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I didn't see the twists coming. . . . You will be chomping at the bit for the next book.
In this magical, medieval fantasy, forces must combine to save the kingdom of Futhark from the evil abyss that threatens it. Sitting within this land and high above an unexplored sea is Sulbreth, the seat from which the Otten family has always ruled. Standing next to their throne are the Keepers, gifted sorcerers who hide a guarded truth only the king understands. When Prince Jonared takes the throne, he also inherits a tragic and dark shadow ready to befall his land. He and the Keepers summon Sabelline Shelton, ...
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In this magical, medieval fantasy, forces must combine to save the kingdom of Futhark from the evil abyss that threatens it. Sitting within this land and high above an unexplored sea is Sulbreth, the seat from which the Otten family has always ruled. Standing next to their throne are the Keepers, gifted sorcerers who hide a guarded truth only the king understands. When Prince Jonared takes the throne, he also inherits a tragic and dark shadow ready to befall his land. He and the Keepers summon Sabelline Shelton, a rare sorceress gifted in metallurgy, for a duty she has always feared. But even her exceptional talents are not enough to forestall the soulless enemy issuing forth from the dark places of Futhark. When Cage Stone enters Sulbreth in a tournament to secure his sister’s future, he too is called by a prophetic destiny to help fight the otherworldly foes and renew the seals that protect their kingdom.
I didn't see the twists coming. . . . You will be chomping at the bit for the next book.
"A delightful, fast-paced save-the-island thriller." —Harriet Klausner, Midwest Book Review
"I didn't see the twists coming . . . You will be chomping at the bit for the next book." —Gazelle
Lord Edgar stifled his own grumble. "Perhaps we're both getting too old for this. Chasing about in the wild wood and making a cold camp is for young men with fire in their bellies and lightening in their swords."
Sir Nick squatted beside Edgar. His knees creaked a protest and a grimace pulled his lips tight behind his beard. "I've still lots of thunder left to be your protector, my lord. Weren't so long ago none of this young bunch of swords could have stood with us."
The moldering leaves from seasons past leached their damp chill through the blanket Edgar used as his seat. Overhead the heavy boughs of pine waved in a breeze that drew their scent amongst the men crouching in their shelter. Not even that pleasant aroma chased away Edgar's longing for his own cozy hearth and a bit of warm wine.
Sir Nick rubbed his large hands together. Edgar noted there was still strength in the thick fingers made crooked by years of abuse. One did not wield a sword in battle without breaking a few bones. They'd been through much together. Had they grown soft in these years of peace? Edgar still wondered at his wisdom in hiring an outside sword for this battle.
In the way he had of knowingwhat Edgar thought, and why not after thirty years, Sir Nick spoke of the hiresword. "He's an odd one. Ice in that one's belly."
"He's done what none of our own hunters could do." The bastard was good, uncanny even, in the wood.
"Shame finding Finn that way," Sir Nick said.
"He must have gotten close for them to catch him."
"They'll pay for that," Sir Nick vowed.
Edgar's gut clenched as it had two days ago when the bastard hiresword led them to Finn's body. Wooden stakes had been driven through each shoulder. Thick ropes tied the stakes to the high branches of an old oak. The terror in the man's eyes told Edgar he'd been alive to feel the stakes tear through his flesh and the ripping agony as his own weight killed him.
"Aye, they'll pay. If they did him so to scare us, they kicked up the wrong fire," Edgar agreed.
Nothing warned them, but suddenly the bastard was there. Cage Stone sank down on his heels across from Edgar and Sir Nick.
Sir Nick cursed while Edgar hoped his old heart wouldn't explode in his chest. The bastard's quiet, unnatural ability to move about disturbed him on some level. The mere presence of the man wrought discomfort, though Edgar could put no word to the reason.
"How did you get by the sentries?" Sir Nick demanded. Was it anger or fear in his protector's growl?
"Your men are uninjured, only inattentive, Sir Nick," Stone answered in an even tone. His turned his cool gaze on Edgar then. The wood lay in thick shadow as the sun sought its rest in the west, but even in the deepening gloom, those dangerous gray eyes gave a man pause.
