The River Kings' Road (Ithelas Series #1) [NOOK Book]

Overview

A thrilling new voice in fantasy makes an unforgettable debut with this "intriguingly twisted tale of treachery and magic" (New York Times bestselling author L. E. Modesitt, Jr.). Liane Merciel’s The River Kings’ Road takes us to a world of bitter enmity between kingdoms, divided loyalties between comrades, and an insidious magic that destroys everything it touches. . . .

The wounded maidservant thrust the knotted blankets at him; ...
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The River Kings' Road (Ithelas Series #1)

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Overview

A thrilling new voice in fantasy makes an unforgettable debut with this "intriguingly twisted tale of treachery and magic" (New York Times bestselling author L. E. Modesitt, Jr.). Liane Merciel’s The River Kings’ Road takes us to a world of bitter enmity between kingdoms, divided loyalties between comrades, and an insidious magic that destroys everything it touches. . . .

The wounded maidservant thrust the knotted blankets at him; instinctively, Brys stepped forward and caught the bundle before it fell. Then he glimpsed what lay inside and nearly dropped it himself.

There was a baby in the blankets. A baby with a tear-swollen face red and round as a midsummer plum. A baby he knew, even without seeing the lacquered medallion tucked into the swaddling—a medallion far too heavy, on a chain far too cold for an infant who had not yet seen a year.
A fragile period of peace between the eternally warring kingdoms of Oakharn and Langmyr is shattered when a surprise massacre fueled by bloodmagic ravages the Langmyrne border village of Willowfield, killing its inhabitants—including a visiting Oakharne lord and his family—and leaving behind a scene so grisly that even the carrion eaters avoid its desecrated earth. But the dead lord’s infant heir has survived the carnage—a discovery that entwines the destinies of Brys Tarnell, a mercenary who rescues the helpless and ailing babe, and who enlists a Langmyr peasant, a young mother herself, to nourish and nurture the child of her enemies as they travel a dark, perilous road . . . Odosse, the peasant woman whose only weapons are wit, courage, and her fierce maternal love—and who risks everything she holds dear to protect her new charge . . . Sir Kelland, a divinely blessed Knight of the Sun, called upon to unmask the architects behind the slaughter and avert war between ancestral enemies . . . Bitharn, Kelland’s companion on his journey, who conceals her lifelong love for the Knight behind her flawless archery skills—and whose feelings may ultimately be Kelland’s undoing . . . and Leferic, an Oakharne Lord’s bitter youngest son, whose dark ambitions fuel the most horrific acts of violence. As one infant’s life hangs in the balance, so too does the fate of thousands, while deep in the forest, a Maimed Witch practices an evil bloodmagic that could doom them all. . . .
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Choices are at the heart of this impressive epic fantasy debut. Brys Tarnell, recently knighted, must decide whether to take on a company of murdering warriors or run and survive a massacre. When Brys tells Odosse of Willowfield that her village has just been razed, she must decide whether to travel with him, far from all she knows. Kelland, a holy knight of Cailan, and his companion, Bitharn, are given the choice of helping to foil an impending war or keeping vows of neutrality. Leferic the Mouse has already made a choice and now must deal with entirely unexpected consequences. Mercial has constructed an inspired new world where unexpected plot twists bedevil strong, clearly visualized characters, in a story that glints with intelligence and hums with life. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Bloodmagic destroys the village of Willowfield and its inhabitants, including a visiting noble from the kingdom of Oakharn and his family. Only his infant son survives, rescued by Brys Tarnell, a mercenary in service to the dead lord. Now the destinies of a peasant woman from the rival land of Langmyr, chosen by Brys to nurture the child; a dark-skinned Knight of the Sun; and his archer-woman companion are linked as two realms move closer to war sparked by one man's bitter ambition. VERDICT Merciel's fantasy debut imbues standard motifs of the hero's tale with passionate intensity, bringing her characters vibrantly to life and creating a realistic setting for her story. Strong storytelling makes this a good choice for adult and YA fantasy fans.
From the Publisher
“The River Kings’ Road is the intriguingly twisted tale of treachery and magic behind a brutal massacre and the impacts this unspeakable act has on the two survivors, on those who perpetrated it, on those who investigated it, and on those who tried to turn it to even more evil ends. It’s also a tale that examines unsparingly the issue of to what degree the ends justify the means . . . or not.”

