The tales tell of three sisters, daughters of the high king. The eldest, a valiant warrior-woman, heir to the kingdom. The youngest, the sweet beauty with her Prince Charming. No one says much about the middle princess, Andromeda. Andi, the other one.
Andi doesn't mind being invisible. She enjoys the company of her horse more than court, and she has a way of blending into the shadows. Until the day she meets a strange man riding, who keeps company with wolves and ravens, who rules a land of shapeshifters and demons. A country she'd thought was no more than legend--until he claims her as its queen.
In a moment everything changes: Her father, the wise king, becomes a warlord, suspicious and strategic. Whispers call her dead mother a traitor and a witch. Andi doesn't know if her own instincts can be trusted, as visions appear to her and her body begins to rebel.
For Andi, the time to learn her true nature has come. . .
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The Mark of the Tala
The Twelve Kingdoms
By JEFFE KENNEDY
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Jeffe Kennedy
All rights reserved.
My version of the story goes all the way back to the once upon a time with the three princesses, each more beautiful than the last.
That's me, there, in the middle.
Of course, the history books usually cite the Assault of Ordnung as the beginning of this story. Or the Siege at Windroven, with all the drama and glory of it. Everyone knows what the books say happened at Odfell's Pass.
The smell of blood saturates my memories, the crimson circle widening in the snow around his body, just as I'd seen it, over and over in visions.
But the story I want to tell you starts with me and my sisters.
I suppose I'm lucky not to be the oldest and least beautiful. Ursula, however, is our father's heir and couldn't care a whit for things such as prettiness. Sharpening her sword, yes. Studying the law books, of course. Always planning her strategies.
I confess, I sometimes envied Ursula's dedication to ruling. But even when she reminded me that something could happen to her—making me next in line—so I should learn my role like any good understudy, I didn't do it. If something happened to both our father and Ursula, then the world would have fallen apart beyond repair. It would save nothing to stick my butt on a throne.
Then there's Amelia. The youngest, breathtakingly beautiful. They called her Glorianna's avatar when she was born and started composing sonnets to her by the time she turned twelve. Hair the color of sunrise, eyes like twilight, skin like moonbeams. Ursula used to have to shoot me mean looks and tap the cabochon jewel in the pommel of her sword to remind me not to roll my eyes.
The worst part: you couldn't even hate her for it.
Amelia has always been the sunshine of our lives, inside and out. She's not the fake-nice of the courtiers and the ladies-in-waiting, either, with that kind of happy chatter that grows louder and louder the more they're trying to cover their motives. Lady Dulcinor, for example, yakking on every day about her flowers and whether or not last night's chill will have frozen their petals. When I grumbled over dinner, for the umpteenth time, about her endless, empty-headed nonsense, I found the next morning that Amelia had taken Lady Dulcinor into her retinue and traded me the young Duchess of Gaignor.
When I thanked Amelia, she fluttered her red-gold lashes.
"I'm not martyring myself for you at all, Andi. Dulcinor is kind of sweet. I ignore the sillier things." She hugged me with pure affection, violet eyes alight with humor. "Besides, it's worth it to see you happy. Gaignor loves to ride almost as much as you do. I worry you don't have enough friends."
See how she is?
We grew up the cherished and protected daughters of the High King of the Twelve Kingdoms, our lives as carefully ordered as all of Uorsin's lands.
Until the day Prince Hugh of Avonlidgh walked into court.
He was meant for Ursula. She would need an appropriate consort, our father declared, and she should choose one so that Uorsin could see him trained in the skills of government, also.
Hugh, naturally, fell head over heels in love with Amelia.
If Amelia's strawberry-blond hair meant sunrise to the poets, then Hugh was blazing noon. He strode into the formal audience chamber that day like a prince out of the old stories. His chain mail, studded with rubies, glittered in the light pouring through the chamber's clerestory windows. The velvet of his sleeves echoed his eyes, blue as the summer sky, and provided the perfect foil for his swept-back hair.
He bowed, low and deep, to Ursula. I swear to Moranu every female in the room sighed.
