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The Pretender's Crown

The Pretender's Crown

3.3 19
by C. E. Murphy

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Fiercely intelligent, beautiful, and ready to claim her birthright, she navigates a dangerous world torn between war and witchpower.

Seduction and stealth are Belinda Primrose’s skills–weapons befitting the queen’s bastard daughter, a pawn of espionage conceived by Lorraine, ruler of Aulun, and her lover and spymaster, Belinda’s father.


Fiercely intelligent, beautiful, and ready to claim her birthright, she navigates a dangerous world torn between war and witchpower.

Seduction and stealth are Belinda Primrose’s skills–weapons befitting the queen’s bastard daughter, a pawn of espionage conceived by Lorraine, ruler of Aulun, and her lover and spymaster, Belinda’s father. Now an accomplished assassin, Belinda uncovers the true game her father never intended her to play. For Belinda has found her witchpower, a legacy born from something not of this earth. In a treacherous world where religion and rebellion rule, Lorraine is now in a position to sweep over the countries of Echon and to back her chosen successor to the throne: Belinda.

But Belinda is no longer anyone’s pawn. Lured by the sensual dark magic of Dmitri, envoy to a neighboring throne, yet still drawn to the witchlord embrace of her former lover, Javier, Belinda knows that she has entered a realm where power and control go to those who can master and manipulate their fiercest desires. For the witchpower depends on the skill its wielder holds.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Author C. E. Murphy earned her wings with numerous lush paranormal novels for Harlequin Luna and for The Queen's Bastard, her stunning Del Rey debut. In this sequel to that novel, Belinda Primrose learns that she must use all her powers -- or die as a pawn in somebody else's game. A compulsive read.
Publishers Weekly

In Murphy's crisply written sequel to 2008's alternate history The Queen's Bastard, aliens known as the Heseth, the people of the sun, have visited Earth in what would be our 16th century, but the supernatural elements are limited to the occasional use of magical abilities. The plot is more focused on the struggle for power in Echon (Europe), which features familiar rivalries between Aulun (England), Gallin (France) and the Prussian Confederation. As political tensions heat up, Belinda, the witchfire-wielding assassin and illegitimate daughter of Aulun's Queen Lorraine, faces relationship problems with Javier de Castille, prince of Essandia (Spain) and Gallin, and with her overbearing mother. Murphy tends toward long discussions of war, succession and various attempts by the Heseth to influence human development, mostly balanced by clever intrigue and raw, explicit sex scenes. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"Battles, marriages, assassinations, changes of allegiance, and political intrigue strip the protagonists down to their cores as they lose everything and gain something else." ---Booklist

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Inheritors' Cycle Series , #2
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Random House
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3 MB

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Years and names are useless; they tie him to a calendar that means nothing to him or his kind. Still, if they must be put in place, he is–or will be–Robert, Lord Drake, and the date, by the reckoning of the people he’ll have the most contact with, is the midfifteenth century. But that name, those dates, lie ahead of him: for now, he stands on a starship far above the surface of the small blue planet whose future he’ll shape. 

They call themselves Heseth, his people; the people of the sun, as the people of the world below him might someday call themselves Terran, for people of the earth. Every race the Heseth have encountered across the span of aeons and galaxies has been quite literal in their naming of themselves. Not even the Heseth themselves are immune to it; they’re called the people of the sun for the never- darkening sky at the heart of a galaxy where they began. Even now, light burns at the back of his mind, reminding him where they came from and what it is they seek.

 That, of course, is simple: they seek to survive, as do all living organisms. Their world has long since burned away, making their home the stars. They might once have searched for a new place to live, but every race learns a certain reality: there are no habitable planets so remote that they cannot be found and stripped to their core. Hydrogen to power starships is easily found, but the ships must still be built of something. All people with an eye toward exploration search out asteroids and planets from which to mine and shape their starships, and so any world that might suit settlement is also ripe for ruin. 

They are a people of tremendous psychic power, the Heseth, their talent an extension of will born of large bodies meant largely to withstand dry hot places under myriad suns. Graced with less physical dexterity than other races, they found different ways to take their sentience beyond its rudimentary development. Their communication is largely silent, but shared by all; only the deepest intimacies are spoken aloud, made private between one person and another. That gift has given them the easiest method of draining a populated planet of its resources: infiltration. They hide amongst its peoples, shaping them as they develop and raising them up to be unknowing slaves. 

They cannot do this in their natural forms; the point is subtlety and intrigue, making a game out of conquering. There’s little enough by way of entertainment between the stars, and so their plots are as much a way to provide a show as they are to develop resources. The creature who will become Robert Drake wasn’t yet born the last time the Heseth queens conquered a world, but he has the memory of it, as do all his brethren. It’s a time- consuming pursuit, taking generations, but it’s more interesting than brutality, and safer for a people whose strengths don’t lie in warfare. Besides, their enemies are far behind them, and interstellar distances are great: there’s very little risk in taking a slow path toward victory. They’ve lost a world or two in the past, when their enemy has come on more quickly than expected, but that, too, is part of the game; there’d be no purpose if there was no challenge. 

Challenge, though, is one thing; terrorising a young race of people is something else, and anathema to their ends. His natural form would cause horror amongst peoples unable to keep peace between themselves, much less understand a creature birthed on another world. The truth is, any young life- form fears that which is different, even strangers of its own race. 

