The first book in the Risen Kingdoms fantasy series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 18 and 27 minutes
Narrator: Erin Bennett
Publisher: TOR

Jean-Claude is a young, loyal musketeer to the king of l’Empire Céleste, Leon XIV, and the king has commanded Jean-Claude to go and witness the birth of a noble child. Jean-Claude has never been comfortable in sky ships but when the king commands, his musketeer spends six weeks on a sky ship. Even when the child will be born to the comte and comtess des Zephyrs who are evil people by any standard. After a terrible journey, Jean-Claude arrives just in time for the birth. But things go wrong because instead of a son the comte hopes for, the child is a girl and her left hand is malformed. Only Jean-Claude’s quick thinking saves the girl from a quick death because the Temple says that all malformed children are evil and should die at birth.

The king orders Jean-Claude to stay with the girl, Isabelle. She grows up in the vile household and her father tests her often for any sign of magic. Des Zephyrs are descended from saints and therefore have inborn magical talent for blood magic; as Sanguinare they command their shadows which require blood sacrifice. Unfortunately for Isabelle, she doesn’t seem to have inherited any magic. Her father makes it very clear that she’s a disappointment to him and even goes so far that when she and her best friend Marie are 14, the comte makes Marie into a bloodshadow. Essentially, the young girl’s spirit is dead, but her body still shuffles around, without a will of her own, and the comte can use the girl to spy on Isabelle, or anything happening near Marie. Driven by guilt, Isabelle takes on the duty of caring for Marie who can’t care for herself anymore.

Isabelle’s future is uncertain but she’s a smart girl and enjoys studying mathematics and science, including the science of magic. However, women are forbidden to study them, and she must do so in secret. Jean-Claude protects her as much as he can even though he has to pretend to be a wastrel and a drunk.

The story really starts when an artifex brings a message that prince Julio of the Kingdom of Aragoth wants to marry Isabelle in order to secure a peace between their two countries. Isabelle’s mother is King Leon’s aunt so she’s part of the royal family and can make such alliances. However, because of her congenitally deformed hand, many people see her as evil and even heretical, so she’s very surprised by the offer. But in the end, she’s eager to escape her father and to see the world and so she agreed.

However, she and Jean-Claude quickly realize that she’s in great danger. Not only are the people who want to see someone else married to prince Julio, there are many other factions in play. Julio’s father is dying and the battle for succession is just starting.

Isabelle is a very determined and compassionate young woman. She’s loyal to her friends and still takes care of Marie herself because her maids are too scared of the bloodshadow. She’s smart, too, and shows it. Jean-Claude is a middle-aged man who is also showing his age. Still, he adores Isabelle and doesn’t regret essentially losing a lot of years of his life while guarding her when she grew up.

This book has a very interesting world with magic and religion. There are two kinds of magic, at least as far as we know: blood magic and mirror magic. Blood magic is used in I’Empire Céleste and mirror magic is used in Aragoth which is traditionally Céleste’s enemy. Mirror magic makes for a great weapon for Isabelle’s enemies because the Glasswalkers can use mirrors to go to different places and escape them.

The world-building is very complex but woven well into the story. It has lots of intricate stuff and I think I missed some of them when I listened it as an audiobook so a relisten is in order before the next book. Still, I greatly enjoyed the book, the characters, and the world. The pace is somewhat slow at times (it’s not a thriller!) but never too slow for me. In addition to magic, this world has pistols and gunpowder, men who are half a person and half clockwork creature, airships and floating continents. It all works surprisingly well together! In fact, this is another excellent addition to the “fantasy musketeers” category.

Despite being the first book in a series, it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger and can be read as a stand-alone.

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