A princess thought dead by her family grows up to stymie her father’s evil plans in this fantasy series opener.
Edmund VI, known as the Dark King, rules Bounten. He’s obsessed with finding stores of the rare, powerful metal tarilium, which would help him conquer surrounding kingdoms, such as Attaveer and Northland. He’s also due an heir from Queen Ava. When she births a pale, sickly girl with white hair, Edmund suspects a demon’s curse. He summons Storm, his magical Valomere wolf, to strike at the newborn’s soul, killing her. However, Nurse Meriden and the castle servant Faye smuggle the miraculously living child outside. Meriden names the girl Sarana and brings her to Attaveer, to the home of her sister Allison and her husband, William, who are farmers. Sarana grows into a capable young woman. She loves sparring and exploring the land and knows nothing of her true origin. She also pairs with her own Valomere named Halo, a golden, bear-sized wolf. Edmund, meanwhile, closes in on the locations of several maps created by the deceased wizard Terabin. The maps will reveal the location of tarilium and embolden the Dark King to invade Bounten’s neighbors. Can Sarana, having become a messenger for a network of spies, help save her family and friends from a tyrannical king? Keating’s medieval fantasy is a coming-of-age tale that employs subtle magic and uncluttered worldbuilding to let the characters shine. Sarana shares the stage with Edmund, whose evil is palpable throughout much of the narrative. He’s a smooth liar, especially to Queen Ava regarding the whereabouts of his mistress, Lahna, whom he imprisons in a tower. Yet his villainy is balanced by the joy others experience; Meriden, nearly a spinster approaching her 30s, finds love with Richard, a fisherman. Sarana also meets Cabe, a Bounten soldier who frees her after she’s been captured. Skillfully placed time jumps carry Keating’s hero to adulthood and place her on course to face the Dark King. Halo has a unique skill that, when combined with Sarana’s drive for justice, makes them a formidable pair. The finale’s much-altered status quo promises a rousing sequel.
An emotionally nuanced, character-driven medieval fantasy.