A shiver ran up Edgar's spine that had little to do with his damp seat. He sensed Sir Nick bristling beside him and held up a hand to forestall his protector's retort.
"What did you find, Stone?"
If Sir Nick's anger touched Stone in any way, he gave no sign. Edgar suspected the young man was oblivious. More than his transcendent skills, frightening actually, the bastard's attitude made him a curiosity to others. Bastards occupied a lower rung in Futhark society, but this Cage Stone, though bearing the surname given to all the baseborn, acted as equal to any man. Nothing in his words or tone of voice confirmed Edgar's thoughts, but damn if the bastard didn't somehow hold himself above the rest of them. A quiet arrogance bolstered by rare and superior physical abilities.
"They've posted two watchers. One sits on top of the granite outcropping, one waits inside the tunnel."
"Tough to surprise them. There's too much open ground between here and that cursed tunnel. How did they find that hidden valley?" Sir Nick asked as they'd all wondered since Stone had led them to this spot.
Darkness settled quickly under the thick pines. Stone's light eyes glinted with the meager light as he looked at Sir Nick. "I'll take care of the sentries."
"Without giving us away?" Sir Nick grunted his disbelief.
Stone looked back to Edgar. The slight to Sir Nick was not even subtle. "There's a way along The Edge. They can't see the approach."
"Approach! Along The Edge?" Sir Nick leaned away from Stone.
Edgar sat up straighter and thought about saying a quick blessing to protect himself from the bastard's insanity. "What mean you?"
The bastard confirmed his flight from lucidity. He smiled. "The tunnel and the outlook post are only two long drays from The Edge. The watcher never looks that direction."
"Of course not," Sir Nick said. A long dray was only the length of a grain wagon with a four-horse hitch. "It protects their flank better than a wall forged of steel."
"It only protects from those of faint heart. The way isn't difficult."
Did Stone bait Sir Nick apurpose? "You intend to walk along The Edge?" Edgar asked, sure he comprehended wrongly.
"More of a climb," Stone said. A smug amusement curved his lips.
Even knowing the bastard laughed at their fear, Edgar couldn't find the lordly haughtiness to pull himself above the man. "You cannot."
"Anyone can walk there should the need be great enough," Stone said.
Edgar looked at his protector and saw his own instinctive fear reflected in Sir Nick's usually fierce eyes. All persons feared the boundary of Futhark. A sheer cliff where the land fell away to the sea far below, The Edge was its name. In some ancient time a powerful cataclysm had pushed the great nation of Futhark high to the heavens. The drop from land to sea was an unmeasured, unchallenged distance. Edgar had heard that great waves crashed against the base of Futhark, but no sound of the pounding water came to the ears of men. Too far. Too far and too steep for a man to even risk a look. Edgar had tried once in his youth, but such was the terror of being near The Edge that his legs gave way and would not carry him. He knew only rumors, and no man of his acquaintance had ever found the courage to go even half of a dray from The Edge.
"You mean to walk near ...?" Sir Nick didn't finish.
"I already did so earlier this evening. They didn't see me even in daylight." Stone's amusement was gone. Instead he frowned at something beyond Sir Nick's shoulder. After a moment, Edgar heard the approach of one of his men.
"Lord Edgar, should the men bed down for the night?"
Edgar wondered at Stone's reaction to the young swordsman. The bastard's nostrils flared, and his eyes narrowed.
"Tell them to be still and sit as they are until Sir Nick tells them different." Edgar watched Stone as his man walked back to the rest of his men.
Stone glared at the shadows where the swordsmen waited.
"Is there a problem?" Edgar asked.
"Your men should bathe more often, my lord. I can smell them even when they're downwind."
"Watch your mouth, bastard," Sir Nick snarled.
Stone shrugged. "That one who spoke with Lord Edgar speaks to the others of taking your place, Sir Nick. He seeks the support of the others so he might demonstrate to Lord Edgar his greater qualities to lead."
"How do you know this?" Edgar asked, but it made sense to him. Burns often skipped over Sir Nick's position to speak directly with Edgar as he'd done just now.
"They speak as loudly as they smell. Now, to your bandits, my lord. We wait until the moon sets, and the night is as dark as it can be under the stars."
