Praise for Jeffe Kennedy's Twelve Kingdoms
The Mark of the Tala
“The fairy-tale setup only hints at the depth of world-building at work in this debut series. What could be clichÃ©d is instead moving as Andi is torn between duty to her father and the pull of Rayfe and his kingdom . . . This well-written and swooningly romantic fantasy will appeal to fans of Juliet Marillier's Sevenwaters series or Robin McKinley's
The Hero and the Crown
A tale that is both satisfying and tantalizing. This promises to be a trilogy that will leave readers enthralled.”
Heroes and Heartbreakers
“I thoroughly enjoyed the world that Jeffe Kennedy created here. It was the type of sweeping story that was easy to get lost in, thanks to the interesting characters, the bit of mystery surrounding Andi's mother, Salena, and their otherworldly heritage.”
“This magnificent fairy tale will captivate you from beginning to end with a richly detailed fantasy world full of shapeshifters, magic, and an exciting romance!”
RT Book Reviews
, 4Â½ stars, Top Pick
“I loved every page and the conclusion simply left me stunned.”
The Tears of the Rose
“Kennedy creates a well-constructed world, and Amelia has a solid character arc, moving from unlikable to heroic in her own way.”
“New readers will have no trouble following along.... Amelia's journey from pampered princess to empowered woman begins with sorrow and pain, until she begins to see her purpose and embraces her newfound strength and power. She is a surprising female character, as is the scarred and mysterious Ash. One of the highlights of the Twelve Kingdoms series so far is that the women are charged with saving themselves and creating their own happily-ever-after, with the men surrounding them just one part of the process.”
RT Book Reviews
, 4Â½ stars, Top Pick Gold
The Tears of the Rose
strikes gold . . .”
“Certainly, Jeffe Kennedy's characters are not perfect. No, they are flawed, even Andi in the first book, but their flaws are believable and make them relatable. So, even if you don't like them (like I didn't like Amelia at first), you can definitely understand where they're coming from.”
The Romance Reviews
The Talon of the Hawk
“The saga of The Twelve Kingdoms returns in grand style! This is a complex world full of danger, subterfuge and secrets with empowering female characters who are not afraid to fight for their future.”
RT Book Reviews
, 4Â½ Stars, Top Pick
“Excellent character development and strong action continue to characterize the Twelve Kingdoms, and I'm thrilled beyond belief to know that we will see more of this world in future Kennedy books.”
The Romance Reviews
“This series has left me with a serious book hangover. Do not read this as a standalone novelâbuy all three and enjoy the marvelous world that Jeffe Kennedy has created for us all. . . .”
Urban Girl Reader
“This is powerful stuff. Epic fantasy!!! I absolutely adored this book!”
Tea and Book
The Talon of the Hawk
is everything a lover of high fantasy and romance can expect: action, adventure, closure, and sweet romance.”
“The third installment of Jeffe Kennedy's Twelve Kingdoms fantasy series tears sharply and deeply into the books' mythology as well as into the heart of its core family.
The Talon of the Hawk
, Ursula's story, doesn't hesitate to draw blood and, in the process, proves also to be incredibly healing.”
Heroes and Heartbreakers
“Ursula is such a great character. She doesn't take people's crap and she tells it like it is. No matter if anyone likes it or not.”
Night Owl Reviews
Many thanks to Lynne Facer, who told me she wanted Dafne's story because she herself has no magic, isn't beautiful, and can't swing a swordâbut she's hell on documents. I loved that remark so much, I had to give it to Dafne.
Special thanks go to Megan Hart, for being the “fresh to the series” beta reader.
Heartfelt love and gratitude to the rest of my critique partner/ cheerleading squadâAnna Philpot, Carolyn Crane, and Marcella Burnardâparticularly for reading this unfinished because I was freaking out about it being ALL WRONG. You gals saved my sanity.
Thanks to Anne Calhoun, for always being there.
Love to that Grace person, even if you did steal my award.
An extra-special thank you to my agent, Connor Goldsmith, who is always awesome. And also to Fuse Literary partner Laurie McLean, who goes above and beyond for all the agency clients.
Huge thanks to the Kensington team for all they do, especially my editor Peter Senftleben, amazing production editor Rebecca Cremonese and her myriad minions, publicist Jane Nutter, and communications diva Vida Engstrand. You make my books better, more beautiful, and put them into readers' hands. Extra grog rations for all!
I don't know how to express my deep gratitude to all the readers and reviewers who have loved on these books and shouted that love to the world. All year I've been hearing how much you couldn't wait for Dafne's book. Both tremendously gratifying and terrifying. I hope I did her justice for you.
Thank yous to the staff at RT Book Reviews, and to all the reviewers, bloggers, and readers who have talked up these books. Chocolate, fairy dust, and Jason Momoa pics to you all.
Many thanks to Ruth and Kendrick Frazier, for love and support over these many years, and for the loan of their cabin, where I watched the snow fall and made the final pass on these pages.
Always, I send love to my family, the myriad extended lot of you, who bring joy to my life every day.
I always thank David last, because he's the one who's there for the better and the worse. I love you, my dear.
hen histories tell of the glorious dawning of a new era, they typically focus on the grand eventsâwars won, tyrants deposed, glittering coronations. Much waving of pennants and joyous shouting.
The duller truth is thatâeven though those histories are usually written by people like myself, the humble, nearly invisible keepers of the booksâthey never mention what consumes the most monumental effort.
Really, can you blame us?
Since I'd returned to Castle Ordnung, to serve the new High Queen Ursula as her councilor in the wake of her father Uorsin's death, it seemed I'd done nothing
record keeping. From the smallest details of ticking off the lists of supplies for restoring the much-depleted resources at the seat of the High Throne, to looking up laws new and oldâfrom niggling to sweepingâto keeping notes during the many interminable meetings, I sometimes felt I might be buried under the avalanche of books, scrolls, and parchments.
Not that I minded, exactly. It was my calling and practically only useful skill. I possessed neither magic, nor beauty, nor warrior skills, but I was a demon on documents.
More, seeing Ursula on the throne at last fulfilled a lifelong ambition of mine. Death to the tyrant. Long live the High Queen. She would be a fair and honorable ruler, if I had to make sure of it myself.
The thing I'd learned about realizing lifelong ambitions? Once you're there, life doesn't end. Neither, apparently, did the long hours and paperwork. Fortunately the avalanche of work kept me mostly too busy to think about it.
Or about the dire prophecy the sorceress Queen AndromedaâUrsula's sisterâhad told me just over a month before of the threat that loomed following the coronation. She'd sworn me to secrecy, then gave me practically nothing to go on.
There are four men, exotically armored. Tall, broad, and fair-haired. Ursula crowned, on her throne. I don't know them, but they are Dasnarians, not Vervaldr. In the great hall at Ordnung.
Not dire in and of itself, but the prospect had troubled her deeply. The only other hint she gave me was to tell me to have things in order. I was doing my utmost, though the chaos of a new reign made it no simple task.
Which is why I found myself searching for the High Queen in the early morning hours, so she could sign off on a set of sensitive declarations. The messengers were poised to depart to the far reaches of the Twelve Kingdomsânow Thirteen, in the wake of Ursula's inadvertent magical acquisition of Annfwn and subsequent treaty with King Rayfe and Queen Andromeda. We'd met until late, arguing the finer points; then I'd spent the night composing the actual text. The messengers should have gone hours ago, but I didn't like for the missives to go out without Her Majesty's final approval.
For form, I checked her rooms first, not at all surprised to find them empty. She would of course be out on the practice grounds, running her sword forms with her Hawks before court. Some things didn't change, no matter what else had.
I had the one correctâshe was working outâbut not on the practice grounds.
I'd taken the shortcut from Her Majesty's rooms, through the arcade open only in warm weather. Not for many more weeks. The chill of winter stung the air, promising heavy snows to come, if not that day, then soon. The ring of blades clashing echoed through the dimness, Glorianna's sun lightening the sky but not yet high enough to bring warmth. I found the High Queen with Harlan in her favored private courtyard off the family wing. She'd long been one of the few to use the walled garden. By tacit agreement, most in the castle left her to it. Probably we should make it her private space, as she had little enough of that. I made a mental note to pass the word on it.
I disliked intruding when she'd clearly chosen to be away from everyone. Thus I hesitated in the shadows of the arcade, torn between discretion and the urgency of my errand, then fascinated by the scene.
They'd been at it a while, as they both glistened with sweat. She moved fast, with the grace of a dancer, like a fluid blade herself. Harlan, a Dasnarian mercenary, her lover and probably twice her weight, took perhaps one step for every three or four of hers, fending her off with his massive broadsword as she sought to penetrate his guard, spinning in and out again, moving under his strikes with such narrow escapes that my heart felt like it thumped in my throat and I had to relax my tightening fingers to keep from bunching the scroll I held.
