May Contain Spoilers
I have had an eye on Amy Raby’s Hearts and Thrones series since the first book, Assassin’s Gambit, came out last year. When I had the opportunity to hop on the review tour for book 3, Prince’s Fire, I jumped. I really enjoyed this book, and it wasn’t a hindrance that I dove into the series three books in. I never felt lost, and all of the characters were introduced in ways that didn’t leave me wondering about their relationships with each other. As soon as I get a chance, I am going to read Archer’s Sin, a novella featuring two of my favorite characters from Prince’s Fire.
Prince Rayn is visiting Kjall to work out a trade agreement. He is expected to fail miserably by his political enemies back home in Inya, so he’s surprised when he’s offered the hand of the imperial princess to strengthen the ties between the two kingdoms. Inya is a smaller nation comprised of thousands of islands. Weak militarily, Inya does have something that Emperor Lucien desperately wants; brimstone. With the means to produce gun powder, Lucien believes that he will have the weapons to deter more wars for his kingdom. He wants nothing more than to live in peace, leaving the warlike traditions of his father, Florian, far in the past.
Rayn is mistrustful of the offer, and he doesn’t want to trade the brimstone to the Kjallians. He’s still holding a grudge against Lucien’s father for murdering his aunt, and he refuses to listen to his advisor when he’s counseled to accept the princess as his bride. She’s the daughter of a murderous lunatic, so surely her sanity, as well as Lucien’s, isn’t to be trusted. This turns out to be an ironic position for Rayn to hold, because his own father is suffering for mental issues that are having an adverse effect on his own nation.
Rayn’s refusal to see beyond Celeste’s father’s behavior irritated me to no end. After meeting her, his impression of her was that she was shy and intelligent, but he would not forgive her for her father’s actions. Since she was a young girl when Florian was terrorizing the world, it wasn’t like she could have intervened on behalf of the nations he was destroying. It took Rayn better than half of the book to forgive Celeste for something that she had no control of, and I found that frustrating.
Celeste is a very intelligent woman. She’s also suffering from a low self-esteem, thanks again to being the daughter of the emperor. Kidnapped by one of Florian’s rivals, she was forced to marry him, and suffered from his abuse until Lucien rescued her. Celeste wants to do nothing other than study her beloved mathematics, but when her brother suggests the union with Rayn, she’s intrigued by the handsome prince. She’s hurt that he can’t forgive her for her lineage, but so be it. If he refuses her, she’ll continue work on her math treatise and mend her wounded heart with the comforting nature of mathematics.
When an attempt is made on their lives, they are thrown together in a struggle for survival. Thrown off a ship in the middle of the sea, they manage to make it to shore with the help of their magic. Rayn is a fire mage, and he keeps them warm in the frigid water with his powers, while Celeste is a mind mage, who can compel creatures, like the shark that takes them to land, to help them. I thought their magic complimented each other, and while I didn’t completely understand all of the nuances of the magic system, I found it interesting and I would like to know more about it.
As the attempts on Rayn’s life continue, the other thing about him that I found annoying surfaced. In Inya, bodyguards are a sign of a weak king, and they aren’t employed, while in Kjall, they are part of imperial life. This reinforces his poor impression of both Celeste and Lucien. Rayn refuses to have bodyguards, even though it’s obvious that somebody wants him dead. This, to me, was just another example of Rayn’s immaturity. Dude! The Land Council has made no secret that they are out to enrich themselves, at the expense of both your people and your family, so you need to get over yourself and do whatever is necessary to protect your kingdom! Argh! Some people are just slow learners!
Well, it’s a good thing Celeste was around to give Rayn a helping hand. She is obviously going to be the brains of the relationship! After uncovering the plot to end Rayn’s life, Celeste decisively moves to save Rayn’s life, despite his rejection of her. She steals her brother’s ship with the help of his wife, Vitala, and off they go in a desperate attempt to save the prince’s life, and his kingdom, too. I guess if Rayn had been a little quicker on the uptake, the novel would have only been half the length, so I will try to overlook his stubbornness and inability to think outside of the box.