"You take care of the sentries and we ride in without a challenge?" Was it possible that the bastard would do in days what his own men hadn't achieved in a year's attempt? The frustration of suffering the attacks of the outlaws had eaten at Edgar for so long, he couldn't believe it could end in so simple a manner.
Again a small smile flickered across Stone's face. His very looks, lean body, sun-kissed skin, light eyes, and midnight hair set him apart from the fairer people of the eastern provinces. The amusement itself seemed foreign on his features.
"How will we know if you're successful in taking the watchers?" Sir Nick asked.
"You may go with me if you wish."
Sir Nick glared, but he didn't volunteer.
"It seems too easy to have them cornered at last," Edgar mused.
"Not so simple or easy," Cage cautioned. "I read the signs of twenty horsemen through the wood. There may be even more who didn't go on the last raid."
"Finally we get back at those murderers," Sir Nick said.
Edgar smiled as he heard the battle eagerness in his protector's words. Even his old bones ached less at the thought of drawing his sword in vengeance.
"There'll be women and children in the camp," Stone warned, a touch of frost replacing his earlier amusement.
"Offspring of scum," Sir Nick muttered, "already in training to be killers and thieves. Bastards and whores, the lot of them."
"Bastards and whores, likely, but made so by the men you hunt. They've done you no harm, and you'll do them none based on what they might do in some unlived future." Stone bit off each word. An unspoken threat hung in the air for long moments. Night insects buzzed and vibrated to fill the silence.
"None of my men would purposely hurt a woman or child," Edgar conceded.
Stone fixed his cool stare on Edgar. Despite the dim moonlight slanting in through minuscule openings in the pines, he was sure the bastard could see him clearly. The bastard turned over his strange thoughts for a long quiet moment, and then he stood.
"I trust the word of Lord Edgar, but let your men know I have great personal distaste for those who bring harm to the helpless, even if they are whores and bastards. Such persons have their uses to the more entitled, do they not?"
Edgar said nothing as there was no answer that wouldn't insult Stone.
"I'll be on watch if you wish to sleep, my lord." Stone dipped his head in a small nod. He took a few steps toward a great pine, its verdant green black in the night, then disappeared into the shadows.
"That arrogant slag threatened us," Sir Nick said.
"Aye." Lord Edgar wondered what he could do to intimidate a man with who dared to walk The Edge. The Edge that filled others with terror and Cage Stone with amusement.
Edgar shook himself. He had hired the bastard to rid his holdings of the brigands. He wanted to get it done and return to his hall, which smelled of clean rushes and fresh bread. He wanted to sit on his cushioned chair that curved around his behind when he sank into it. "Let it alone. We'll use him for what we need done and then send him on his way with his gold. And whatever happens, you will see that none of the ladies or little ones are harmed even if they fight."
* * *
"Mistress Tamarin is delayed," Marshal Bachus said as he stalked along the limestone pathway toward Alvara.
"Delayed again?" Alvara groaned. She loved and respected Tamarin, but the aged Keeper tended to lose her focus. "What now?"
"I believe she extended her lesson for the middle students."
Tamarin could speak for days on demons, fell beasts, and teratology. No one knew more about monsters, and Tamarin dispensed her wisdom to the mids in a colorful fashion. Alvara remembered the enthrallment of hearing for the first time of the pestilence the Keepers battled.
"Nothing to do but wait, but we only have seven days left to prepare."
Bachus nodded, and his clear blue eyes sparkled. His stern posture didn't alter, but she knew him well enough to see her own excitement mirrored in him.
Seven days! They had trained for most of their adult lives for this. Alvara couldn't hold it back; she grinned at him.
"We're ready," he said, his own lips twitching in a rare smile.
After so many years together as Marshal and Keeper, Alvara found she and Bachus often thought the same thing at the same time. "Yes, we're ready."
Still, they would use every last moment to study and plan. Tamarin might think of one more thing to warn them of, and that one thing could be the difference between success and failure.
"Would you care for some tea while we wait, Mistress?"
"Only if you share it with me." Alvara didn't treat her Marshal as a servant or hired soldier as some of the Keepers did. She cared for him as her partner, her friend, closer than a husband or a lover. Only to him could she confess her fears, her doubts. To all others she showed only conviction and courage.