—L. E. Modesitt, Jr., New York Times bestselling author of The Saga of Recluce series

“The River Kings’ Road drew me in with the characters, all of whom felt real and reacted realistically for the setting. . . . The heroes are heroic because of the choices they make on their journey, choices that would test the very best . . . and worst . . . in all of us. . . . It’s a story where the simplest choice could have drastic consequences, and where the lowliest of peasants can change the fate of a kingdom.”

—Joshua Palmatier, author of The Vacant Throne

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439169223
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 3/9/2010
  • Series: Ithelas Series , #1
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 293,892
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Liane Merciel spent most of her childhood bouncing around the world as an Army brat. She has lived in Alaska, Germany, and Korea, and has gone camping in every one of the fifty states. Her hobbies include yoga, training rats, and baking cupcakes capable of sending the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man into sugar shock with one bite. Currently she lives and practices law in Philadelphia.
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Read an Excerpt


1

Autumn, 1217

Brys Tarnell was not a pious man. It saved his life that day.

The attack came at highsun, when Sir Galefrid of Bulls’ March and most of his men were in the tiny chapel of a tiny hamlet observing their daily prayers. Ever since Galefrid had married his pious young wife out of Seawatch, he’d become much more religious; all through their journey, she’d insisted that they stop at the nearest chapel for noon prayers, and he had obliged. By now their custom was well known, and the village solaros usually had the chapel ready for them before they arrived.

Brys, alone among the knights in Galefrid’s retinue, was not anointed to the sun, and so was permitted—even expected—to avoid that daily bit of nonsense. He had just stepped out of the village inn to answer nature’s call when he heard the thrum of bowstrings and saw the first flight of fire-arrows, trailing dark smoke against the bright sky, arch in through the chapel’s open windows.

There were a dozen men waiting outside the chapel doors. Hard-faced men, armored in oiled leather and chain, who carried swords better than any bandit could afford. They stood to either side of the doors, hidden from the view of those inside but plain to any other eyes. Yet none of the villagers had called a warning.

Ambush.

It shouldn’t have surprised him. They’d been fools to venture across the border, chasing a half-real hope of peace into Langmyr. But, then, Sir Galefrid had never been the wisest of men. Brave, but not wise. He’d walked right into their trap, and he’d brought his wife and infant son with him.

The men outside the chapel wore no colors, but Brys was a veteran of a thousand fights on field and in alley, and he needed no herald’s signs to tell him that he was looking at castle-trained soldiers. These were not cowherds driven to desperation. These were killers, and the killing started when Galefrid’s men staggered from the chapel, coughing and red-eyed from smoke.

Young Caedric Alsarring was the first one out. Doubled over, wiping at his streaming eyes, he never had a chance to see his death before it took him. The men at the door said nothing. No threats, no questions, no demands for ransom. One swung his sword in a hissing arc, and Caedric stumbled, clutching his throat, as his life spilled red between his fingers. The man behind him tripped over the fallen youth and into the assassins’ reach. A sword swept his knees and another chopped the back of his neck. He fell and did not get up. Cries of confusion, and then of fear, rose through the smoke behind them.

Brys had seen enough. He eased away from the inn’s rough plaster, sliding a hand to the hilt of his sword as he edged toward the back of the building. There was nothing he could do to stop the slaughter, or at least nothing he was inclined to try. He was one man, with one sword; there were a dozen by the doors, and he had not yet spotted the archers. Neither Sir Galefrid nor his men were armed, for custom forbade bringing steel into Celestia’s holy sanctuaries except during vigils. Whoever had planned this assassination had done it well. Lambs had a better chance of escaping the butcher’s block.