These minor quibbles aside (victim blaming is such a hot button for me), Prince’s Fire is an enjoyable, sexy read. I’m looking forward to reading more stories set in Amy Raby’s Hearts and Thrones series.
Hearts and Thrones #3
By: Amy Raby
Releasing April 1st, 2014
The imperial princess has been offered in marriage to the Prince of Inya as part of an alliance needed to ensure Kjall’s military prowess. And despite having been hurt in the past by men using her to gain power, Celeste finds herself falling for the passionate fire mage.
Prince Rayn has no intention of allying his country with the militaristic Kjallans. But his political enemies at home may be the greater threat. The princess’s beauty and intelligence catch him off guard, throwing an unexpected and dangerous hurdle in the way of his plans.
As a deadly political plot threatens Rayn’s life, the attraction between Celeste and Rayn ignites into a sizzling affair. But to save her people and herself, Celeste will have to discover if Rayn’s intentions are true or risk having her love burn her yet again….
Amy Raby is literally a product of the U.S. space program, since her parents met working for NASA on the Apollo missions. After earning her Bachelor’s in Computer Science from the University of Washington, Amy settled in the Pacific Northwest with her family, where she’s always looking for life’s next adventure, whether it’s capsizing tiny sailboats in Lake Washington, training hunting dogs, or riding horses. Amy is a 2011 Golden Heart® finalist and a 2012 Daphne du Maurier winner.
Celeste followed her older brother, Emperor Lucien of Kjall, down the sun-drenched pier at the docks of Riat. Shielding her eyes, she gazed at the Inyan ship Magefire which rode at double anchor in the harbor. It looked like an interloper among the heavy Kjallan warships. Its masts were higher, its lines sleeker, its hull paler in color.
Sailors and dock workers moved aside to clear a path for them. The emperor was an infrequent visitor to the docks. He moved at a brisk walk, limping almost imperceptibly on his wooden leg, his eager eyes fixed on the barrels rowed in earlier this morning.
Beside Celeste gamboled a large black and white dog, who darted longing glances at the ocean waves that lapped at the sides of the pier. And on all sides were the Legaciatti, their bodyguards and security staff.
“You’re going to love this,” said Lucien. “A stone that burns.”
Celeste smiled; she knew his real reason for dragging her out here. Celeste wasn’t naturally sociable except with a few trusted people. She had a tendency to lock herself with her work in her rooms, where the hours slipped by faster than she intended. Her brother interrupted her now and then, when he thought she needed sunshine and conversation.
The dock guards before the barrels stood straight and stiff, awed by the presence of the emperor. Lucien studied the label of the first barrel and signaled the nearest guard to open it. Celeste ran forward to see its contents revealed.
Inside was a bright yellow powder. Celeste scooped up a handful and let it sift through her fingers. “This isn’t stone.”
“It’s brimstone.” Lucien dug into the substance and cupped a handful of it, staring reverently as if it were powdered gold. “It’s been pulverized into this powder. Do you know where the Inyans gather it? Along the edge of a volcano.”
“What poor sod gets stuck with that job?” She had no personal experience with volcanoes, since there were none in Kjall, but everyone knew a volcano had destroyed the nation of Dori.
“A well-paid sod, I hope. But Inya’s volcanoes are more manageable than Dori’s. The Inyans have a system for controlling them. Ask the prince about it when you meet him.”
Celeste was trying not to think about the prince. He’d come in the Magefire to negotiate a trade agreement with Kjall and had brought the barrels of brimstone as a demonstration of good faith. What the prince didn’t know was that Lucien wanted more than a trade agreement. He wanted an alliance, and to secure it, he meant to offer Celeste’s hand in marriage. Celeste had never met the Inyan prince, and in a matter of months, he could be her husband.
Scooping up a double handful of brimstone, she asked, “Does it really burn?”
“Absolutely. Come and see.” Carrying his own handful, Lucien gestured her to follow. The black and white dog wagged its tail beseechingly, and he addressed it. “Oh, just get in the water, Patricus. Everyone knows you want to.”
With a joyous bark, the dog leapt off the pier and splashed into the ocean.
