A too-young queen must learn to control her powers in order to save her empire, but can she trust the man who’s taught her to use her gift?
The saints of Russalka work their blessings in mysterious ways, allowing the royal family to perform miracles for their people. But the young princess Katza fears her powers. She’s seen grave visions of her bloodied hands destroying her family’s empire. When her older brother succumbs to illness, leaving her next in line for the throne, Katza turns to a young rebellious prophet named Ravin who promises to teach her how to control her gift. As unrest grows in Russalka and a foreign monarchy threatens, Ravin understands Katza’s fears and helps her find confidence in her gift, and her own heart. Under Ravin’s unorthodox training, Katza learns to hear the saints once more—until revolutionaries claim her father’s life.
Reeling and desperate, Katza draws upon darker and darker powers to stop the revolutionaries, the foreign invaders, and the members of her own court who would see her fail. But the more Ravin whispers in her ear, the more Katza questions whether he—and the saints—have her best interests at heart. She must choose between her love of Ravin and her love of Russalka itself—and decide whether her empire might not be better off without her.
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Ravin stood silent in the doorway, his clasped hands a speck of pale flesh against the black velvet of his coat and trousers. Her thoughts soared at the sight of him. She needed his counsel to make sense of her latest vision. She needed his guidance. She needed—him.
She tangled her fingers in the bedsheets and twisted them, uncomfortable with the sudden yearning that pricked at her skin.
“Prophet.” Katza’s voice cracked. She turned toward the physicker. “Please, allow us to speak privately.”
The physicker exchanged looks with Nadika, who hovered in the corner of the bedchamber. Nadika nodded, and the physicker gathered his bag and left.
Ravin moved inside, quiet as snow, and closed the door. Nadika posted herself in the doorway as he sat in the physicker’s chair at Katza’s side. Dark crescents lurked under his eyes, and his skin looked more pallid than usual. Katza felt a sudden urge to brush those crescents with her thumbs, as if they were smudges she could wipe away.
“Are you all right?” Ravin asked softly. “I’ve been worried for you. I prayed for you all evening.”
Embers flared on Katza’s cheeks as she imagined him kneeling in the chapel . . . imagined her name on his lips. “I—I’m fine now. But I had a vision.” She pitched her voice low. “A new one. There was gunfire, or cannons perhaps, in the distance. And I was bleeding.” She gripped her stomach instinctively. “I think in the vision I’d been shot.”
Ravin pressed his palms together and tapped the tips of his fingers to his mouth. “It was similar to other visions of yours, was it not?”
Katza’s jaw clenched. For a moment, she was afraid to speak, so she nodded instead. She still wasn’t prepared to tell him about her recurring vision—the one she’d first feared this might be, too. He’d hinted before that he knew of it already, but how was that possible? Had the saints warned him as well? Better to keep it to herself until she could be sure.
“Yes. I sense this is a common theme for you.” He glanced down. “I believe that Boj is warning you—warning that great strife is coming to Russalka. That if you are not prepared to confront it, you will not survive.”
A horrifying possibility, to be sure. Yet it was better than the vision she’d been plagued with before. If she couldn’t find a way to stop the strife, though, would Russalka still perish? Whether it was at her hands or not, it had to be stopped.
“And if I am prepared?” Katza asked.
“Then it can be avoided.” The angles of his face softened by a fraction. Katza’s gaze traced the delicate swoop from his cheek toward his mouth and lips, the hollows beneath his cheekbones. “You have been chosen by Boj to do great things. Greater even than most Silovs are capable of.” He looked right at her, something gleaming in his eyes. Something like awe. “But your training has been stunted.”
Katza squeezed her eyes shut to guard against a rush of despair. “It’s my fault. My visions—I thought they were warning me not to step above my place.”
“You thought they warned you not to act?” he asked. “And yet they continued? Tsarechka . . . I think perhaps they were warning you of the cost of inaction.”
Katza choked back a sour laugh. When she opened her eyes again, Ravin was watching her, his face warm despite that leeching cold in his eyes. She wanted to believe him. Desperately. She couldn’t put into words, though, the vision’s warning—the certainty she’d felt of its message. That she was doomed to be Russalka’s death.
But maybe she was wrong. She yearned to be wrong. Maybe, with Ravin’s aid, she could avoid its grim outcome.
“You are unprepared now, but you will learn. With the right training, you can save Russalka.”
Her gaze drifted down his face and along the long, stern line of his arms. His hands, so like a sculptor’s, dexterous and slim. This close to him, she smelled incense on his clothes, spiced like cinnamon and cloves. She wanted to wrap herself in that scent. Throat tight, she reached out for his hand. At first he tensed, but then his shoulders softened, and a smile teased his mouth. Their fingers knitted together, and she let the weight of her hand sink into his.
Fly Girl’s Review:
I really wanted to like this book. It’s right up my alley. I mean, I love Young Adult Fantasy with a little romance. I started it with plenty of time to read before a review was requested, but about half way through Part II, I just couldn’t keep going.
So the premise is great. A young lady takes the thrown of a country who uses magic disguised as Saints Blessings. One side of the table says using the blessings is too dangerous and should only be used in extreme circumstances while the other side says use them to your heart’s content. Then the priest, or prophet as they are called, who is both devilishly handsome and her teacher wants the new Queen for his own. So that leaves her, as the synopsis says, torn between a nation and her beloved.
So you say, “How does this go wrong for you?” It’s too slow for me. I like fantasy to be adventurous, but somehow this tale is neither adventurous nor engaging. What do I wish were different? I think the story should have started at her father’s death as the part before it seems more like back story and could easily have been consolidated in other sections. The only important thing in the first part is how she starts working with Ravin, the prophet, but that could easily have been moved to after the King’s death. The training sessions with Ravin could have been more detailed and more of them talked about in the story, that seems to be where the adventure and the romance building could have come from.
A couple things I did like are the Saint’s Blessings, the Wheel, and this premise that magic shouldn’t be used. I also like the description of the different nations. They were colorful.
As you all know, I’ve rarely done a DNF and we don’t book bash here, so I hope these recommendations for who this is good for strikes some hearts. This is an easy to read novel for a younger reader and it gives great detail about the landscape and people of Russalka, so a great imagination would love this story. I would also say this shows young adults how hard some decisions are and that you can’t always make them based on what you want, but sometimes the needs of others must play a part in your decision making.
Lindsay, I’m terribly sorry I wasn’t able to finish it. I’m sure for a different reader, and there are lots out there, that won’t be the case. Please keep us in mind if you’d like us to read something else in your catalog.
Fly Girl’s Rating: DNF
Connect with Lindsay Smith
Lindsay is the author of the young adult novels Sekret, Dreamstrider, and A Darkly Beating Heart, and is the showrunner and lead writer for Serial Box’s The Witch Who Came In From the Cold. Her work has appeared on Tor.com and in the anthologies A Tyranny of Petticoats, Strange Romance Vol. 3, and Toil & Trouble, and she has written for Green Ronin Publishing’s RPG properties. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and dog.