The stables looked clear. He lingered in the inn’s shadow a moment longer, scanning roofs and alleys for signs of danger, then hurried across the open yard until he reached the safety of the stables. Inside, the horses were nervous, stamping at the scent of smoke and blood in the air, but not yet in a panic. Brys took his saddlebags down from their peg and quietly unlatched his bay gelding’s stall.

“Steady now,” he murmured, stroking the horse’s nose. The gelding looked at him with dark, liquid eyes. It was a good horse. It had been with him a long time. He had never bothered to name it, and briefly regretted that; it would have been nice to have a name to whisper as he led the animal from its stall.

He took Caedric’s gray mare as well. That one had a name: Ellyria, after a legendary dancer in the Ardasi Empire of old. The boy liked to say that his gray had such a graceful step that she deserved a dancer’s name.

Caedric was dead, now, and Brys could use a horse with a quick step.

He left the other animals in their stalls. Two horses might help him make better time on the road, but more than that would be difficult to manage, and too conspicuous besides. And though Brys would have bitten off his tongue before admitting it aloud, he was reluctant to steal from companions who might yet survive. True, there was only the thinnest thread of hope that anyone might escape the ambush in the chapel, but he wasn’t eager to snap it off himself. Not when he already had the two horses he needed.

Tightening his grip on the reins, Brys eased open the stable doors. Smoke shrouded the chapel in a gray veil and rose from several other buildings nearby. None were burning in earnest, but the fires were spreading.

The sound of approaching steps snapped his attention back to the street. He readied his sword for a killing blow and crouched behind the half-open door.

It was neither an archer nor a swordsman who shuffled through the smoky pall, however, but a woman carrying a lump of blankets in her arms. Her face was white and drawn tight with pain; red showed on her lip where she’d bitten it through. The shaft of an arrow jutted up from her back, just over the hip, and blood darkened the skirts of her plain servant’s dress in a wide wet stripe spilling down from the wound.

As she came to the doors Brys took her elbow and yanked her inside, out of sight. She didn’t resist, didn’t make a sound. There wasn’t a shout left in her.

He knew her, vaguely. She was one of the maidservants who had bustled around Sir Galefrid’s wife and their newborn son throughout the journey from Bulls’ March. Brys, who preferred to avoid domestic concerns whenever possible, had never spoken to the woman. He could not recall her name.

She, apparently, suffered from no such difficulty.

“Brys Tarnell?” she whispered, and managed the wan shadow of a smile at his nod. It did not reach her eyes. Nothing but pain reached her eyes.

She thrust the knotted blankets at him, stumbling under the strain of the motion. Instinctively Brys stepped forward and caught the bundle before it fell. Then he glimpsed what lay inside, and nearly dropped it himself.

There was a baby in the blankets. A baby with a tear-swollen face red and round as a midsummer plum. A baby he knew, even without the lacquered medallion tucked into the swaddling—a medallion far too heavy, on a chain far too cold, for an infant who had not yet seen a year.

“Wistan?” he asked, stupidly.

The woman nodded. Her chin sagged toward her chest; each nod seemed a little heavier than the last. “I carried him out. He was crying in the chapel … I took him out to hush him, poor impious thing, and it saved him. There’s no one else. No one.” She wiped tears from her chin; the effort left her leaning against the wall for support. Blood smeared onto the rough wood where her hip rested against it. “I was hoping for a horse, but I haven’t the strength to ride. He’ll be safe in Bulls’ March. Only there. Please. Keep him safe.”

“I will.” The words were out before Brys realized he’d opened his mouth. He paused, but saw no need to take them back. He shifted the bundle of blankets and looked down at the baby, whose hiccuping sobs were quiet but constant. A great danger, but a great opportunity. The heir to Bulls’ March—his dead liege lord’s son—had just fallen into his arms.

Yes, he would keep the child.

