This debut fantasy is set in the Risen Kingdoms, where countries float in the air and people take airships from place to place, princes battle for a throne, and dashing musketeers defend feisty princesses.
In other hands, this would be a swashbuckling gaslamp romp, but author Craddock chooses to go darker. His princess, Isabelle des Zephyrs, cousin of His Imperial Majesty Leon XIV of L’Empire Céleste, is feared for her deformed hand and abused by her father and brother for failing to possess their family’s saint-given magic, the ability to drain the life from others with the bloodshadow. Her only refuges are her trusty protector, the musketeer Jean-Claude, and her secret work as a scientist and mathematician, pursuits forbidden to women on pain of death. Saintly lines are supposed to remain pure, so Princess Isabelle can’t understand why the younger prince of Aragoth, who bears his own royal family’s gift of traveling through mirrors, would wish to marry her; nevertheless, she welcomes the opportunity for a new life. Her journey to her betrothed’s side is certainly fraught with political intrigue (and assassination attempts), but as she seeks a place for herself in Aragoth, Isabelle quickly realizes that there's more than politics behind the union. One might question how a fantasy world so different from our own would develop ersatz French and Spanish kingdoms, but it’s no more implausible than the British medieval landscapes populating other epics. The skulduggery is pleasurably complex, the emotional stakes feel convincing, and the reasonably happy ending feels earned. And while Jean-Claude’s doggedness in protecting Isabelle is admirable, Isabelle is decidedly and enjoyably not a damsel in need of rescue.
A very promising start, both for a series and a new author.