Kate Elliott, author of Jaran and co-author of The
Golden Key (with Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson), initiates
a new fantasy series, "The Crown of Stars." First volume King's
Dragon begins the intriguing saga of bastards and sorcerors,
clerics and warriors. Deft characterization and a finely rendered range
of emotions make Elliott's latest effort stand out from the increasingly
crowded fantasy genre.
Alain is the foster child of Henri, a quiet, wifeless merchant in the
small coastal village of Osna. As a condition for being allowed to raise
the boy, Henri long ago promised Alain to a lifetime of service to the
church. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Alain chafes at his long-known
fate. He longs to journey from Osna, if only for a year, to see what he
can of the wonders in the wider world. Events occurring in that rapidly
changing world conspire to give Alain what he wishes. Count Lavastine's
chatelaine arrives to collect the annual taxes and levies of young people
who might serve the Count's household in these troubled times. Alain's
vow to the church eliminates him from being among those to accompany the
chatelaine back to Lavas Holding. But inhuman Eika raiders
strike the monastery where Alain is to be cloistered, destroying it and
killing the fraters within, and leaving Alain at least temporarily available
to the Count's retainers.
Life at Lavas Holding doesn't measure up to Alain's romantic notions
of the world outside Osna. Alain is assigned to duties as a stableboy.
Jeered and derided as a bastard for his unknown lineage, Alain's only
friend is the simpleton Lackling. When the Count returns to his holding
with a caged Eika prince for a prisoner, Alain's life becomes suddenly and
uncomfortably more interesting. The Count's loyal hounds, which many say
are of demon-get and attentive only to those of the Count's blood, attack
the Eika prisoner. Without thinking, Alain moves in to get the vicious
dogs away from the chained and defenseless Eika. The dogs turn on him, and
Because he was about to die, he said, firmly, but calmly, the
first thing that came to his mind. When Alain's
command is obeyed and the hounds continue to submit to him, the Count's
household takes another symbolic step back from the boy in fear and revulsion,
leaving Alain more alone and lonely than ever.
But greater problems than
the mystery of Alain's abilities with Lavastine's hounds loom over the
household. King Henri's older sister Sabella is marshalling support to
march for the second time against her brother to take the throne for herself.
Sabella wants Lavastine's support, but the Count is unwilling to take either
side in the inheritance wars. Alain hears the biscop plotting to use
the Eika prince in a dark sacrificial ritual, and, after giving the inhuman
captive a religious token, frees the Eika to escape the biscop's plans.
The biscop slays Lackling instead in a ceremony witnessed by Alain and
the enigmatic Frater Agius. The very next day Lavastine throws his support
behind Sabella and his army joins hers in marching against the king.
Liath, the daughter of a sorceror-in-hiding, has lived a life utterly
different from Alain's, except that hers has been mostly motherless too.
She and her father have lived a life on the run, from what Liath doesn't
know. They have been in Heart's Rest for two years, longer than in any
one spot before. Liath has made a boon friend in Hanna, the daughter of
an innkeeper, and is feeling like she's nearly leading a normal life.
Frater Hugh, the handsome and imperious bastard son of a margrave, pays
occasional visits to Liath and her father. Yearning for educated conversation
and debate, Liath's father welcomes Hugh, oblivious to the Frater's
attentions toward Liath. It is more than just passion for Liath that
draws the Frater to their home. Liath thinks that Hugh wants "The Book
of Secrets," her father's most guarded possession, a collection of sorcerous
information that the church would most likely find heretical.
Liath's father dies one night in an apparently ethereal battle for
his daughter. Penniless and unable to borrow money to pay the debts her
father left behind, Liath is essentially purchased by Frater Hugh, and
the worst part of her life begins. Refusing to lay with Hugh, Liath
chooses instead to sleep with the pigs. She refuses, too, to give Hugh
what he most wants: the whereabouts of "The Book of Secrets." When Liath
nearly freezes to death on a winter night, Hugh brings her inside and tends to
her in more ways than Liath welcomes. She consciously shuts her heart
away, removing herself from the beatings, degradation, and physical passion
that Hugh besieges her with.
One night, after Liath refuses Hugh's demands
yet again, the frater beats her to within inches of her life, causing her
to miscarry a child she didn't even know existed. Hanna's
mother nurses Liath back to health. When Hugh feels she's well enough
to travel, they and Hanna begin a journey south that is abruptly halted
when a group of the King's elite messengers, the Eagles, meet them on the
road. Their leader, Wolfhere, offers to pay Liath's debt to Hugh if she
wishes to join the Eagles. Hugh refuses payment, but Wolfhere pulls rank
on the frater, and, with Hanna at her side, Liath is finally free, at least
physically. But her abuse at Hugh's hands haunts Liath, and she cannot
open her hidden heart even to the King's beautiful illegitimate son, Sanglant.
The prince, born of an inhuman mother, secured the throne for Henri by his
birth, but cannot himself inherit the crown by the traditions of legitimacy.
He commands the King's Dragons, the soldiers highest in the King's regard.
Liath will be caught up in the struggle between Henri and Sabella for the
throne as much as is Alain, and each will play an equally, but separately,
vital part in the final confrontation.
King's Dragon is a whopper in terms of page count, but so
intriguing it pulls the reader through unfatigued. This series opener
will make you hunger for the next volume in "Crown of Stars," Prince
of Dogs. If you've never before encountered Kate Elliott's pen,
there's no better place than King's Dragon to start.