Ursula looked fine, too—make no mistake. Her ladies wouldn't allow otherwise. She cleaned up well when she went to the trouble. But Ursula's beauty is in the clear, firm lines of her jaw, the sharp eyes that miss nothing, her incisive intelligence. She sat at our father's right hand, while I sat next to the queen's empty chair on the other side, Amelia to my left. I'd spent pretty much my entire court life one chair divided from my father and older sister, ever since our mother died at Amelia's birth. All told, I suppose it's better to have an empty chair than to fill it with someone who might create a bigger rift in the kingdom's rule than this aching hole of a reminder.
Not that High King Uorsin would marry again. Some said he kept the queen's throne empty as a reminder that he didn't need anyone's help to keep his crown.
At any rate, my point is that Hugh had to look quite a ways over, away from Ursula, then across the King, another large throne, and invisible me, to see Amelia and fall in love. We were caught in the harp string that thrummed between them. Even as he brushed his lips over Ursula's lean brown hand, strong from sword practice, Hugh's eyes arrowed to Amelia, his head following with a snap.
The click reverberated through the foundation of our world.
Amelia gasped and clutched my hand.
I knew then we were in for it.
"Absolutely not!" Our father, in full king mode, stormed about his private office. We three stood in a row before his desk, Amelia still holding my hand as if she were the wounded party. Tears ran down her cheeks, likely more for Ursula's pain than for her own heartbreak. "I cannot approve a marriage between Amelia and Hugh of Avonlidgh. Ursula—how can you suggest it? He's your betrothed!"
"You would have me wed a man who longs in his heart for another?" Ursula's face was composed, her profile clean and sharp, her clear eyes staring down our father. "You'd consign me to a fate of waking every morning to a husband who doesn't love me? To watching a beloved sister pine for the man I took from her? My solution offers happiness to two people, while yours condemns three people to lifelong misery."
"Love is a myth trumped up to make people feel better about themselves." King Uorsin leaned his hands on his desk, returning Ursula's challenge with his own hawkish gaze. "I don't believe in it and neither should you."
"It's irrelevant at this point." With an impatient sigh, Ursula pushed past me and laid her hands on Amelia's shaking shoulders. "Look at her, Father."
He did. Grave, King Uorsin examined his youngest. His favorite. We all knew it. Even with her face crumpled in sorrow, Amelia looked lovelier than the orchids in the hothouse.
"I'm so sorry," she gasped. "I can go away. I could go to Glorianna's temple—become one of the White Sisters."
I couldn't feel my fingers, she gripped my hand so hard.
Father raised his eyebrows. "You'd go study with the priests and priestesses of Glorianna? Take their vow of silence?"
"Yes." Amelia firmed her soft lips. "I will. It's just this face. Once he doesn't see me, Hugh will love Ursula as is meant, and ..."
They all looked surprised that I spoke. I guess I tended not to. Frankly, with both Father and Ursula in the room, I seldom needed to—or could—slide a word between their fencing barbs, even if I had something to say. On the rare occasions I did, our father would give me that look, full of some unnamed distaste.
"No," I repeated, tasting the word, surprised at my own certainty—and at the sudden pinprick headache. "Ursula is right. Rational or not, whatever 'it' is—love, infatuation, lust—it's done. Pairing either of them with anyone else would be an exercise in futility. This is how it will be."
Even Amelia's tears stopped while they all considered me. I nearly checked my shoulder to see if I'd sprouted a second head.
The King opened his mouth to say something, reconsidered, and shook his head. He sat. Turned away from the sight of me to Ursula. "What of the alliance with Avonlidgh? The whole point was to throw Old Erich a bone, so he'll stop his plotting."
"Amelia is a Princess of the Realm—she can seal the alliance."
"Erich wants his son—Avonlidgh's heir—on a throne, not married to a third child."
"His son would never sit on the throne as High King, even if he married me."
"Erich doesn't know that."
"Better to disappoint him now. His heir married to the most beautiful woman in the Twelve Kingdoms might please him and the people of Avonlidgh sufficiently."