Brys walked toward the horses. As he reached them he stopped, realizing something, and turned back to face the woman again. He could read the unasked question, and the hope, on her face.

He shook his head, as gently as he could. “I can’t. That’s a bad wound. Looks like a gut shot. I can’t tend to a child and an invalid both, and you need more healing than I can offer. There’s nothing I can do.”

She said nothing. After a moment her eyes closed and she slumped to the manure-specked ground, still breathing but too weak to stand. Brys checked the courtyard—still empty—and set the baby on a pile of clean straw for a moment. He grabbed the half-dead servant by the shoulders and pulled her into an empty stall, where she’d be out of view if anyone should glance into the stable.

“Sorry,” he muttered as he left her.

The next question was how to carry the baby. He didn’t have an arm to spare for Wistan, and he didn’t have a carrier to hold the child on his back. A coarse hemp feed bag, hanging among the tack on the wall, caught his gaze. Brys took it down, let the straps out as far as they would go and stuffed Wistan inside. The straps wouldn’t fit over his shoulders, so he knotted both ends of a quirt to the feed bag and used that as a strap instead. He fitted the makeshift carrier across his body, settling the baby against his chest, and fastened his cloak over the whole thing to hide the child and secure him more firmly.

Shouts, muffled and dim, still came from the chapel. Brys was grimly relieved to hear them. As long as there was killing to be done, the killers would be distracted.

He led the horses toward the village’s western gate and the forest that stretched beyond. A dead man, dressed in a farmer’s undyed wool, lay in the road. A goose-feathered arrow pinned him facedown to the earth. The shaft was well made, the fletchings unpainted; it was as deadly, and anonymous, as the killers by the chapel.

Across the way he saw another pair of arrow-struck corpses, these smaller. Children, a boy and a girl, both with the flaxen hair of the very young. They might have been the innkeeper’s get. The boy had been carrying a basket of grain when he died. Bright kernels spilled around his body like a shattered halo.

He passed more of the dead on his way to the gate. Probably some living, too, though they had the sense to stay hidden without knowing whether he was friend or foe. Of the archers there was no sign, though their handiwork littered the streets, and that troubled Brys in a way he could not quite grasp.

If the villagers had helped in the ambush, why had the archers killed them? If they meant to slaughter the village, why had they left the job half-done? There weren’t nearly enough bodies to account for all the people here. The answer tickled at his memory, but refused to come.

As he reached the end of the village road, he saw a knot of armed men by the gate. One wore a cuirass and sat astride a magnificent red stallion. His armor was as plain as the others’, and a full helm masked his face, but something about the cant of his head and the way that he sat his horse was familiar. The other men were on foot, and though no helms covered their faces, he did not know them.

Several had bows. Brys swore inwardly on seeing them, irritated but not surprised. Archers made it impossible for him to charge at them or flee past them. They’d have him quilled like a hedgehog before he closed half the distance. His own bow was cased for traveling and would have been useless even if it wasn’t. He was a swordsman, not an archer, and trying to outshoot four or five trained bowmen at once was a fool’s dream.

He crouched behind the cover of a low-roofed house, keeping the horses as quiet as he could. Wistan was making little noise, and for that Brys was grateful; the last thing he needed was the distraction of a baby crying under his chin.

The men hadn’t seen him yet, or didn’t seem to care if they had. That perplexed him. They didn’t appear to be watching the streets for stragglers at all. Instead their eyes were trained upward, toward the roofs of the village, as if they expected some sign to come down from the sky.

Brys risked a glance backwards and up. The smoke above the village had thickened enough to sting his eyes and dim the sun. Flickers of sooty-edged flame licked up from the thatched roofs nearest the chapel. Two ravens circled through the haze, signaling a bounty to come for their kind. He could see nothing to warrant the archers’ interest.

Then a scream shivered through the smoky stillness behind him. It was a high, unearthly sound, one that hardly seemed to come from any human throat. The men at the gate stirred and sighed, as if something long dreaded had finally come to pass; the red stallion danced uneasily beneath its rider. The archers fitted arrows to their bows, but kept them down.