And so to conquer, a plan was devised to take away the fear. It takes generations to splice the genes just so; to make a creature who is human in form and figure but retains a handful of Heseth markers. Loyalty, bred in the bone; psychic talent, vastly diminished by the new body but present; ambition to see his queen’s race survive and prosper above all else. 

He- who- will- be Robert leaves his viewpost, the blue planet long since memorised, and takes himself to the laboratories where scientists work to create that new life. There are already vats filled with mistakes, kept to study; they’ve been working at this for almost a human century, and it may be that long again before they succeed. It’s time in which the chosen study the world they’ll be entering, though by now they know most of what they need to: it’s brutish, cold, and ripe for direction. The earth’s wise men look to the stars and search for answers in science, and it’s that ingenuity the Heseth intend to fan. 

One of the geneticists becomes aware of his presence and turns to greet him. They have no need to face each other to make the other welcome, but making eye contact connotates particular honour. Within a moment everyone has turned to make that same greeting, and for an instant he feels he’s already left them; that he’s already become alien to his people. In so feeling, he sees them through human eyes. 

They’re delicate monsters, light catching silver scales and turning them to a host of shimmering colours that negates uniformity. They’re sinuous beings, able to move with or without the help of many legs that are used as grasping appendages as well as for locomotion. They’re creatures of cartilage and chitin, narrow chests coming to a rigid point from whence a long neck curves back and up into a slim, slit- eyed head. The queens have great and wonderful horns curling above their eyes, and the oldest amongst the males have similar, but smaller, protrusions. 

Humans might call them dragons. 

They’re not, of course, not at all; they have neither wings nor breath of fire, but there’s a certain pleasant grandiosity to the name. Robert- to- be likes the idea that a human legend will be birthed into mortal form to walk amongst them. He acknowledges his family’s greeting, then takes himself away again: being watched over by one who is meant to change is distracting, and he has no wish to agitate them as they work. He’ll come back in time; they, and his queen, will be the last thing in this life he’ll ever see. 

It will be worth the pain, when the moment comes; worth the long slow years of growing up in a human body, which is one of the necessities of this plot. They’ve never been certain if these created infants have personalities of their own, and rather than risk it, the chosen leave their first bodies behind when the geneticists are satisfied with their creations. They’re guided by their queen’s gentle touch into a new form, and there is no reversal: the journey is honor and death sentence both. 

But Robert- to- be embraces it gladly, because if he succeeds in shaping this world–and the Heseth have rarely failed–then he will become a father to the next generations of his people. His genetic legacy will live on, a true prize indeed for a ship- bound race that must breed selectively and rarely in order for the whole to survive. It’s a chance worth any risk: he’ll die locked in human form, but his memory will live on, and his children will know his name. There is, in the end, little else that drives a man, and Robert Drake is satisfied with his fate. 

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

C. E. Murphy lived for many years in Alaska before moving to Ireland, where she lives with her husband, two cats, and a dog.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Pretender's Crown 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the first book in the series - the Queen's Bastard - and so was excited to dig into this one. The plot twist of the alien influence really threw me - I don't know if this was the only way it could be made believable that the characters had the powers they had, but I for one was not needing any additional persuasion - I loved thinking of Belinda as simply a powerful human being. I felt it was done as an afterthought, especially given it wasn't even hinted at in the first book (or I missed it) and every time it entered the story I found it distracting and skimmed over. Outside of that, I enjoyed the thoughtful and surprising ending, I never did have any idea how it would end.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a decent conclusion to the Queen's Bastard. Some surprise twists kept the story interesting and the plot was solid. The book ended with the possibility of the story continuing, leaving a few things unfinished. Overall, an enjoyable read.
scifimomma More than 1 year ago
Hubby bought this more me knowing I needed books. Again, he did a great job! You feel for the characters. Interesting twist on history!
Daphne68 More than 1 year ago
This book is very well written but it does not have the same edge her previous books do. I did not like this book I felt that it was slow and hard to get into and some of her alliterations could have been expanded with more adjectives or adverbs or something. I just did not like this book, sorry.
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harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1588 Belinda Primrose, THE QUEEN'S BASTARD daughter of the Virgin Queen of Aulun Lorraine Walter, inherited her witchfire magical prowess from her father Robert Drake. She uses her mage skills as the best royal espionage agent and assassin.------------- However, the Echon continent seems poised for war when Queen Sandalila of Esandia is killed by poison. Belinda wonders if her mother created the tension that grips the continent in a ploy to gain power over the neighbor across the channel Gallin or a diabolical ruse by the alien Heseth to divide the continent in a bloody hostility. As armies prepare to mobilize, Belinda struggles with what to do next as she decides whether or not to break from her mom. Since she has sampled the dark magical lure of Dmitri, Belinda also reflects about her shaky relationship with Prince Javier de Castille of Essandia and Gallin, whose mom's assassination makes him the uncrowned king of Essandia.---------- The second Inheritors' Cycle alternate historical fantasy is a fabulous tale anchored by a realistic portrayal of the lead character, as Belinda is no angel. A map makes it clear these countries are part of Western Europe; which enhances the deep look at backstabbing machinations that make up Elizabethan era political intrigue. With plenty of magic, sex, and debates over who the heirs are and who the pretenders to the thrones are, fans will relish C.E. Murphy's fine late sixteenth century saga as lurking behind the scenes remain the Heseth; perhaps too easily stalking their prey.-------- Harriet Klausner