Bachus nodded and strode toward the kitchen. His boot heels clicked on the wide slate walk. The tall red maples marching beside the path striped it with shadows from their trunks. The days passed so quickly as they neared their departure time. Only a bit of daylight was left.
Alvara sank onto an oak bench and stared over the green lawn. She loved the peace of this back lot. As Bachus walked, a few maple leaves swirled lazily to the slate and scuttled from beneath his feet. Summer neared its end, andoon winter's cold darkness would conquer the mild fall. It would be even colder if she and Bachus failed.
As if he mirrored her thoughts again, Bachus slowed and then stopped. He turned but did not look at her. He stared over her head, his posture rigid. His sharp gaze locked on the towering pines that marked the Gate.
As Alvara turned her head to follow his gaze a cold finger of dread brushed her senses. Her stomach tightened, and her knees weakened. She forced herself to stand and face the direction of Kingdom's Gate. The tall, thick fir trees hid the cavern from view, but she knew where it hunkered like the maw of hell.
The fine hairs on the back of her neck and along her arms stood on end. She turned in a slow half circle and searched for the source of the smothering terror rolling toward her. The shadows under the majestic oaks and leaf-laden maples no longer beckoned as a cool, inviting refuge. Wide gray trunks disappeared into the dark, impenetrable canopies and a fog of dank, malicious promise crept beneath. As the formless evil rolled over it, the beautiful wood and lawn transformed from a guardian silva to an alien taiga.
Alvara stumbled back, her muscles weak and disobedient. Run! Her heart and mind shouted as primeval instincts sought to preserve her life. Instead she stood. Her years of training overruled her instincts. She mumbled a spell of protection, one she'd drilled over and over again. But why?
No fell creature could venture forth in the bright light of day, not even in this delicate and precarious time. Ten days remained until the full moon, but still her heart sent that deep visceral warning across her nerves.
She retreated a few steps. Something came. Behind her, Bachus bellowed in warning and challenge over the pounding of his boots. He wouldn't reach her in time.
A fast-moving cloud shadowed the sun for a moment. But no cloud could move so swiftly. She looked up and saw them coming right for her. She screamed.
* * *
"She's an infant, Father. She'll learn."
King Jerson shook his head at his son. When would the lad lose his endless optimism? A man couldn't rule a restless land like Futhark thinking everything would work out on its own. "Not even you can teach that bitch to hunt, Jonared."
"I can," Jonared insisted with a grin. He spurred his gelding after the recalcitrant hound.
"He'll manage it, Sire. He always does," Sir Frederick said as the prince called to the dog.
"He has a patience I never had. Not in my youth and not now in my maturity. He thinks he can fix the world."
"Not much to fix in this time of peace." Frederick frowned and glanced back over his shoulder. Dark, craggy peaks reached ominous thick fingers toward the sky. "Not if the Keepers do their duty."
Jerson's short burst of good spirits fell beneath the return of his dark mood. The heavy foreboding that had haunted his dreams for months now plagued his days as well. He'd hoped some time in the saddle under a bright sun might chase away the shadows pervading his thoughts.
Jerson shaded his eyes with his hand as he watched his son dismount and kneel beside the large wolfhound. The dog had run most of the distance back to the palace after retrieving the arrow Jonared had shot. Even at this great distance, the king could see the hound looking at her master with adoration. The animal loved the prince, as did all the people of the kingdom. Many young ladies of the court, and some of the matrons, looked at Jonared with the same worshipful hope as the pup.
"The prince must select a protector soon, your highness," Frederick said as they watched the dog romping about Jonared in play.
Excerpted from The Keepers of Sulbreth by Susan Gourley Copyright © 2009 by Susan Gourley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 15, 2013
"The Keepers of Sulbreth" resembles its fantasy predecessors like "Le Morte de Arthur" in one way: by
asking if a hero (who is bastard-born) can participate in a tournament and come out a king. Or at least
where "Keepers" is concerned, can he come out a person with royal blood? The answer is yes, and
though it's been done before, it's a fascinating take on the "chosen one" theme because of Gourley's
investment in simultaneous character and world-building.
Cage Stone is the "Aragorn" of this tale. He's a stud that every woman would have a picture of gracing
the bedroom wall. A man could only be so lucky to be built like Stone. But on top of that, he's an
incredible athlete with part Elven blood. Although he could sleep with any woman he wants, he doesn't
abuse his ability to deflower girls because, well, he's a bastard. And in the kingdom of Futhark, even if
you look like a tattooed Ryan Gosling, you are still one rung beneath someone who knows who their
Cage wears the shoes of "hero" in this story really well. I liked him almost instantly. And by participating
in the tournament, he gets chosen for some awesome magical enhancements that involve extensive
tattooing of his entire naked body. But they only make him look prettier (think eyeliner for bold long
eyelashes). Enhancements like super vision, super speed, and well...you get the picture.
The women who do this magic are the Keepers, and I found Gourley's magic system fascinating. I liked
the idea of weaving spells into tattoos. Sabell is the female lead in this book and does most of the
needlework on Cage's flesh. She's an intelligent, vulnerable, and sexy spellcaster that is none too
experienced with men. Good thing Cage is a gentleman because they are commanded to learn to sleep
together for protection since a magical blanket that can bestow invisibility to those underneath it is only
Gourley also knows how to create monsters. There's an undead creature in this book called a gromf that
is REALLY well done. This isn't just a passage where a writer says "a zombie attacked and the warrior
killed it." It's a bonafide well thought out horrific creature with sagging skin, rotting teeth, and a smell
that could knock over a horse. the gromfs are magically created assassins...demons...and if they claw or
scratch you, it's fatal. You become one of these horrible things and nothing can save you. They're
capable of surprising bursts of speed, of hiding their own stench and even their own presence if that is
the intent of the one that sends them. And the gromf ends up being scary. It's a fitting end when one
turns on a woman that completely deserves her fate. I guess that's what you get when you play with
The book ends with a cliffhanger. We're left with Cage and the lovely spellcaster Sabell
entering a tunnel that goes to someplace most people would choose to avoid. I can only imagine the
horrors that await. It's probably a good thing that Cage is such a good warrior. He's probably going to
need every bit of his strength and every bit of her magic just to keep them alive.
"Keepers of Sulbreth" is a five-star read for those of you out there who love epic fantasy. Gourley gives
every minor character in this book a role to play, and each has a personality and motivation that is
distinctly their own. She's like a female George R.R. Martin, building an incredibly intricate and detailed
world through the growth of her characters.
Posted January 27, 2011
The author was signing books aand seemed so sweet that I bought one. Ireally wasn't expecting much since I read mostly adult best selling mysteries. It caught me from the first and I couldn't put it down. The author said there is a next one and more adventures as Cage and Sabelline. Go on their gory journey to Kingdon's Gate to save their town. Great characters!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 17, 2010
It is not very often that I come across a book that I cannot put down. This is one of them. The 2 main characters come together because of prophesy and no other reason. Once they are joined though there is no going back. I am looking forward to the sequel and just hope it is just as good.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 21, 2009
The island Kingdom of Futhark is impossible to reach or leave as it soars high above the sea, Magic employed by the Keepers keeps the land safe, but within Marshals enforce law and order. The Otten dynasty has ruled from the capital Sulbrth protected by loyal Keepers.
When Prince Jonard becomes the ruler, he learns of the break in the protective seal that could lead to an invasion by monsters. They send the rare female practitioner sorceress Savelline Shelton accompanied by elven half-breed Marshall Cage Stone to close the tear before the souless enter causing havoc and destruction to the masses. They are destined together to save the nation if they truly are the Chosen One and his Keeper named in an ancient prophesy; if not they will die horrbly.
The first Futhark Chronicles is an enjoyable quest fantasy that raises intriguing philosophical questions about whether someone ignorant to critical facts can make real choices. The lead couple is a dynamic pairing of two outsiders; he being illegitimate halfbreed and her being a woman. Although the plot starts off slow as Susan Gourley introduces the audience to her realm, once established, the plot accelerates into a dleightful fast-paced save the island thriller.
Posted November 4, 2010
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Posted July 17, 2010
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