More screams pierced the air. The raw terror in them made Brys bite his tongue to keep still. He suddenly wondered if he was being very stupid by remaining where he was instead of braving a hail of arrows. But he could see no danger behind him, and certain death ahead, and so he kept a tight grip on the reins and stayed huddled by the wall.

The village solaros burst out of a crooked street to his left and ran down the hill toward the gate, moving with a speed that Brys would never have guessed the old man could manage. The priest’s yellow robes were sodden with blood and clung to his side, though no wound seemed to slow him. He raised his skinny arms in supplication and fell to his knees as he came to the rider, who looked down on the solaros through the bars of his helm.

Whether the priest begged as a father of the faith or a conspirator to the massacre, Brys could not say; he caught only the anguished words “—you promised!” carried back on the wind.

Whatever the rider had promised, he answered with cold steel. He swung his morningstar smoothly, brutally down. Its spiked ball caught the priest full in the face, smashing him backwards on his knees and leaving him a twitching corpse with a mask of blood and shattered bone.

Brys felt a glint of hard satisfaction at the traitor’s death—but it barely had time to register before more villagers came streaming past him and down the side streets, their eyes wide and unseeing with panic. A little girl ran into Ellyria from behind. The nervous gray kicked back, striking a glancing blow on the girl’s shoulder and knocking her hard to the dirt. Before Brys could reach out a hand in comfort, the child scrabbled back to her feet and ran on.

He heard the twang of a bowstring. Then another. A scream, a body falling, the whistling of arrows through air. He looked the other way, less concerned about the falling arrows than what had driven the villagers into that deadly rain.

Behind the wave of fleeing humanity, the smoke had taken on a reddish tint. No—it wasn’t the smoke that was red. A crimson mist was rising over the burning roofs. Tendrils of red fog crept through the streets, stretching through doors and windows and gaps in poorly caulked walls. The scent of warm copper drifted before it.

Brys’ throat closed with fear.

Bloodmist.

He understood now why the archers had not lingered to look for survivors, why they had shot down just enough to keep the others frightened in their homes. There was no need for them to do their killing by arrow or sword.

There was a Thorn in the village.

A raven, tempted down too early by its greed, swooped into the bloodmist’s reach. Wisps of fog reached toward the bird, coiling around its prey as if a living mind guided its grasp. At once the raven shrieked and fought to escape the crimson mist, but it was too late. Each frantic beat of its wings flung drops of blood from its feathers, spattering the walls on both sides. Blood rose from its smaller feathers as well, hissing off its body in curls of red steam and evaporating into the scarlet fog that had seized it.

The raven managed three flaps of its wings before the mist sucked the last of the blood from its body. Then it fell, strangely slow through the fog, and hit the ground as a limp, wet-feathered rag.

Brys shuddered. No one survived bloodmist. No one survived the Thorns.

Behind him was the creeping red fog. Ahead, the bowstrings sang. And that was no choice. No choice at all.

He climbed onto his nameless horse, sliding low to the left like a Jenje trick-rider and pulling Ellyria’s reins so that the gray stayed close on that side. He tried to keep from crushing Wistan between himself and the horse, but that wasn’t easy and he had other concerns. Brys listened for the bowstrings, straining his ears, and when he heard three of them snap in quick succession, he kicked his bay gelding to go.

The horses came down the slope with all the speed they could muster, dodging or trampling the wounded and dead. An arrow sheared along Brys’ jaw, sketching a line of hot pain and stinging his ear with its fletchings. He felt Ellyria stumble as another arrow buried itself in the gray, and dropped the reins lest the mare pull down his own horse if she fell.

At the gate the archers scattered. They had no pikes to stop him, and they had already seen that Brys was willing to trample men to make good his escape. The rider with the morningstar drew back to meet him, but Brys had no intention of getting dragged into a fight here. The gate was low, made to corral wandering sheep, not keep armed men out—or in. He thought he could clear it. Hoped he could, anyway. He shifted his weight back to center, flattened himself against the bay gelding’s back, and sent a silent prayer to Celestia to guard his unworthy soul.