"Poems and songs aren't power."
"Power isn't the chair you sit in."
Amelia and I stepped back, fading behind Ursula as she and our father engaged in their familiar back-and-forth. They could argue each other into the floor and frequently did, sitting at the high table into the wee hours, drinking wine and debating politics.
Some less discreet courtiers whispered that my father need never remarry because Ursula made a better queen than any other woman out there—and was the only woman likely to put up with him, despite his many, very temporary lovers. Watching Ursula delight in the debate over what Erich of Avonlidgh might or might not do with his wayward son, I understood that no man could match our father for her.
"This is serendipity, My Lord King," Ursula insisted, stabbing the polished wood of his desk with a pointed finger. Still in her rose-colored court gown, made of brushed silk in the hopes that it would soften her sharp edges, she should have looked silly. Instead, she burned with magnificence. "Let Hugh and Amelia marry. Make it splendid. Commission an official Ode to True Love. We have our alliance. Old Erich will have something to chew on besides you. Hugh and Amelia get to be together. The people get to feel good about what a happy world we live in."
"And you, my heir?"
Ursula smiled in a firm line. "I will decide for myself."
* * *
The Royal Wedding was a magnificent event—it's in the history books, too. Pretty much everyone in the Twelve Kingdoms took that entire seven-day off. It was the first Royal Wedding in the High King's family, since Uorsin and our mother had married before he consolidated the Twelve Kingdoms and established his seat at Castle Ordnung in Mohraya. Besides, a party is a party.
The wedding also coincided with Glorianna's Feast Day in the spring, which made the temple happy, as they'd always regarded Amelia as their own.
Father, determined to dissolve any hints that this might not be the wedding originally planned, threw treasure at the event. Delegations scoured the corners of the Twelve Kingdoms for the finest of everything. We wore nothing but velvet for the entire week—over-the-top even for the High King's family.
Really, it all went blissfully. Flags, ribbons, trumpets. The horses smelled of roses and the goats of jasmine.
Amelia, of course, looked spectacularly lovely. Hugh nearly fell over himself when he saw her in all that white lace that a thousand women had crumpled their fingers to make, night after night. Ursula and I waited with our father and King Erich of Avonlidgh on the raised dais in Glorianna's grand temple, which the High King had built along with Ordnung. Amelia's ladies escorted her through the thronging crowd on either side of the aisle. Like little pastel fairies, they bustled about her, protecting the priceless lace that snagged on the least little thing. Ursula and I would not attend Amelia for this ceremony, King Uorsin decreed, to celebrate that Hugh and Amelia created a new era between them.
Ursula said that he sought to save our dignity. We might watch our baby sister wed before us, but at least we didn't have to trail behind her down the aisle. Small mercies.
I doubted that was Uorsin's motivation, however; rather he wanted to keep me out of sight as much as possible. Which was fine by me. Though Ursula brought it up again, later in the summer, when I mentioned how lovely the wedding had been.
"As if we hadn't figured out we've always been in little Amelia's shadow," Ursula observed, taking a break to examine her sword—and giving me a chance to catch my breath. After years of trying to teach me to be a fighter, she'd given up on nagging me to spend more time in the practice yard and settled on weekly sessions to make me reasonably capable. Instead of getting better at it as I grew older, I seemed to do worse. Where Ursula was all strength and speed, I was a clumsy mess. But then, I just needed to keep myself from getting killed before a bodyguard could save me.
"You could never be in anyone's shadow," I told her, admiring the complicated parry, turn, and thrust she executed in the air, as if she danced with her sword.
She turned her gaze on me. Her nose might be too hawkish for beauty, her jaw too like Father's, but those steel-gray eyes looked silver in some lights, keen as the edge of a blade.
"Whereas you're twice shaded, Andi—is that what you think?"
I shrugged, sliding my sword into the ratty leather sheath, since it seemed Ursula had finished tormenting me for the day. "I don't try to fool myself, Ursula. Amelia might be lovely, but you are ..." I paused.
