Nebula-winner Asaro gives her tried-and-true romance formula another run in the passionate fifth installment of the Lost Continent series (after 2007's The Fire Opal). Beautiful young novice mage Allegra, abducted from her homeland by violent desert raiders intent on selling her into slavery, desperately plots her escape from the male-dominated Jazid culture, where women are legally animals, but finds herself irresistibly drawn to her handsome owner, the renegade prince regent Markus Onyx. Her unusual mage skills may gain her freedom, but the intense bond between her and Markus could give her the political power to change their lands forever. Asaro offers intriguing glimpses into Jazid society amid the sweaty bedsheets and intense machinations over treaties and wars. Though reminiscent of her earlier works and a bit heavy on the stereotypes, this rousing adventure of forbidden love, daredevil exploits and magic will captivate readers who like a little fantasy and politics in their romance. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Night Birdby Catherine Asaro
For centuries the women of Aronsdale have lived freely among the green and misted valleys. Creatures of exotic beauty and sensuality, they possess powerful skills of enchantment and young Allegro is no different. But her lifeand Aronsdale's independenceis threatened when Jazid nomads invade, carrying Allegro into the desert as a prized… See more details below
For centuries the women of Aronsdale have lived freely among the green and misted valleys. Creatures of exotic beauty and sensuality, they possess powerful skills of enchantment and young Allegro is no different. But her lifeand Aronsdale's independenceis threatened when Jazid nomads invade, carrying Allegro into the desert as a prized trophy or worse.
Until an unexpected ally falls under her spell. From the moment feared Jazid warrior Markus Onyx sees the alluring beauty, he knows he has found his queen.
But even the promise of love cannot quell Allegro's determination to save her homeland. Summoning her powers, she casts herself northout of passion's gripand into the dark heart of conflict.
Read an Excerpt
The day Allegra lost her freedom, her world changed forever.
She had been riding all morning, until she stopped at a creek to wash up. In a few hours, she would reach Crofts Vale, home to the Song Weavers Guild. She grimaced at the thought. As much as she loved to sing spells, she felt unprepared for the guild's strict program of study. What if she failed? They might say she had no talent and send her home.
Just do it. She had delayed for three years. That was when the mage mistress from Castle Suncroft had come to southern Aronsdale in search of girls with mage ability. Everyone knew why. Prince Aron, the king's heir, had to marry a mage. Less than one hundred mages lived in all the settled lands, most with minor abilities. Allegra had been excited when she thought they might consider her for Aron's bride, but it turned out she had neither the range nor strength they sought. Well, she shouldn't let it bother her. For all she knew, he was a mean-tempered grouch with bad breath. At least she had done well enough to receive an invitation from the guild. She had felt too young to go then, only sixteen, but now she was ready. She hoped.
She didn't want to arrive at the guild smelling like a horse, though. The creek burbled at her feet, gently frothing over blue-gray rocks, and the sky arched above, squirted with puffs of cloud. She stripped off her clothes, leaving only the pendant around her neck, and eased into the water. Long fronds from a bluespindle tree trailed into the water, forming a screen on the riverbank. She wasn't certain it mattered; people often bathed outside, at least where she lived, and everyone learned to respect privacy. Nor had she seen a person, farm or village during her entire ride this morning. But just in case, she chose an especially secluded spot.
Breathing deeply, Allegra inhaled the loamy smell of mud. She ducked under the sun-warmed water and shot back out, splattering drops that glistened like diamonds. She lathered up with the soapweed plants straggling on the bank and slid her hands over her sore breasts. Those folktales where women jumped onto their steeds and galloped off valiantly into the hills had to be about less endowed women; she always ached after a long ride.
Touching herself that way led to thoughts of Tanner, a boy back home. As children, they had often tussled together, learning throws. Although they had outgrown those games, lately he wanted to wrestle again. She smiled, thinking of his feigned innocence as he challenged her to a match. Up in the loft of his family's barn, they had wrestled in sunbeams slanting through cracks in the wood, laughing and tossing straw. Then he had kissed her. It had been nice. Odd, though. She felt more sisterly than romantic toward him. Still, she appreciated that he liked her just the way she was, a slightly plump dairymaid with wild yellow curls that never stayed tamed.
The urge to sing stirred in Allegra, and with it, her mage power. But she needed a geometric shape to create a spell. She closed her hand around her pendant, a garnet disk. She had worn it for ten years, since she had learned to make spells from a mage in her village. Today she slid into the "Song of the Lamp Dove," a lilt about the rosy imp who sent innocents chasing after each other.