Then his horse bunched its muscles and leaped, and there was no more time to pray.

The landing rattled the teeth in his skull. He had to use both arms to keep himself from slamming into the saddle and crushing Wistan; the baby wailed in panic. Brys tasted blood and realized he must have bitten his cheek. He heard a thundering crack of bone or wood behind him and the scream of an injured horse, but he kept his eyes on the road ahead.

Another arrow punched into the saddle an inch from Brys’ thigh. And then he was to the tree line, and then he was screened by the forest, and then he was safe.

Panting for breath, Brys unsheathed his sword and listened for signs of pursuit. Only when minutes had passed, and he was satisfied that no one was chasing, did he climb down from the gelding’s saddle to assess the damage. The horse was breathing hard but unwounded save for a long, shallow scratch on its left shoulder.

“At this rate, I might have to name you,” he said to the horse.

The gelding flicked its ears, eyeing him.

Brys snorted, patted the horse’s neck with rough affection, and then checked over his saddlebags. He had a half-full waterskin and enough food for a fortnight. Autumn was a good season for foraging, so he should be able to stretch that out longer. A few knives, a dicing cup, a traveling solaros’ prayerbook—all things that he could use to get money, or sell if he had to. Spare clothes, and a cloak if the weather turned cold. And, most importantly, his weapons.

Not bad. He’d survived worse with less.

A small voice in the back of his mind asked if that was altogether true. His liege lord was dead, a Thornlord was likely responsible for the killing, and he was caught without friends in enemy territory. Not much cause for cheer in any of that.

Brys pushed his doubts away. He had survived worse with less, and he would survive this too. But he had to believe it to make it true.

He unfastened his cloak and shrugged off Wistan’s carrier. The child wasn’t hurt, as best he could tell, and had quieted down considerably. Brys had expected more crying, but Wistan was only making the little hiccuping sobs that he’d heard in the stables.

Good. Another small blessing. He strapped the carrier back on again and started down the road, leading his gelding by the reins.

A long while later, as the sun cast red shadows across the west sky, Brys permitted himself—for a short time, until dusk fell—the small bitter luxury of guilt. And grief. He’d had friends back there, as much as he’d ever had friends, and he’d done nothing to save them. There’d been nothing he could do, but that truth never went down easy no matter how many times he had to swallow it.

Night descended. Brys kept walking. There was a long road ahead.

© 2010 Jennifer Andress

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 19 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 16 of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    Disappointing

    The story is good but there are many typos and the story seems written for a very young audience. The write up I read made it sound geared towards adults. I enjoyed it, but think it was more suited to my 10 year old.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 25, 2014

    Well written book, with an enriched world and realistic characte

    Well written book, with an enriched world and realistic characters. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2014

    I'm not sure why one reviewer thought this book was written for

    I'm not sure why one reviewer thought this book was written for very young audiences.  It's very much written for adults, and I found it to be quite enjoyable.  I'm looking forward to the next book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 9, 2011

    Elegant fantasy

    The author knows how to put an elegant touch through her descriptive talents. Good characters and enjoyable storyline

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2010

    Good start.

    This book was written very well. It's the first in a series and does a good job setting up the story. It also doesn't leave you hanging completely at the end of the book like some. I am really looking forward to the next book in the series.

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  • Posted June 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Debut Epic Fantasy

    The River King's Road is Liane Merciel's debut novel, and it is a welcome addition to the fantasy world. He has created a world that quickly draws the reader in and takes over their life.

    For generations, two lands, separated by a river, have been at war. The soldiers of Oakharn and Langmyr periodically have crossed the river and performed atrocities, the hate between the countries their only fuel. Now the stakes have been raised. The heir of Oakharn and his entire family and the entire village where he was staying have been destroyed. Bloodmist has been used to decimate the entire village, and that means a Thorn and her magic are involved.

