A stand-alone fantasy book but technically first in the Ile-Rien series.

Publication year: 1993, revised 2006
Format: print
Page count: 314
Publisher: Tor

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Wells’ Murderbot novellas but this was her first book and so quite different in style. I bought it years ago.

This is a tale of betrayal, treason, and death. It’s set in a city reminiscent of 1600s France, rather than the usual Middle-Ages. But it has lots of magic. It also has very complex court with lots of people. It’s a lot of take in. The book has some echoes of the Three Musketeers but has a grimmer atmosphere. It also doesn’t have much humor.

Captain Thomas Boniface is the leader of the Queen’s Guard. Technically, his guard protects the current young Queen Falaise but in reality they’re in the service of the Dowager Queen Ravenna. Thomas is also Ravenna’s long-time ally and lover. Ravenna’s son Roland is the King and he’s in his early twenties. Roland’s dad was a terrible man and a weak King who terrorized his two children. As the result Roland hates his mom and trusts only one man: his cousin Denzil who is a cruel and ruthless manipulator.

The story starts with Thomas leading a group of his men to rescue Dr. Dubell, an elderly sorcerer. He and his group manage to break in and stumble through the magical traps and get Dubell away.

At the same time, a theater troupe gets a new member: Kade who is King Roland’s half-fae elder sister who has always resented her father’s treatment of her. Now, she’s sneaking to the palace. But during the troupe’s act, a golem attacks the court and Kade helps Thomas defeat the creature.

Clearly, the golem is the work of a powerful enemy. Unfortunately, the kingdom of Ile-Rien has lots of them. However, Thomas’ suspicions turn to Urbain Grandier, a rogue sorcerer. But Grandier is mostly likely working with someone or several people inside the court and Thomas has no idea whom he can trust.

Thomas is a solid main character. He clearly loves and trust Ravenna and vice versa. They’re old friends and despite the difference in their ranks, both can be truthful with each other. Neither trusts anyone else. He has served her for twenty years, so he’s older than is usual for most fantasy books, which was great. He clearly knows the court and it’s intrigues and is used to navigating them.

The other major POV character is Kade. When she was a child, Ravenna sent her away from court to a nunnery but she escaped quickly. Kade’s mother is fae and Kade has some fae powers from her. Kade has also studied a bit of human sorcery so she can use both. She’s also very angry woman. Angry at her father for his treatment of her and angry at Ravenna for not helping her. She makes a halfhearted effort to mend her relationship with Roland who clearly loaths her for leaving him alone with their father. She’s a wild card element; the other characters don’t know what to think of her.

Kade is also our window to Queen Falaise who is a timid woman, trying to please the people around her rather than having any power of her own.

Ravenna is really the star of the book: she’s the real leader of the country and has to work around all the male egos around her. In previous years, when Ile-Rien had to go to war, she was the one who led the war and her King stayed at home. We also got a couple of hints that she taught the servants and gentlewomen around her to be smart, ruthless, and survivors. Her biggest flaw seems to be that she can’t trust. Because if she had trusted the new Queen Falaise and taught her, they would’ve been unstoppable.

The fae come to the book pretty late but I really liked them.

However, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and the romance didn’t work for me. This isn’t a quick read: there are so many characters and relationships that you really need to concentrate to read it.