Playful little scamp; naughty teasing dove
Spirit of the lamp; trickster of f irst love
You cause such a fuss with your lusty heart
Tempting young lovers; giving them your spark
The air took on a rosy tinge and light bathed the trees. The clarity of the spell pleased her. It was only color; she could do little more. But she liked it.
Bushes rustled farther up the bank. Startled, she stood up and peered toward the foliage while her spell faded away. A rabbit ran out and dashed down the river, disappearing into another bush.
Time to go, she thought reluctantly. She climbed out and dried off with her tunic. She felt as if her body were humming with a healthy glow. The linen of her shift caressed her skin as she pulled it on, leaving her arms and legs bare. She gathered her other clothes and headed back to Alto, her horse. The mare stood by a cluster of trees, more alert than usual, her ears pricked forward. Allegra's pack sat on a nearby rock. She ambled past a line of trees, swinging her clothes
Someone behind Allegra jerked her back, the motion so unexpected that her breath came out in a huff. He held her around her waist, pinning her arms to her sides.
"Hey!" Allegra shouted, annoyed. Was some boy she hadn't seen playing a trick on her? She rammed her elbow back and hit a rock-hard torso that didn't feel like a youth's thinner frame. Startled, she twisted, turning his weight against him. She managed to roll him over her hip and f lip him onto his back, which surprised her, because she had never been good at throws, which she had only learned for fun.
She had one moment to see a man in black and red clothes; then someone else yanked her backward. Frightened now, she kicked back, hitting his shin. Her blow knocked his leg out from under him, and he lost his grip on her.
Allegra ran for her horseand a dark blur appeared to her right. Saints, how many were there? She swerved to the left, but a fourth man came at her from that side. As she spun away, someone grabbed her from behind and threw her forward. They crashed to the ground, and she f lailed, trying to free herself. She ended up twisting so she landed on her back, but it didn't help, for her assailant came down on top of her. He was long and lanky, with wiry muscles under his dark clothes.
"Get off," she yelled, and brought her knee up hard. He groaned as he curled into a fetal position on top of her. She wrenched out from under him and tried to scramble away, but he grabbed her ankle and dragged her back along the ground. Two other people hauled her up, and one of them lashed her wrists together behind her back. Her head spun, and she gulped in air.
The man she had kneed climbed to his feet in front of them, his face dark with anger. He backhanded her across the cheek, and her head snapped to the side. As pain shot through her face, her vision blurred. Her ears rang as if someone had hit a bell.
When he raised his hand again, she cried, "No!"
"Don't do it," one of the other men said. "If you leave marks on her skin, it will lower her price."
Allegra was having trouble breathing. Details jumped out at her in jagged bursts. Her assailants had dark hair and eyes like almost everyone in the settled lands; they wore unfamiliar black clothes with red or green streaks; they had the rangy builds of the nomads in the country of Jazid, which bordered Aronsdale in the southeast. A chill went through her as she looked into their hard faces.
Someone behind Allegra shoved down on her shoulders, and she dropped to her knees. He bound her ankles together, and as pain shot through her legs, her stunned mind f inally lurched into action.
Allegra inhaled and shouted, "Someone! Help! Any"
Her yell cut off as one of the men shoved a cloth into her mouth. When he tied a strip of suede around her head to hold it in, a sense of panic swelled within her.
One of the men walked over to her mare and took the reins. Then he picked up Allegra's pack. He was taller than the others, with black stubble on his chin. Stubble, she named him. As he brought the horse to them, he peered inside her pack.
The man who had hit herFist, she thoughtconsidered her horse. "We can get a good price for the mare."
Her protest came out as a muff led grunt. They couldn't steal her horse! She had ridden Alto for years, since she was nine.
Fist motioned at her pack. "Is it worth anything?"
Stubble handed the bag to him. "It's mostly just clothes. They're worthless."
Her desperation surged. If they took her pack, she would lose her letters of introduction to the guild and the hexacoins she had saved for this trip.
Fist dumped her tunic and leggings onto the ground and tossed out the letters as if they were trash. When he found her bag of coins, he shook it, making the silver rattle, then unfastened the strings and peered inside.
"Not bad." Looking down at Allegra, he held up the bag and grinned. "A little something for our efforts, eh?" Then he tied her money pouch to his belt.