    One soldier and one village woman escape. The knight, Brys Tarnell, had declined to go to the chapel with the rest. The girl, Odosse, was in the forest with her toddler. Brys and Odosse discover the king's son with his nursemaid, who dies while they watch. They are left to try to save the heir's life and to get him back to his land.

    Along the way they encounter more of the evil of the Thorn and her traveling companions. She has the ability to reanimate men and animals to serve her pleasure, and few can survive an encounter with her. Two that attempt to put an end to her are wandering SunBlessed knights. Kelland is a Blessed, and can cure those who need it, but is also a warrior. His companion is Bitharn, a female archer. They prepare for battle against the Thorn and her magic that can doom an entire land.

    This is a fascinating start to a new epic fantasy. The characters are well fleshed out, and each is an intriguing mixture of good and evil, not cardboard figures with only one trait. Readers who close the book will be filled with anticipation for the next volume in the story. This book is recommended for fantasy readers and will not disappoint.

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  • Posted May 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Good Read

    The River Kings' Road was a good quick read which primarily follows parallel stories of three groups, whose paths seemed destined to cross. The problem was the paths that needed to cross in order to get a focal point to the story never came about. I think this took something away from the story, thus I'm only giving it 4 stars right now.

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  • Posted March 25, 2010

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    Bridget's Review

    Battles have been fought between Oakharn and Langmyr from the start of time. When a truce is called for, Sir Galefried of Bull's March in Oakharn takes his wife and child to a town called Willowfield in the name of friendship. What his family couldn't have known was that this was their last day of life. The baby survives which enrages the evil Luferic who wants the child dead. Now! Luferic's brother is determined to return the baby to safety before it's too late.

    Loved it! I've always been a fan of fantasy fiction and I give this book two thumbs up for plot, characters and suspense.

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  • Posted March 25, 2010

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    Solid Epic Fantasy

    For generations the provinces of Oakharn and Langmyr have been at war. Separated by the river and years of death and mistrust, a tenuous peace has finally been established between the two regions - but all that changes when a small Oakharn town, Willowfield, and its inhabitants are decimated during the visit from a feudal lord, Sir Galefrid of Langmyr, visiting on a mission of peace. Only a knight in service to Sir Galefrid, Brys Tarnell, and Galefrid's infant son, and heir, Winston survive the tragedy of Willowfield. Understanding the need to take the baby to safety, Brys convinces a young, unmarried mother named Odosse to care for the baby on their perilous journey. But there are many who would see the child and its protectors dead - men who would go so far as to engage the help of the Thorns, a group of sadistic and foreign sorcerers more deadly than entire armies.

    Those familiar with the epic fantasy genre will immediately fall into step with Liane Merciel's solid worldbuilding. All the time-honored types are present: the inns, mercenaries, archery contests, evil mages, knights, ladies and bandits aplenty. What sets it apart however is how this common backdrop is sprinkled throughout with a most impressive collection of decidedly human characters. Oh, don't mistake me: the bad guys are really quite nasty and there are a few truly 'good' guys, but even those characters are not sickeningly so. But what I found most interesting is what I like to call her 'gray' characters': men like Brys Tarnell, a moral-less sellsword by all accounts who again and again shows courage and cunning beyond an ordinary knighthood with a past full of intriguing secrets. And then there's the man who would be king, Leferic, Sir Galefrid's younger, bookish brother: upon first glance he is truly despicable but with closer inspection, you find his motives to be pure even if his methods questionable. And that's just scratching the surface: there are religious knights who cling desperately to their vows even when faced with heart-breaking challenges and simple townsfolk who fairly come to life in their variances. There was much to enjoy about The River Kings' Road - even if it was paced rather slowly, I understand the need for adequate plot development in something this large scale and I will eagerly anticipate Merciel's next novel of Ithelas. I'm all for reminding myself why I started reading fantasy books in the first place.