"Trying to choose an appropriate word?"
I wrinkled my nose at her. "So many to choose from. No, I was going to say 'powerful,' but that's not right. Not yet. You have a way of mastering everything and making it fall into place for you, Ursula. I think you'll be possibly the best monarch we've ever had."
"Faint praise for Father."
I shook my head. "No—Father brought lasting peace to the Twelve Kingdoms. He will always loom large in history, the first High King. You, though—" I squinted at Ursula, who watched me with a curious look on her tanned face. The sun blazed behind her, hot and bright, starting a headache behind my eyes. "Something tells me your reign will be extraordinary."
The word fell between us, sizzling with all the implications of good and bad it carried.
"Father expects me to take his throne." Ursula felt her way through the words. "Are you saying my task won't be easy, despite his groundwork?"
I laughed, trying to soften the harsh shadows gathering around her thin lips. "We're only talking. I don't know what the future holds."
"I wonder." Ursula missed very little. Just by looking, she seemed to dig my secrets out of me. As if I had any. Still, I turned away from the uncomfortable stare and stripped off my protective gloves. If I hurried, I might have time for a ride before afternoon court, which would no doubt be more complaints about crops failing and arguments over which of the kingdoms should have to assist the others. Riding my horse, Fiona, was both my joy and my refuge.
On horseback, I never felt that weakness in my limbs, the odd, shooting pains. Away from court, I escaped the strange looks or, worse, the way most people seemed to look right through me.
"When you were born, Mother said you belonged to Moranu—did you know that?"
I shook my head. Our mother had died when I was but five, and I remembered only bits and pieces about her. No one ever spoke of her, not if they wanted to avoid angering Uorsin. Which, of course, everyone did.
"They say Moranu's priestesses can see the future, is my point," she continued.
"You mean, the ones forbidden to enter Ordnung? You know full well that none are to worship Moranu or Danu. I'm surprised you even know that."
"Do you know why I stopped nagging you to practice your sword skills?"
"Because I'm hopeless?" I quipped, but she didn't smile back.
"That's the thing, Andi." She pointed her sword at me. "You're not hopeless. You could learn if you wished, just as you could be as lovely as Amelia if you ever stepped out of the background. I think you like our shadows, because they let you hide."
A frisson ran through me, something dark, with an edge of flame, the kind of hot that leaves you shivering.
"Not much to hide here," I tossed at her, letting the foreboding roll off me and spreading my arms to indicate my shabby working leathers. "Unremarkable me is all you get."
Ursula lowered the point of her sword, slid it into its sheath with a hiss.
"We'll see, won't we?"
* * *
After that, the princes came courting Ursula. Ever hopeful, they made their plays for power. When she turned them away, a few turned their intentions toward me. It amused me, to watch them realign their courtly praises and scramble to find ways to praise my beauty, my intelligence, my courage—none of which were in evidence. I tried to be pleasant, especially when Ursula sentenced me to ten laps around the stables for any time she caught me rolling my eyes.
