King's Dragon
Kate Elliott
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Get *King's Dragon* delivered to your door! Crown of Stars: King's Dragon

Kate Elliott
Daw Books
Copyright 1997
623 pages
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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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.

Curled Up With a Good BookAlain 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.

Other books by Kate Elliott:

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