Allegra swore at him, but the gag turned her oaths into grunts. She strained to pull her wrists free, and the ropes bit her skin.
One of the men leaned down and grasped her necklace. When he yanked, its cord snapped. He tossed the pendant to Fist. "That'll be worth a bit."
No! She struggled futilely. Without the pendant, she couldn't make spells. Although she could do little more than make light, she felt even more vulnerable with that ability stripped away.
Fist studied the garnet. "Nice workmanship." He untied her coin bag and stuffed the pendant inside. Then he picked up her clothes and letters and crammed them back into the pack. "We'll leave this on the other side of the border, as proof we found her in Jazid, in case anyone looks for her."
"She was by herself," another of the men said, incredulous. "Any man stupid enough to let a woman who looks like this bathe alone in a river deserves to lose her."
"Of course he does," Fist said. "But the laws here don't care what we think. It's only legal if we catch her in Jazid." He looked down at Allegra. "Pity you were foolish enough to ride there by yourself. But that isn't our problem, is it?"
Allegra wanted to spit at him. As she fought harder against her bonds, the scrape of metal on leather came from behind her. Then what felt like a dagger pricked her spine. She froze, breathing hard, too scared to move.
"Calm down," Fist said. "Do as we say, and you won't be hurt."
They heaved her to her feet, and the man on her right turned her toward him. His face was wide and weathered by the sun, with lines at the corners of his mouth. His breath smelled of onions and whiskey. Grasping her around the waist, he hefted her up, over his shoulder, so her legs hung down his front and her torso against his back. Her bound wrists fell painfully downward, away from her spine, and she groaned. Someone looped a rope through the bonds and tied it around her waist to hold her arms against her body. The man holding her carried her through the trees, also bringing her horse. It all felt unreal, a nightmare that was happening to someone else.
Within moments, they reached a wagon with rigid sides and a cloth top dyed in green and black triangles. Gold tassels hung from the corners of its roof, swaying in the breeze.
Hanging over the nomad's shoulder, she could barely see as they pulled aside a f lap at the back. Inside, the wagon was f illed with crates, chests and rolled-up rugs tied with tasseled ropes. When they laid her among the carpets as if she were just another rug, she lost what little calm she had left and struggled frantically with her bonds.
"She's going to cut her skin if she keeps doing that," one of the nomads said.
Stubble took a small bottle and a cloth out of a pocket in his shirt. When he opened the bottle, the pungent odor of suffocating-salts wafted into the air. As he poured liquid onto the cloth, the smell intensified.
"No, don't!" Allegra's cry came out as a grunt.
Stubble leaned over, one hand braced behind her head, and pressed the wet cloth against her nose. She couldn't breathe. She gasped, and the repulsive smell of the salts saturated her. Panicked, she fought to pull away, but someone held her in place. The smell intensified until she truly was suffocating. Darkness closed in and she knew no more.
Allegra f loated in a haze. Pain burned her wrists and ankles. Eventually one of the nomads untied the strap around her head and pulled out the gag. He offered her wine from a water bag. She drank thirstily, her mouth parched from the cloth. When he laid her down, dizziness took her and she fell back into the haze.
The next time she drifted awake, they were cutting the cords off her wrists and ankles. She groaned as they massaged the circulation into her limbs. The salve they smeared into the burns stung at f irst, but then soothed the pain. When she instinctively began to f ight, though she was only half-conscious, they tied her wrists behind her back and bound her ankles again, this time with soft cloth that didn't bite into her skin. Stubble put another cloth soaked in the salts over her face until she lost consciousness.
Time passed, several days maybe. They tended her, gave her too much watered-down wine and too little water, and twice fed her a thick soup. She was dully aware of her hunger.
Allegra awoke into darkness. Groggy and disoriented, she took a moment to realize she was on her side with someone lying next to her. He had pulled up her tunic and was stroking her breasts. When she gulped in a breath, he put his hand over her mouth and pushed her onto her back, pressing down so she couldn't speak. Her wrists were still bound behind her, and pain shot through them.
He held a dagger by her face. "Quiet," he mouthed.
She froze, able to see the blade even in the dark, it was so close to her face. When the man shifted so he lay on top of her, the pain worsened in her arms and she cried out against his hand.
"Vardok?" a voice asked. Someone dragged the man off her. She could just make out who had helpedStubble, the one with the salts.
"Leave her alone," Stubble told him. "I meant it when I said I wouldn't let you touch her."
"Why the hell not?" Vardok said. "They'll never know."
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >