Gladiator meets Game of Thrones: a royal woman becomes a skilled warrior to destroy her murderous cousin, avenge her family, and save her kingdom in this first entry in a dazzling fantasy epic from the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Elemental Assassin series—an enthralling tale that combines magic, murder, intrigue, adventure, and a hint of romance.
In a realm where one’s magical power determines one’s worth, Lady Everleigh’s lack of obvious ability relegates her to the shadows of the royal court of Bellona, a kingdom steeped in gladiator tradition. Seventeenth in line for the throne, Evie is nothing more than a ceremonial fixture, overlooked and mostly forgotten.
But dark forces are at work inside the palace. When her cousin Vasilia, the crown princess, assassinates her mother the queen and takes the throne by force, Evie is also attacked, along with the rest of the royal family. Luckily for Evie, her secret immunity to magic helps her escape the massacre.
Forced into hiding to survive, she falls in with a gladiator troupe. Though they use their talents to entertain and amuse the masses, the gladiators are actually highly trained warriors skilled in the art of war, especially Lucas Sullivan, a powerful magier with secrets of his own. Uncertain of her future—or if she even has one—Evie begins training with the troupe until she can decide her next move.
But as the bloodthirsty Vasilia exerts her power, pushing Bellona to the brink of war, Evie’s fate becomes clear: she must become a fearsome gladiator herself . . . and kill the queen.
The day of the royal massacre started out like any other.
With me doing something completely, utterly useless.
“Why do I have to make the pie?” I grumbled.
I stared at the flour, sugar, and butter lined up on the table, along with measuring cups and spoons, a paring knife, a rolling pin, and bowls full of honey cranberries and bloodcrisp apples.
Isobel waved her hand over everything. “It’s a sign of respect for a member of the royal family to make the traditional welcome pie for the Andvarian ambassador. Lord Hans requested cranberry-apple for today’s luncheon.”READ MORE
“You’re the cook master, not me,” I grumbled again. “You should make the pie. Your magic will make it look and taste amazing.”
Masters were those whose magic let them work with specific objects or elements, like metal, glass, and wood, to create astounding things. Isobel’s power helped her craft amazing desserts out of ordinary flour, sugar, and butter, which was why she’d been the head baker at Seven Spire palace for more than twenty years.
She slapped her hands on her hips. “I might be a cook master, but the Andvarians have very finely tuned senses. They would know if I made the pie instead of you. They can sniff out the intentions of every single person who handles their food, even if it’s only the servant who pours their wine. It’s one of the reasons why they can’t be poisoned.”
I snorted. “That’s just an old fairy tale started by the Andvarians themselves to keep people from trying to poison them. They don’t have any better senses than anyone else. Only mutts like me have that sort of magic.” I tapped my nose. “I might have an enhanced sense of smell, but even I can’t always sniff out people’s intentions.”
Isobel frowned. “You know I don’t like that word, especially when it’s applied to you.”
Unlike masters, who were sought after and lauded for their impressive skills, mutts were not, simply because our magic didn’t let us create anything. Most mutts only had a small spark of power, a tiny flicker that enhanced something about themselves, like my supersensitive nose. Something that barely qualified as magic, especially when compared to the airy meringues, spun-sugar cakes, and other delicacies that Isobel whipped up. When it came to magic, mutts were considered far weaker and far, far inferior to masters, magiers, and morphs. Hence the term mutts.
I shrugged. “We both know that I am most definitely a mutt in every sense of the word.”
Isobel winced, but she didn’t disagree.
“Besides, Lord Hans has the constitution of a gargoyle. I’ve seen him eat pepper radishes like they were as sweet as those apples. Why, I could pour him a tall, frosty glass of wormroot poison, and it wouldn’t give him much more than a stomachache. And a small one at that.”
Isobel’s lips twitched, but she summoned up a stern look, trying to keep me in line. Always a losing battle. I was rather incorrigible that way.
“Regardless, you need to make the pie, Lady Everleigh. You were the only one who was, ah, available.”
“Oh, really?” I arched an eyebrow, and Isobel dropped her dark brown gaze from mine.
Available? Well, that was a nice way of saying that it was once again time for me to earn my keep as Lady Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair. A mouthful of fancy names that meant very little in the grand scheme of things, but they, and the lineage that went along with them, were good enough for my cousin Queen Cordelia Alexandra Summer Blair to have me trotted out like a trained monkey whenever a so-called royal presence was required. Like wasting a morning baking a pie for some foreign ambassador who probably wouldn’t eat a single bite of it.
Isobel winced again, causing lines to groove into her bronze skin, then smoothed back her graying black hair, the way she always did whenever she had bad news. “I’m afraid that it’s not just one pie. Lord Hans requested thirteen of them. It’s his favorite dessert. The Andvarian king’s granddaughter loves it too. She’s also part of the ambassador’s contingent. I believe her name is Gemma.”
I glanced at the stacks of pie tins half hidden behind the bowls of apples. Anger pricked my heart that I was always the one singled out for such tasks, but the sharp sting was quickly replaced by cold, numbing acceptance.