquerors from the north.
As a result of the "breaking" of the world some thousand years ago, these wizards are now sworn enemies of the upland clan whose "green magic," in tune with the Spirit Mountains themselves, includes the fashioning of powerful amulets the wizards need to focus their power. In the thousand years since the Breaking, these three peoples—wizard, vale, and clan—have lived together in an uneasy peace, mediated by a covenant called the Naéming. According to this law, the queen of the Fells can never again marry a wizard. Wizards, no longer able to rule, are instead magically bound to serve and protect the line of queens. They are also forbidden to trespass on the high ground held by the clan-folk. The latter, in turn, continue to supply the wizards with the amulets they need to work magic, but with a built-in catch: these amulets lose their power over time, so that the wizards depend on the goodwill of the clan to keep them supplied.
These rules are meant to keep the Breaking from happening again. But now there are ominous signs that the wizards may be gathering their nerve for a grab at power. From the point of view of young Han "Cuffs" Alister—a trader, hunter, medicinal-herb-gatherer, booze smuggler, sometime street hood, and all-around misfit who doesn't know what to make of himself or the silver cuffs he has worn on his wrists as long as he can remember—the first sign of these new menaces comes in the form of an amulet older than the Breaking or the Naéming. He robs it off an underage wizard named Micah Bayar, whose father is the most powerful wizard in the queendom. Micah has been using this powerful and illegal artifact without permission, and now Han has it—if only he can figure out what to do with it. He seems to be the last person to figure out that an outbreak of grisly murders is a direct result of his theft of the charm, which Lord Bayar will go to any length to recover. By the time he does realize it, Han has lost those he loves the most, and must face a truth about himself that he would have dreaded knowing if he had even begun to guess it.
Meanwhile, Raisa—the princess heir to the queendom—is approaching her sixteenth name day, when she becomes eligible to marry and to be officially named the next in line for the throne. But the closer she gets to the big day, the more she becomes aware of the growing danger swirling about her: another facet of the Bayar family's plan to overthrow the Naéming and seize power. Their excuse for all this, when they bother to make one, is that the wars between the southern realms may soon spread to the Fells, and a union between the power of the wizards and the throne will be needed to defend their country. But as much as Raisa lusts after the magnetic Micah, she is horrified to learn of her mother's plan to force her to marry him on the very night of her naming feast. This just isn't done—and nor are the tactics used by the Bayars and the queen to keep Raisa's father and the queen's loyal Guard Captain out of the way at this crucial moment.
By the end of this first book, both Raisa and Han are fleeing the Fells with friends, and though separate from each other, they share the same destination. By this time our two protagonists have met only once, and under less than ideal circumstances; yet they are drawn together in a way that suggests that their relationship may prove to be the ultimate test of whether the Fells can survive another Breaking like what happened a thousand years ago. Or, perhaps, they may become useful allies as their country becomes increasingly hard-pressed between foreign enemies and the ambitions of the wizard gentry. The next stages of their fate will be bound up with those of a loyal young guardsman, a clan youth whose magical talents have made him an outcast among his own people, a warrior maiden whose vocation makes her the sworn enemy of those she loves the most, and a charming young wizard who, until now, has been the willing if unwitting instrument of his father's dastardly designs.
Whatever happens next, count on it being fraught with the torments of being a teenager: infatuation, jealousy, the struggle to figure out one's own identity, and the conflict between doing what is right and what feels good. Expect it to be filled with mystery, intrigue, combat, and magic. And, if Chima continues to write at the same high pitch of thrilling entertainment, expect the needle on the fantasy-adventure gauge to get stuck at the high end of the scale. Further books in this series, which was originally planned as a trilogy, include The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, and The Crimson Crown.
Saint Louis USA
Recommended Age: 14+
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