Excerpted from The Mark of the Tala by JEFFE KENNEDY. Copyright © 2014 Jeffe Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Mark of the Tala by Jeffe Kennedy is the first book in the Twelve Kingdoms Series and I’m not quite sure what to say about it. I don’t have any “oh my gosh” moments to start out this review. But, in defense of The Mark of the Tala, I am coming off of the third book in another fantasy series by Jeffe (Rogue’s Paradise due out in October 2014) and because that was an Epic book for me, The Mark of the Tala sort of lives in it’s shadow. While I try NOT to compare books, it happens. That being said, I truly enjoyed The Mark of the Tala and I am looking forward to reading the other books in the series. The first books in a series can be hard because there is a lot of foundation to lay to set up the series. In The Mark of the Tala, we learn a lot about Princess Andromeda (Andi) and Rayfe as well as Andi’s father and sisters. Because of that, the beginning was a little slow for me. I understood the need for it and was thankful for the knowledge by the end because it really showed the path Andi had to take to get to Annfwn. Things really took off about a third of the way in when Andi finally made her decision to not just sit around and wait for something to happen. After that, I couldn’t stop reading. As with other characters in Jeffe’s stories, the heroine is always of strong mind. While Andi deals with insecurities and self-doubt as all of us women do, she is also a little stubborn and makes up her own mind about things. She does not blindly follow anyone, which I like that about her, as does the hero, Rayfe. I don’t think he realized what he was getting in Andi but she is more than he could ever imagine. My favorite parts of the story were by far the interactions between Rayfe and Andi. Not just the intimate scenes either. While those were fitting for the story and characters, I enjoyed watching Rayfe teach her things but also give Andi the freedom to learn on her own. He has a lot of faith in her. Their love story is not typical, but very satisfying to read. I enjoyed several aspects of the fantasy in this story, one being the shape shifting. The shifting in The Mark of the Tala is different than in other books I have read. The reasons behind the shift and the animals the humans shift into is really clever and made it more exciting. The ending to The Mark of the Tala was quite interesting and not expected. The next book is set up perfectly and I really can’t wait to see what is in store for the rest of the series. If you enjoy fantasy romance, I recommend you give The Mark of the Tala a try.
One of my favorite authors
Buying the next in series now!
O thought it was a very well written story. Very engaging and exciting, I couldn't put it down. I hope the remaining books in thus series are just as engrossing.
I loved this book! The magic, the love, everything! I loved the shape shifting scences and of course the romance between Andi and Rayfe! The only thing i did not like was how abruptly it ended. I would have liked to seen a little more in the ending. But overall it was a great book and i fell in love with Andi's and Rayfes relationship. I will read the next book just because i am curious if Andi and Rayfe make an appearance.
Opening line: "My version of the story goes all the way back to the once upon a time with the three princess, each more beautiful than the last." Summary: This story follows Andromeda or Andi. Andi is the middle princess that cares for nothing except being left alone and being invisible. She doesn't think shes beautiful and has no idea what to do with her life. Amelia, the youngest and most beautiful sister gets married right away in the book and leaves pretty early on which just leaves Ursula and Andi in the castle with their father. Andi goes riding to escape castle life and meets Rayfe, a Tala prince who is the stuff of nightmares. Andi's loyalty gets tested as her father refuses to allow Andi to follow her dead mother's plan. She can't decide if she should go to the Tala prince to save her people and be labeled as a traitor or allow people to die for her sake. She betrays one of her sisters in order to be taken to the prince where she learns more about her mysterious powers and about her dead mother. My Take: Andi is a pampered princess that cared for nothing but her people. She didn't know how to fight, knew nothing about politics, and just didn't care until it was too late. She moped about for the first half of the book and refused to do anything. Only until she saw a vision of death surrounding her did she finally make a move. She did have hard decisions to make and had to hurt the people closest to her which did make her a stronger character at the end. I just wished it didn't take her that long to do it.I liked Rayfe a lot more.Though he knew what he wanted and didn't back down. Have to appreciate that in a man(even as a character in a book). Though he did do the stupid prince thing where he tried to keep his love away from danger and he should have known better. The back story of her mother, Salena was really well thought out. It took until the end of the book to really put the pieces together but it was a good back story to everything else. Highs: Dafne was my all-time favorite character. And the sex scenes were a nice surprise. I didn't expect to see those steamy scenes in the book. The mysterious powers that Andi has were amazing! I loved that aspect of the Tala race and the world that was created by Kennedy was breathtaking! Lows: How slow paced it was. Last line: "I stood on my tiptoes and kissed him. Yes. Please. Take me home."
Looking forward to the next books!
