Marital and martial matters collide when brides and spies become ensnared in a treasonous plot.
A matchmaker’s apprentice, 16-year-old Sage Fowler accompanies a bevy of noble brides on their way to the quinquennial Concordium. Not a bastard—despite her botanical name—but an orphaned poor relation, the unmarriageable, white Sage cannily observes servants and ladies until her spycraft catches the attention of the military and the mysterious, “dusky”-complexioned Ash Carter. The brides’ escort of royal soldiers (and incognito royalty) provides protection…and also seeks to stop an impending revolt by disgruntled nobles and a raid by desperate—if one-dimensionally barbaric—Kimisar bandits. Soon, Sage and the soldiers must save the brides, the prince, and the kingdom. As indicated by cuisine and clothing, Demora is a pre-industrial, vaguely European nation bound by marriage and divided by class. Sage is a clever, contrary female protagonist who remains realistic and likable, while her fellow protagonist Ash is enigmatic enough to require a second read. Debut author Beaty overcomes a pedestrian fantasy premise and built world through her complex characterization, deftly layered adventure story, and balanced blend of political maneuvering, romantic interludes, and action scenes. This is one series opener that really merits a sequel.
Both epic and intimate, a semi–old-fashioned alternative to the wave of inexplicably lethal superheroines and their smoldering love triangles. (Adventure. 14-adult)