A YA novel finds a royal family under siege by evil shape-changers.
At the age of 9, Andris helped archers with their weaponry during the kingdom of Damare’s war with neighboring Korsa. He also lost his father, a soldier whom Queen Teya failed to save with her healing powers. Ten years of peace have since passed, and Korsa has a new ruler. Damare’s King Llewoen hosts ambassadors from that nation in his Brynmor stronghold to forge a fresh alliance. His daughter, 16-year-old Princess Rhian, finds the proceedings dull and pretends to be sick. Dismissed, she enjoys her solitude. Then a cat brings her a rat in its jaws. Rhian witnesses the injured rat heal in her hands, indicating that she has inherited her mother’s abilities. That night, she utilizes her father’s magical endowment and dreams of a sublime realm called Otherworld. There, an injured lad says that her family must flee Brynmor. He tells her that molothri—shape-changers with blackbirds’ heads—have infiltrated the bastion. Later, King Llewoen confirms Rhian’s dream with his own and sends his wife, daughter, and a guardian named Halkirth to Uncle Hywel’s home in Brydcae. The monarch plans to face the molothri—and their necromantic co-conspirators—with whatever loyal men he can muster. In this fantasy tale, debut author Smith does what the best dramatists do and foists increasingly dire chaos on his characters. While the star-crossed Andris and Rhian are eventually thrown together for a quest in the classical vein (to get help from the fabled island of Mira), the layered villainy of the author’s narrative adds further emotional nuance. Necromancer Selitha Domogalla grew up abused, but raising an undead army for Moreth, the ghost king, has her questioning the random violence. Moreth and his connection to Otherworld and Rhian provide a strikingly executed twist. Andris, meanwhile, comes to love the princess despite being a commoner, for she’s “a candle that brightens dark places.” An epic finale expands on all that’s promised by a story featuring elf scouts, skeleton warriors, and forbidden love.
This fantasy tale creates an earnest, gleaming world that’s hard to leave.