Sponsel’s fantasy novel, the first of a planned series, follows the adventures of Iliota of Weselder, a good-hearted girl born to a newly impoverished family in the land of Conica.
Teenager Iliota’s noble family’s business interests were ruined during a recent civil war, and their debts have become catastrophic. Only a good marriage match can save them now. After the queen of Conica is assassinated, newly enthroned King Tali Major is bereft, and soon, he and Iliota become engaged, even though he’s twice her age. Iliota, known to her loved ones as “Lili,” is quickly drawn into the court intrigues of Conica; the queen’s killers still haunt the royal household, and another, unexpected danger also enters Lili’s life: love. She’s introduced to the impetuous Camich “Cam” Major, the Earl of Liot and the king’s son, and they become fast friends. Things go further than expected, though, when Cam and Lili confess their devotion to each other. Soon, however, it’s clear that those who seek to bring down the Major dynasty haven’t gone away, and the air becomes thick with their dark schemes. Will Cam and Lili find happiness together—and can the kingdom survive if they do? Chapters alternate between Lili’s and Cam’s first-person points of view, for the most part. The characters throughout are multidimensional, believable, and sympathetic. Some of their names are unfortunately a bit too similar at times (Lili, Jili, Tali, Balia, Iliota, Liot) but they do have the feel of a common language. Sponsel keeps the action moving, although it centers on human relationships and matters of state, rather than on physical violence. Fans of historical romance, medieval history, and fantasy narratives will find this a solid, if predictable, tale.
A strong debut fantasy romance.