ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
The Twelve Kingdoms #3
May 26, 2015
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A HEAVY CROWN
Three daughters were born to High King Uorsin, in place of the son he wanted. The youngest, lovely and sweet. The middle, pretty and subtle, with an air of magic. And the eldest, the Heir. A girl grudgingly honed to leadership, not beauty, to bear the sword and honor of the king.
Ursula’s loyalty is as ingrained as her straight warrior’s spine. She protects the peace of the Twelve Kingdoms with sweat and blood, her sisters from threats far and near. And she protects her father to prove her worth. But she never imagined her loyalty would become an open question on palace grounds. That her father would receive her with a foreign witch at one side and a hireling captain at the other—that soldiers would look on her as a woman, not as a warrior. She also never expected to decide the destiny of her sisters, of her people, of the Twelve Kingdoms and the Thirteenth. Not with her father still on the throne and war in the air. But the choice is before her. And the Heir must lead…
When I finished this marvelous book, one of my first thoughts was that it was an absolute tragedy that too many people will see the label “fantasy romance” and turn away, because The Twelve Kingdoms series is an absolutely awesome epic fantasy series, complete with oath-breaking kings, witchy queens, black and white magic, political skullduggery and epic betrayals and reversals of fortune. Good triumphs, evil gets its just desserts, justice prevails. Kingdoms fall, kingdoms rise. The King is dead, long live the Queen.
It just so happens that in each of the books in the series, one of the High King’s daughters finds true love, amidst a whole lot of struggle and also with a kingdom to fight for. And through these fantastic women, we also see lots of different ways to become a heroine, whether by magic, by religion, or by the sword.
Also a marvelous celebration of sisterhood. In the end, the daughters of High King Uorsin and Queen Salena discover that they are fated to either rise together, or fall together. And that no matter what happens or how their paths may diverge, they are always stronger together. The men they love are there to help and assist, but it is the women who run this show.
Evil wears a woman’s face, too. So we have fantastic heroines and dastardly female villains. Evil is not vanquished with a hair pulling cat fight, but righteously with a sword, also in the hands of a woman.
There is a message here, wrapped in an awesome fantasy series, that we can be and do anything, both good and evil (and also in between). It’s up to us to decide our fate.
The Talon of the Hawk brings the story begun in The Mark of the Tala (reviewed here) and continued in The Tears of the Rose (here) to its epic conclusion.
Ursula is High King Uorsin’s oldest daughter, and his putative heir. He has been constantly disappointed that Ursula is a woman, but at the same time has trained her to be the warrior-queen that the Twelve Kingdoms will need when he is gone. He just can’t admit that day will ever come, and he is also unable to let go of the idea of a male heir.
When Ursula’s youngest sister has a boychild, Uorsin wants to make the new princeling his heir, in spite of Astar being a) a baby, and b) the rightful heir to one of the principalities that make up the Twelve Kingdoms. Uorsin and the boy’s other grandfather, King Erich, are fighting over the little body of this tiny baby, while his mother hunts for his kidnapped twin sister.
Ursula can’t bear to take the baby from his mother, and won’t kidnap her sister and her child in order to please her tyrannical father. She wants him to be reasonable, but she should know better.
She returns to a court under siege. Her father has hired mercenaries to take over all the guard posts, and has imprisoned the entire town within its walls. He is also under the sway of a magic practitioner who makes even the tough mercenaries quake in their very large boots.
Ursula is ultimately faced with a dire choice – is she loyal to the High King, or to the Twelve Kingdoms? Until she returns to court without her sister’s child, she has always thought they were one and the same. Seeing the deepening paranoia that has descended upon the king, she finally admits that the needs of the Kingdom are more important than the corrupt wishes of its mad King.
This is Ursula’s quest – to escape her father’s madness, to find her sisters, and to free the kingdom from its descent into evil and death – before it is too late.
Escape Rating A+: I’ll admit that I didn’t much like youngest sister Amelia (until she got her pretty little self-centered head out of her ass) but I’ve always had a fondness for Ursula.
She is an absolutely stellar example of the warrior-princess, but like each of her sisters, she has hidden depths that have yet to be plumbed, and hidden heartaches that need to be lanced of their pain before she can be the queen she must be.
So this story is one about Ursula both finding her heart, and admitting what has been hiding in it all along. Ursula has spent her life pretending not to hear the rumors that she hates men and sleeps with her sword, and all the nastiness encased in those rumors, and in the court’s judgment of her appearance as a warrior and not a pretty girl.
Well, she does sleep with her sword. She needs to protect herself against attack. But those rumors also hide a much deeper secret, and it takes a mercenary captain to dig in and hold on long enough for her pain to finally be healed.
Ursula has always protected her sisters from the worst of their father’s abuses, and even from the knowledge that those abuses were happening. They don’t know the depths to which their father sunk, or the horrific nature of exactly what Ursula has been hiding from them.
Mercenary Captain Harlan helps Ursula to heal by getting her to finally talk about what is wrong. He listens. He encourages her to let out the pain she’s been holding in, because as a leader of fighters he has come to the conclusion that sharing the secret decreases its power to hurt.
What he does not do, what does not happen in this book, is a healing by “magic cock”. He loves her and he helps her to be her best self. While they do fall in love and become lovers, the physical aspects of their eventual relationship are not what cures Ursula. It’s her revealing the secret, and finally realizing that she was abused and not consenting, that it was not her fault, that allows her to heal. They only become lovers after Ursula is able to let go of the harm that has been done to her.
Meanwhile, there is a huge quest going on. Her sister Andromeda, and Andromeda’s husband Rayfe, are the rulers of the magic country of the Tala. There are resistance factions in their court that are responsible for the kidnapping of sister Amelia’s daughter Stella. The sisters are not just hunting Stella, but they are also trying to put down the plot and recover Andromeda’s kingdom.
As if that wasn’t enough, Amelia, as the avatar of the goddess Glorianna, is working to bring down the magical barrier between the Tala and the Twelve Kingdoms. Not, as their father desires, in order to conquer the Tala, but because the walling off of magic is sickening all the kingdoms.
Too little of a good thing turns out to be deadly. And too much of a good thing is equally as damaging, although less obviously.
All of the action, and the fate of all the sisters and all the kingdoms, ties back to the marriage of their parents. Queen Salena saw all of this when she married Uorsin (in the novella Negotiation) and bartered her own life and happiness in the hopes that one day her daughters would be able to fix the world.
This series comes to a stunning conclusion, one that ties up all the loose ends and sets the stage for a marvelous future for the Twelve Kingdoms. Happily Ever After all around. And a lovely book hangover for any fantasy or fantasy romance fan.
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