In this debut novel, a princess’s life changes after a dragon attacks her castle.
The land of Manydown lies between the sea and Iron Crag mountain. In Castle Lawhill, Princess Winterhued is beloved by the people of her kingdom, but she’s a lonely, restless soul. Her father, King Gers, is a fatuous gourmand who leaves the intellectual portions of his rule to his daughter. Winterhued, who loved someone once in her youth, wonders if she’s now too old to find a worthy match. One morning, after she has another dream about malevolent wings beating from above, she bathes with the assistance of Lady Ulidia. When Eudora, a young scullery maid, spills a bucket of water, Ulidia scolds her, but later Winterhued shows the maid kindness by giving her oranges. The girl, overawed in the princess’s chambers, takes the opportunity to secretly snatch a moonstone necklace. This brazen act is quickly overshadowed by a sudden attack by a vast, winged beast, which turns much of Castle Lawhill to flaming rubble. The dragon then takes up residence in the castle’s keep. The king seeks a knight to slay the beast, planning to offer Winterhued’s hand in marriage as a reward. Meanwhile, an errant knight—who already has a connection to the princess—and his squire roam the lands just below Iron Crag, and they’re watched by what may be the last living unicorn. In her debut, Alger evokes dreamy classics, such as Lord Dunsany’s 1924 novel, The King of Elfland’s Daughter, while blessing her characters with a modern wit that lets them stand beside figures created by Neil Gaiman. Fantasy fans will consistently enjoy the lyrical prose, as in the line, “[The wings] washed at the verges of her mind like twilit waves upon a strand, leaving at their ebb a scum of fear.” The dragon, which seems impossible to see clearly due to its ferocity, provides a chaotic backdrop against which secondary players, such as Stench, a young dung-scooper, perform heroic deeds. The unicorn, meanwhile, is used as a subtle metaphor for being lost or being denied one’s true path.
An epic fantasy marked by passionate prose and courageous characters.