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  • Posted March 25, 2010

    A GREAT NOVEL

    This is a great epic novel full of magic and chivalry. There is a war between Oakharn and Langmyr, and many have died doing battle. Sir Galefrid of Bull's March in Oakharn travel to the town of Willowfield in Langmyr with his wife and his son. They attend church and were attacked. The only survivor of the family was the infant son Wistan. The local people are attacked and the Mercenary Knight Brys Tarnell agrees to take care of the infant. Wistan is the brother to Lefric who wants to rule the kingdom.


    Leferic finds out that the infant is alive and hires a cruel, evil witch who has no feelings for mankind to kill the infant. She spreads evil throughout the land and is able to kill people instantly with the bloodmist. Brys enlists the help of a young woman Ododsse to take care of the infant. She has a child of her own, and she gets attached to Wistan. The child was injured in the massacre and she fears for his life.

    The evil witch has another agenda to take care of. She finds out that the Knight Sir Kelland who is a Knight of the Sun and his faithful companion Bitharn are in the area. He has always been an enemy to her and she wants to get rid of him. Does the child and Kelland live? Does the war end? I guess you will have to read the book to find out.


    The book is a fantastic medieval adventure. I was rooting for the infant throughout the whole story. The characters were believable and the transitions between scenes were smooth. There were a lot of characters introduced in the book, and I was able feel their emotions. There was magic, conflict, jealousy and love throughout the whole story. I cannot wait to read the sequel Heaven's Needle.


    I was given a free copy for my honest review and I was not compensated in anyway for my review.

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  • Posted March 24, 2010

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    Not the Magical Adventure I Expected

    This book really sounded promising. Magic, adventure, and a mystery to be solved. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this book as I thought I would. The author jumps from several points of view. This might have been fine if you knew the characters and the places well. Unfortunately, this served to draw me out of the story until I could place who what and where. I think if she followed two major players in this book, it would have flowed much better. My submissions for this would be Odosse, the peasant woman and Sir Kelland, the burnt knight of the major religion in the area. Those two (and the characters that surround them) were the most interesting and I would have liked to known more about their adventures. Kelland and his companion Bitharn were extremely interesting but although they played a central role in this story they were hardly seen. This was very disappointing. I think if the author rewrote this book with those characters as the focal point, I'd quickly snatch up this book to see what happened.

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  • Posted January 26, 2010

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    This is a delightful epic fantasy

    Once Oakharn and Langmyr were provinces of the same empire, but when the empire collapsed, both became kingdoms on opposite sides of the Seivern River. War has been a constant between the two countries with many dying on both sides. Sir Galefrid of Bull's March in Oakharn travels with his wife and infant son to Willowfield in Langmyr hoping to broker a peace. While they attend church, they and the locals are attacked; the only survivors of the atrocity are the infant Winston, son of Galefrid and brother to Leferic. The mercenary knight Brys Tarnell takes care of Winston until he can get him to safety.

    The massacre is just the beginning as a red mist appears in the village killing everyone. Brys knows it is a Thorn's doing. A Thorn is a maimed witch, acruel sadistic killer; void of human feelings. What he is ignorant of is that Galefred's acrimonious brother Leferic, coveting power, made a deal with evil. Leferic is now the lord, but learns Winston lives; he makes another deal with the devil to eliminate the heir. Brys and peasant woman Odosse seek a safe place for the baby as Leferic's hired Thorn gives chase. Every step is dangerous as Leferic needs Winston dead.

    This is a delightful epic fantasy that will remind readers of the movie Willow in a Terry Brooks' early Shannon saga. The good guys and gals are likable and admirable as they sacrifice their safety to keep the infant safe. A key element is that the audience will understand Leferic whose sibling rivalry and jealousy has turned him into a sociopath with ambition and willingness to cut any Faustian deal to achieve his goal of power. Although more infant issues would have been a terrific addition, fans will root for the mercenary, the peasant and the baby as they try to stay alive.

    Harriet Klausner

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