Nicias has never felt completely at home among the avians and serpiente in Wyvern’s Court, despite his loyalty to Oliza Shardae Cobriana, the heir to both thrones. He is a falcon, the son of two exiles from Anhmik–and images of this distant island have always haunted his dreams. But when Nicias’s visions become more like reality, his parents have no choice but to send him back to the homeland–and a royal falcon–they’ve tried their best to forget.
If Araceli won’t bind Nicias’s newfound magic, it could destroy him. In a place where everyone is a pawn, only one other woman has the potential to save Nicias. But she holds the keys to a dangerous power struggle that will force Nicias to choose between his duty–and his destiny.
About the Author
Amelia Atwater-Rhodes wrote her first novel, In the Forests of the Night, when she was 13 years old. She has since published Demon in My View, Shattered Mirror, Midnight Predator, all ALA Quick Picks for Young Adults, Hawksong, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and VOYA Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror List Selection, and Snakecharm. She lives in Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
CHAPTER 1My breath stilled for an instant as I watched the blade slice a hairsbreadth from the fair skin of Oliza Shardae Cobriana, nineteen-year-old princess of Wyvern's Court."Relax." The reassurance came from the cobra beside me, Oliza's only cousin, Salem Cobriana. "I've seen her perform this blade dance a hundred times in the nest." He shot me an amused look as he added, "With dulled blades."The dagger went up once more as Oliza sank to the ground, closing her eyes and bowing her head before clapping her hands behind her back to catch the weapon one final time.Members of the audience approached the dais, where Oliza remained perfectly poised as her fans placed flowers and small gifts in front of her. This had by no means been her debut, but it had been her first time performing the jaes'falnasthe blade dances that her parents had almost forbidden her to learn.After seeing her perform, and seeing just how sharp the performance blades were, part of me wished they had.A serpiente dancer could, and often did, risk her life in pursuit of her trade. Oliza Shardae Cobriana, however, was not just a dancer, but heir to two thrones. Her mother, Danica Shardae, was the avian Tuuli Thea, and her father, Zane Cobriana, was Diente to the serpiente. Oliza's reign would mean the merging of two monarchies that had, until our parents' generation, been at war for thousands of years. But first Oliza had to choose her king, a decision for which all of Wyvern's Court waited anxiously, and one that had led many a young man to try to court her.Oliza smiled at me, meeting my gaze just long enough to express her exhilaration before a petite golden-haired girl managed to slip through the crowd to stand next to me. Surprise washed over Oliza's face when she saw the unexpected guest, and she quickly came toward us."I can see why your parents objected to your studying these dances," Sive Shardae remarked, admiration clear in her voice despite her chastising words. "My mother would never have allowed it." Sive was three years younger than Oliza, but was the younger sister of Oliza's mother. Though still very avian in her mannerisms, she had made a point of stepping away from her avian tutors and spending more and more time with the serpiente in the past few years, learning their ways. She had not bridged the gap between the two cultures as completely as Oliza had, but that she was here at all spoke volumes. Twenty years earlier, a young avian woman would not have been permitted to walk alone through the marketmuch less watch the "scandalous" dances of the serpiente.She's not quite alone, I thought as I scanned the crowd. Sive's alistair, Prentice, was standing just beyond the edge of Oliza's audience, his gaze never leaving his charge. I watched him carefully, for out of this group, he was always the most likely to cause a disturbance.The raven had made his distrust of serpents very clear, and he became especially irritable when Sive insisted on spending time with the dancers. Serpiente hugged and flirted casually with almost everyone, but Sive's alistair bristled at having to tolerate that kind of attention being paid to his pair bond.Salem, leaving on his way back to the dancers' nest, greeted the raven politely. Prentice nodded curtly at the serpiente. He had argued with Salem in the past, but that day they managed to walk by each other without raised voices.Progress, at least."Ridiculous," Oliza said to Sive, oblivious to the frosty moment between the two men. "No one has died performing a blade dance in sixty years."Sive looked at me as if seeking reason, before realizing that Oliza was teasing her. Sive's scandalized expression made her appear even younger than her seventeen years.It made me think back to when I had been a child and my parents had