A young soldier with untapped abilities must protect her new queen in this New Adult fantasy.
In the realm of Kaizia, Saiden is a member of the deadly Legion. She and her partner, Mozare, take missions from Gen. Nakti on behalf of Loralei, their young and newly enthroned queen. In Kaizia’s culture, the Gifted develop their magical powers when they’re teenagers. Saiden, with her red mane, is Blood-Cursed, supposedly too dangerous to live because of her connection to both gods. Her powers never manifested, however. She’s become a fearsome warrior with a reputation that’s earned her a post in the Queen’s Guard. Guarding Loralei involves protecting Kaizia from dangers, including the Enlightened, religious fanatics who are willing “to die to bring the gods closer to earth.” There’s also an underground Rebellion led by the charismatic Revon, who claims to know an ugly truth about Kaizia society. While Mozare cares deeply for Saiden, his allegiance may be compromised. He wants to dismantle the realm’s foul monarchy, which abides by brutality against common people. When Saiden learns the truth about her own family’s past, will she join the Rebellion? In her series opener, Traunfeld ably depicts the strands of darkness and romance that often weave through YA fantasy. Saiden keeps track of her kills by getting leaves tattooed on her arms, and she always manages to cause more collateral damage than Nakti would like. Loralei, meanwhile, has taken her serving girl, Cara, as her lover, a secret that threatens to bring further turmoil to the country. The narrative shifts among Saiden’s, Mozare’s, and Loralei’s perspectives, with the latter bolstering the tale’s sensuality; in one scene, the queen “watched Saiden pick an orange off the tray, peel it slowly and savor each slice of the fruit.” Some plot components click readily into place, like the identity of an imprisoned woman, and well-executed twists abound in the second half, adding deep emotional shading to the small cast. Traunfeld’s finale reveals bleak terrain ahead in installments to come.
This grim, passionate tale will scorch readers.
– Kirkus recommended review