I love Jeffe Kennedy’s books. Her writing style, her characters, and this world that she’s created — all amazing. I’ve been reading her for a while now, first discovering her when I began to write for this page. All of her worlds are unique and enthralling, and this one is no different. The Twelve Kingdoms is (are) a place I’d like to see; I want it to be real. I felt as if I could see the colors and smell the smells of this world, and this is what Jeffe Kennedy brings to the plate. The book begins a little slow, and takes time to build the story up — which is a rare quality these days when most authors just jump right to the sex (not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just a nice change of pace). You learn to love the characters, but also see their flaws. Andi is a fascinating character that you travel along with in a story of incredibly tough choices that I, honestly, sometimes didn’t know what she was going to do. She begins off seemingly invisible, which is the entire point. Not really significant or special in any way… by the end of the book, I was cheering for her and her nobility; her ability to do what she knows in her heart is best, regardless of how much it may hurt her and some of those around her. I honestly cannot wait for the next book because I want to see how it plays out for her sisters — I won’t say what, but there is a HUGE game changer in this book that will leave you desperately wishing for more to read right away. Take a look and get the book. It’s really, really good! Seriously.
Queen Of The Unknown The tales tell of three sisters, daughters of the high king. The eldest, a valiant warrior-woman, heir to the kingdom. The youngest, the sweet beauty with her Prince Charming. No one says much about the middle princess, Andromeda. Andi, the other one. Andi doesn't mind being invisible. She enjoys the company of her horse more than court, and she has a way of blending into the shadows. Until the day she meets a strange man riding, who keeps company with wolves and ravens, who rules a land of shapeshifters and demons. A country she'd thought was no more than legend--until he claims her as its queen. In a moment everything changes: Her father, the wise king, becomes a warlord, suspicious and strategic. Whispers call her dead mother a traitor and a witch. Andi doesn't know if her own instincts can be trusted, as visions appear to her and her body begins to rebel. For Andi, the time to learn her true nature has come. . . Review: Exciting start to this new three book series. I really enjoyed this new book by Ms. Kennedy. I thought the world building and the tone and feel of the book were well-done. This fantasy series revolves around three sisters. In this first book we have an overview of their world and get to meet and know the middle sister Andi (Andromeda). Always a little different and seeming to disappear into the background, Andi is kind of a free spirit and does her own thing. Though she is close with her sisters, you kind of feel sorry for her because no one really "gets her". While riding where she should not one day she meets Rayfe, the King of the Tala. And now let me say, WOW love Rayfe! Rayfe is dark, mysterious, handsome and badass. After this meeting, Andi's life as she knows it begins to crumble as her father goes a little unstable, learns of her mother's past, she goes into hiding from Rayfe and the Tala, and ultimately she begins the life she should have been living all along. I enjoyed the characters, Rayfe being my favorite, he knew what he wanted and though he was patient he did not back off when he knew he wanted and needed Andi. Andi's sisters seemed a little one dimensional, but as they get their own stories they will become more interesting. I felt bad for Andi and thought once she gave herself to Rayfe and went to be with the Tala she really grew and became a strong, confident woman. Great story, will be waiting for the other stories to come out. 4stars
3.5 Stars - A Middle Child Loses Her Jan Brady Complex The oldest sister is the warrior and the youngest incomparable beauty. Then, there is Princess Andromeda, the middle child. People will not meet her eyes and she feels invisible. Only in the company of horses does Andi feel comfortable. As she rides her horse farther than her father has allowed her she's confronted by a man who sees what no one else does. He'll lead her into another kingdom. She has a destiny to fulfill, the power to lead, and a beauty all her own. "The Mark of the Tala" was an enjoyable read. The heroine was compelling, and her story seemed as if it would be a romance; yet, the romance wasn't as strong as the world-building and set-up for The Mark of the Tala series. This book may not been as strong as I'd hope, but I'm interested in the High King's other two daughters' stories, and would recommend this story to those that crave fantasy with elements of romance. Overall, I'd rate "The Mark of the Tala" with 3.5 stars. ARC compliments of Kensington via Netgalley
I wasn't sure about this book before i read it...it looked kinda like a YA novel..it most definately is not (there are a few pretty steamy passages)....the world building is excellent & the main heroine starts out kinda shy & undecided about everything...however, she grows evermore strong & confident in herself..the first book I've read of this author, i will definately be getting the next in this series!