first brought me to see Wyvern's Court. I remembered the day fifteen years before as vividly as if it was playing before me that moment.I stood beside my parents, trying to mimic their careful attention as they watched Oliza and her family. My mother, Kel Silvermead, was captain of the Royal Flight, one of the elite guards who protected Oliza's mother, the Tuuli Thea; my father was her second-in-command. Their attention never strayed from their charges, but mine shifted momentarily to the rolling hills and gentle valley where architects had been laboring for years.Oliza's grandmother, Nacola Shardae, was there, with a nurse next to her holding the sleepy infant Sive. Salem, exactly twenty months older than Oliza, suddenly pulled away from his mother and father to whisper something in the princess's ear.Without warning, both royal children took off down the hill. Adults tried to follow, but Oliza and Salem thought it was a great game to hide in the empty market stalls from their parents and guards, deaf to all the worried shouts.Oliza touched my arm, startling me from my memories."You look skies away," she said softly. I realized suddenly that the crowd had dispersed."I was thinking about our first day here," I said, though I knew that wasn't enough of an explanation. It was not my habit to let my mind wandernot when I was with Oliza. I looked around uneasily and tried to account for the missing minutes."I hardly remember it," Oliza admitted, not noticing my disquiet as she led us from the market. This was our ritual; we walked and talked until we reached the woods, and then, beyond the edges of the court, we changed shape and spread wing. "We were so young. I just remember you finding me, after I got lost in the woods. No matter what kind of trouble I got into, it seemed you were always there."
Reading Group Guide
1. In Falcondance, the avians and serpiente in Wyvern’s Court struggle to live peacefully together. Why are they mistrustful of each other? How do they feel about the falcons? What are the differences and similarities between these groups? Do you think the tension between them is a form of prejudice? How do you see the shapeshifters’ conflict as relating to the world in which we live?
2. What do Nicias and Oliza have in common? Why will Nicias always be her friend, and not a suitor? Have you ever felt like an outsider? What were the circumstances?
3. Nicias’s parents are very concerned when he discovers his magic (page 23). What do they see as the dangers if Nicias goes to the falcon island of Ahnmik? What is the alternative? Why does Nicias find it so difficult to keep his father’s warnings in mind once he leaves?
4. What does Nicias immediately dislike about Ahnmik when he arrives? What does he find appealing? How does Araceli convince Nicias not to have his power bound right away in chapter six? Why is flying so important to Nicias? Is he foolish to try to look at life on Ahnmik with an “open mind” (page 61)?
5. Araceli tells Nicias that his mother committed a crime when she fled from Ahnmik (page 59). Were Nicias’s parents as irresponsible as he fears (page 90)? Why did Kel really leave? Do you think Nicias respects their decision by the end? What role did the falcons play in creating the war between the avians and the serpiente? Can you think of events in our own world history in which fear has led to violence?
6. Should Nicias have tried to confront Araceli right away as Darien wants him to in chapter thirteen? What makes him return to Ahnmik later on? Cjarsa asks Nicias to understand the “necessity of what was done” (page 173) to the avians and the serpiente. Do you think the ends justify the means? How much or little should Nicias tell Oliza about what he learned on Ahnmik? What would you do if you were Oliza?
7. When Lily says she has sworn her loyalty to the white Lady (page 81), who is she referring to? Why does Nicias initially trust Araceli and Lily more than Darien? How does seeing his mother’s possessions in chapter twelve change Nicias’s mind about Darien? How does this serve Syfka’s interests?
8. Darien warns Nicias that “everyone on this island is a pawn” (page 83). What does Darien want from Nicias? How does that differ from what Lily wants? What about Araceli? What are some of the many ways in which Lily and Araceli manipulated him during his stay? Do you think Lily’s feelings for Nicias were “all an act” (page 113)?
9. Why is Nicias drawn to Hai (page 66)? What makes him try to save her? How does he escape from Ecl, the void, in chapter thirteen? Do you trust Hai? Should he have woken her? Why or why not?
10. Duty, loyalty, and honor are important themes in this book. In what ways does Nicias act (or not act) honorably during the story? Who else in this book adheres to these values? Have you ever felt torn between your loyalty or responsibility to different people? Why does Nicias, ultimately, feel more connected to the people of Wyvern’s Court than to the falcons?