Sixteen-year-old Eva is a princess, born with the magick of blood and marrowa dark and terrible magick that hasn't been seen for generations in the vibrant but fractured country of Myre. Its last known practitioner was Queen Raina, who toppled the native royalty and massacred thousands, including her own sister, eight generations ago, thus beginning the Rival Heir tradition. Living in Raina's long and dark shadow, Eva must now face her older sister, Isa, in a battle to the death if she hopes to ascend to the Ivory Thronebecause in the Queendom of Myre only the strongest, most ruthless rulers survive.
A River of Royal Blood is an enthralling debut set in a lush ancient North African inspired fantasy world that subtly but powerfully challenges our notions of power, history, and identity.
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The passage beneath my bedchamber was silent as a crypt, though as always, the Empress scorpions that nested in these forgotten tunnels started hissing disapproval the moment my feet touched the ground.
I crouched and checked the circle of cinnamon sticks and dried lavender I’d laid to deter the wicked beasts, and then knotted the hem of my skirt. If left hanging, the chime and rattle of its beading would echo through the passages, and although I’d never crossed paths with anyone here, I couldn’t risk discovery.
I adjusted the belt knife in its soft leather holster at the small of my back. Whenever I shifted, nicks in the wooden handle scratched my skin, but it couldn’t be helped. This knife was my only weapon plain enough to suit this disguise. In a floor-sweeping skirt and a top that bared my midriff but covered my arms and their tattoos, I could pass as a common human girl out for a night of revelry.
Flint struck stone inches from my face, sparks dancing through inky darkness. I jumped, a curse on my lips, but my hand fell from my knife. “I’d appreciate some warning next time.”
“Just keeping you sharp,” said the young man standing mere feet away.
Falun, second-in-command of my guard and my closest friend, towered over me in the cramped passage. He was long-limbed and graceful, though still not quite grown into his wide shoulders. Like many of the fey, who originally came from the North, Falun was fair-skinned and fine-haired. Even in the scant torchlight, his skin gleamed like mother-of-pearl. All the fey had a certain sameness—luminous skin, oversize eyes, pointed ears, and vibrant coloring—but Falun was among the most beautiful. His hair was streaked with apple red and dark gold, and the sharp line of his jaw emphasized his full-lipped smile.
Two nights ago, Falun had gone to my room at dawn to propose a journey to the kitchens and found me missing, my bed pushed aside, trapdoor hanging open. He knew I became restless at night, and instead of sounding the alarm, he’d waited until I returned. In exchange for such a kindness, I’d decided to bring him tonight, though I’d been very light on the details.
Falun held the torch to the passage wall, the dancing flames making his blue eyes flash silver as he inspected the words engraved on the stone. They were written in the khimaer language, the sinuous alphabet of the people who’d once ruled from this Palace. Nearly two hundred years ago, humans had wrested control of the Queendom from the khimaer, but signs of the previous rulers still lingered all over Myre.
Falun’s eyebrows rose as he recognized the language. “How did you find this place?”
“When I was seven, Isadore and I found the trapdoor after her earring rolled under my bed.” I didn’t add that we’d found a similar hatch beneath hers and spent a year sleeping very little as we explored every inch of these passages at night.
I went to great lengths to avoid discussing my sister.
The tips of Falun’s tapered ears went pink. “Isadore knows about this place? Don’t you worry about seeing her?” I snorted. “Why would my sister come here? There is nothing about the Palace that would make her want to leave.”
“True enough.” He swiped a hand across his face, but his grimace remained in place. “I’ll regret this, won’t I?”
“You won’t, and you know it—why else would you have come?”
He leaned forward as if sharing a secret. “Actually I came to keep you out of trouble.”
“And that works just as well.” I grinned, even though I could protect myself. I snatched his torch and snuffed out the flames beneath my boot. “Follow me.”
We ran through darkness so thick the only sign of Falun beside me was his hand in mine. After months of sneaking out through these passages, finding my escape route—and avoiding the scorpion nests—had become second nature. When Isadore and I were children, we’d stuck to the passages around our quarters, but when I returned to the capital ten months ago and began exploring again, I soon realized they tunneled through the grounds around the Queen’s Palace, right up to its outer wall. The floors of the passages changed now from stone to tile to packed earth, a sure sign that we were close. After about a mile, we stopped at a steel ladder. Night air blew through an opening overhead.
I climbed to the top and emerged in an orchard with rows of flowering trees, though they didn’t bloom during the scorching weeks of high summer, as it was now. Fresh air kissed my skin, heavy with damp heat. I breathed it in, my pulse a driving beat beneath my skin.
Almost, it hummed.
Falun joined me, following my gaze to a carved expanse of white stone.
The wall that marked my freedom.