As they walked the length of the pier, passing by the staring dock workers, Celeste cradled the powdery treasure in the folds of her syrtos to shelter it from the breeze. At the end of the pier, they descended a wooden staircase to a sandy beach.
Lucien found an open space with nothing flammable around and, with the foot of his wooden leg, dug a crude hollow in the sand. “In there.”
Celeste poured her brimstone into the hollow, and Lucien added his. Though the brimstone had a consistency similar to the sand, it was a brighter yellow.
Lucien took Celeste’s hand and backed away from the hole, drawing her with him.
A bit of movement caught her eye—a dark shape appearing and disappearing among the white froth of the breakers. “Don’t light the brimstone yet. Patricus is coming.”
“I see him,” said Lucien.
Patricus burst from the waves and loped up the beach.
“He’s sopping wet,” said Lucien. “Shake it off, Patricus!”
The dog kept coming. His feet sank into the soft sand, but he pumped his legs and scrambled on, sending the sand flying out behind him.
“Shake it off!” Lucien commanded.
Patricus galloped to Lucien and shook, spraying sand and seawater all over him.
“Pox this animal.” Scowling, Lucien brushed sand off his imperial syrtos and turned to the Legaciatti, who were covering their faces to hide their grins. “Where were you? Some security detail.”
“We don’t interfere with the imperial dog, Emperor,” said one of the Legaciatti.
Lucien muttered to Celeste, “I don’t get half the respect Florian did.”
“They love you. Everyone does.” This was not true, of course. Lucien had numerous enemies. But Celeste felt that if those people truly knew Lucien, they would love him as much as she did.
Lucien grabbed Patricus by the scruff and gestured to the fire mage in his security detail. “Light the brimstone, Jasper.”
The fire mage waved his hand, and the yellow powder ignited.
Celeste gasped. The flame was blue. “Three gods, that can’t be right. It’s unnatural. Like a Vagabond fire.”
“It stinks like the Vagabond’s breath.” Lucien waved away the smoke.
Celeste got her first whiff of the fumes and choked. He was right; the burning brimstone smelled like something rotten. She backed away and so did Lucien, dragging Patricus with him.
Lucien beamed like a delighted schoolboy. “Have you ever seen the like?”
Holding her nose, Celeste shook her head.
“Only the gods could devise something so strange and wonderful. No wonder it’s needed for making the most important substance in the world.”
“Chocolate?” said Celeste.
Lucien gave her a look. “Gunpowder, as you well know. Put the fire out, Jasper.” When the fire was out, he released Patricus, who fell into step at his side, wagging his tail. He offered his arm to Celeste, and they headed to the carriage, followed by the Legaciatti.
“Where are the Inyans?” asked Celeste.
“Up at the palace,” said Lucien. “They’ve had a long sail. They need to rest, freshen up. So do we, I think, after that brimstone.”
“I wish you had told the prince in advance that you were going to offer him my hand.”
“And spoil the surprise?” Lucien grinned. “Trust me, it’s better he should see what he’s getting. If you can’t sell this alliance, no one can.”
Celeste shook her head. Lucien thought the world of her, but he was her brother and obviously biased. She was not as pretty as he suggested. “When will you make the proposal?” Her stomach knotted at the thought of seeing her potential marriage partner for the first time at a formal event, with everyone’s eyes on her. She’d heard a few things about the prince: that he was twenty-two years old, a good match to her own age of nineteen, and handsome. Those were points in his favor, but they were surface traits and told her little about whether she would be happy with the man. Or whether he would be happy with her.
“I don’t care for official presentations,” said Lucien. “The last one I attended turned into a fiasco. Instead I’ve arranged a small dinner party. You and me and Prince Rayn, plus a few officials to balance things out and keep the conversation flowing. What do you think?”
She let her breath out. “That sounds less intimidating.”
They had arrived at the imperial family coach, an imposing blue-and-gold conveyance which comfortably seated six and was drawn by a quartet of matched grays.
Lucien took her hand and squeezed it as he lifted her into the carriage. “Courage, sister. It will all work out.”
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