Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Heirs of Magic #1
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on January 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
A Legacy of Honor
Crown Prince Astar has only ever wanted to do the right thing: be a credit to his late-father’s legacy, live up to his duties as heir to the High Throne of the Thirteen Kingdoms, and cleave to the principles of honor and integrity that give his life structure—and that contain the ferocious grizzly bear inside. Nowhere in those guiding principles is there room for the fierce-hearted, wildly free-spirited, and dizzyingly beautiful shapeshifter, Zephyr. Still, even though they’ve been friends most of their lives, Astar is able to keep Zephyr safely at arm’s length. He’s already received a list of potential princess brides who will make a suitable queen, and Zephyr is not on it.
A Longtime Obsession
Zeph has wanted the gorgeous, charming, and too-good-for-his-own-good Astar for as long as she can remember. Not that her longing for him—and his perfectly sculpted and muscular body—has stopped her from enjoying any number of lovers. Astar might be honorably (and foolishly) intent on remaining chaste until marriage, but Zeph is Tala and they have no such rules. Still, she loves Astar—as a friend—and she wants him to at least taste life before he chains himself to a wife he didn’t choose. There’s no harm in him having a bit of fun with her. But the man remains stubbornly elusive, staving off all of her advances with infuriatingly noble refusals.
A Quest to Save the World
But things change when a new terror threatens the Thirteen Kingdoms. Following prophecy, Astar and Zeph—along with a mismatched group of shapeshifter, warrior, and sorceress friends—go on a quest to stop a magic rift before it grows beyond anyone’s ability to stop. Thrust together with Zephyr, Astar finds himself increasingly unable to resist her seductive invitations. And, in the face of life and death battles with lethal monsters, he begins to lose sight of why having her, just once, is such a terrible idea…
Once upon a time, there was a marvelous epic fantasy romance series that is both epic fantasy and contains a romance in each story, titled The Twelve Kingdoms. It begins with The Mark of the Tala, and if you love fantasy romance, or if you love epic fantasy and don’t mind if romance happens within it, start there and be prepared for an utterly marvelous reading binge.
That series, with its sequelae and spin offs that spun back in, tells a story of the fall and rise of kingdoms, the creation of an empire, a war between magic and sorcery, and the triumph of good over evil.
But what happens after their richly deserved happily ever after? That’s the story that began with the novella The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon, in the Under a Winter Sky collection.
And the book we have here, The Golden Gryphon and the Bear Prince, picks up right where the cliffhanger at the end of Long Night left us. Welcome to The Twelve Kingdoms: The Next Generation.
I am so here for this!
This is a story about the heirs to the kingdoms that were established in the earlier series. And it’s so different but every bit as fascinating.
Part of what makes it so different is that it is the next generation. (Sorry to keep punning on that, but it’s just so true!) In the original series, all of the protagonists, but especially the three princesses of the Twelve Kingdoms, had all been raised in constant strife. Not with each other, but with their father the king.
Because the late King Uorsin was insane, driven mad by grief and sorcery. Growing up in his household was like growing up in an armed camp, always at war or at least on the verge of it. It made his daughters grow up hard and early, and their maturity for their ages was reflected in their stories and how they saw their world.
The time preceding this new story, however, was a time of peace and prosperity. Not that High Queen Ursula and her allies haven’t always been keeping a weather eye on the world around them, but there hasn’t been a war since their last enemy was defeated.
Also Queen Ursula is quite sane. That helps a lot – especially in comparison.
But as the story picks up, her heir and all of his generation have known nothing but peace during their lifetimes. Even though all of them seem to be 20 or thereabouts and considered adults, they’ve been allowed to BE children, to be foolish and more than a bit irresponsible, for most of their lives.
A situation that has just changed. Dramatically, drastically and unpredictably.
The children are sent out as ambassadors, envoys and spies in order to discover what has gone wrong in the northern reaches of the empire and see if they can fix it or at least figure it out before it overwhelms the land they will one day inherit.
They have an important and potentially terrible job to do. But the first thing they ALL need to do will be the most difficult task of all.
They have to grow up. A task that will turn out to be every bit as hard and fast as it was for their parents. If they survive it.
Escape Rating A-: First of all, let me just say that this entire series, from its beginning with The Mark of the Tala, through all of its various subseries, right on through the conclusion of the entire original series in The Lost Princess Returns, is absolutely, completely, utterly, awesomesauce, wonderful and epic.
It’s also a lot for new readers to get into. But if you love fantasy romance or epic fantasy with romance it is so worth it. While you wouldn’t need to read every single story to get up to speed for Golden Gryphon, you would need to read the main arcs of The Twelve Kingdoms and The Uncharted Realms for this story to have the resonance it should.
That being said, the story we have in this one combines, on the one hand, two themes into a single whole, while setting up the rest of the series. On the other hand, this is also the first of the four romances that are going to provide the individual happy for now stories that power each individual book.
Let me explain.
This is, first of all, a coming of age story, for all of the protagonists. They are all technically adults, but one thing that peacetime allows that the warfare their parents grew up under does not is the ability for children to not just have an actual childhood but for some of the irresponsibility of that childhood to extend into early adulthood.
Up until this crisis, two of Prince Astar’s companions and friends, Zephyr and Rhyllian, could both be seen as “failures to launch” into adulthood. By culture, by nurture, by inclination, both of them live very much in the “now” and let tomorrow worry about itself, if at all. Their irresponsibility and naivete reminded me a lot of Princess Ami in her original series entry The Tears of the Rose. I have to say that the new kids are, for the most part maturing quicker than Ami seemed to do, and that’s an excellent thing.
Both Zephyr and Rhy are in love, not with each other – because that would be hilarious and awful at the same time – but with people who are their opposites. People who are responsible, have responsibilities, take those responsibilities seriously, and worry about the present and the future ALL THE TIME.
So Zephyr (the Golden Gryphon) is in hot pursuit of Prince Astar (the Bear Prince), a pursuit that he has resisted at every turn. At least so far. His approach to responsibility and authority is the direct opposite to hers. Also he knows himself better than she knows herself at the beginning of the story.
He knows if they have an affair that he’ll never want to let her go. And he knows that she is not suitable High Queen material because of her unwillingness to act responsibly or take much of anything seriously.
And of course in the face of the impending crisis all of their plans go completely pear-shaped.
A part of me wants to say that there’s a disturbance in the Force, because it does have that air to it. What is happening is a disturbance to magic that is causing parallel worlds to invade each other with disastrous results. As the story kicks off, the list of things that might go wrong is long and growing and potentially catastrophic.
And general panic-inducing if it becomes common knowledge.
So this group of heirs and friends are sent out to look like a bunch of spoiled noble youngsters in order to see if they can figure out what’s going on, or going wrong, and how to stop it – without alerting the people they’re visiting and observing that there is a serious purpose behind the visits.
This is a journey that is just beginning. A beginning that uncovers big problems, makes big changes, but is only the start. A fantastic one.
I’m already on tenterhooks for the next book in the series, The Sorceress Queen and the Pirate Rogue, coming in mid-April.