Completely and utterly focused on each other, they moved in sync, a study in synchronicity and opposition. For all that they attempted to best each other, they seemed to be two halves of one whole. Harlan laughed, a deep, sensual sound. “Come closer and try that again, little hawk.”
And Ursula laughed with him, sounding carefree as I rarely heard her, her smile fiercely exultant. “You wish, rabbit.”
“I do wish.”
Abruptly, I became excruciatingly aware of seeing something I should not. As if I'd walked in on them in sex play. Which, it became more apparent, this was, in its own way. They circled, tested, and teased each other, their bodies speaking in a profound harmony of visceral intention.
Definitely intruding, urgent timing or no. I took a step, intending to flee.
Harlan, however, spotted my movement and called a hold before I could escape. He lifted the flat of his sword to his forehead in the
, gaze on Ursula as if she shone brighter than the sun. Now that I fully understood the meaning of the vow, the gesture blew through me, leaving ragged emotion behind. He'd pledged himself to her unconditionally, for life, whether she kept solely to him, married another, or took a hundred lovers.
For all that I reminded myself I'd never trade places with herâI was a librarian, not a warrior or queenâunexpected bitter jealousy burned my throat where my heart had been, acrid as I swallowed it down.
I gathered my composure quickly when Harlan tipped his head in my direction and Ursula turned in inquiry. She did shine. Flushed with exertion, yes, but also radiant with love. Perhaps with being loved. Something I'd never know.
Her keen gaze surveyed me. “Problem?”
For a second I thought she meant my state of eternal spinsterhood, of only reading about the adventures of others, never being in the center, but forever on the edges, witnessing and recording the lives and loves of someone else, never knowing any of it for myself.
No, idiot. She wants to know why you're here.
“I apologize for intruding, Your Majesty. The new proclamation.” I handed her the scroll. “Would you review it? If you approve, I'll make copies and send it straightaway.”
“If you wrote it, I'm sure it's perfect,” she replied, but she unrolled it and read. “Interesting. You manage to convey a great deal concisely and in a way that should minimize quibbling. Well done, librarian.”
She handed it back to me. Studied my face.
“I'll go copy it, then.”
“Stay a moment. Harlan, would you excuse us? It's time to prepare for court anyway.”
“Of course.” He lifted her hand and kissed it, a courtly gesture that nevertheless carried over the fierce sexuality of their duel. I prayed that my face had not turned red.
After he left, Ursula pinned me with a steely look as sharp as the sword she hadn't yet sheathed. “What troubles you?”
“Nothing in particular.” I tried for a cheerful grimace. I wouldn't tell her about Andi's prediction of a Dasnarian incursion, even if I could. Until it happened, there was nothing she could do. “I'll be glad to get this task off my list so I can move on to some of the others. King Rayfe sent back the allied kingdoms agreement with a list of additional stipulations and requests for concessions.”
“A few you won't like. I'll flag those and we can review after court.”
She nodded, with an expression of affectionate exasperation for her brother-in-law. None of us blamed Rayfe and Andromeda for zealously guarding the bounty of Annfwn now that the protective magical barrier that had sealed their kingdom away from the world no longer did. But parts of the Thirteen desperately needed to establish trade for foodâone of Ursula's highest prioritiesâand the back-and-forth had gone on for weeks.
“What else?” she asked.
“I'm sure you've heard from Jepp's scouts, but rumors that the volcano at Windroven is rumbling still continue to come in, along with similar rumors from elsewhere on the Crane Isthmus and from the Remus Isles. Several barges on the Danu River have gone missing, unfortunately with much-needed food supplies, with possibly coincidental and certainly unconfirmed sightings of a giant violet squid or octopus.” Once I would have temporized on such a description. No longer.
She listened as I updated her, polishing her sword, the newly embedded ruby in the hilt glinting in the light of Glorianna's rising sun. Until just over a month ago, it had been a cabochon topazâor so all, including me, had believed. Instead the jewel turned out to be a flawless orb, a gift from her mother, Salena, powerful sorceress and former queen of Annfwn. Now the topaz, the Star of Annfwn, remained in our High Queen's belly, apparently for good, as it had shown no sign of passing through her system. It troubled me, but short of cutting the jewel out of her, there wasn't much we could do. And it seemed to be doing her no harm. We'd replaced the wound in her hilt with one of Salena's rubies. That looked better than the jagged metal, though it would never hold the same power for her.
Most of what I related the queen already knew, but she nodded, checking things off against the list she carried in her head.
“Were you awake all night?” she asked when I finished, taking me by surprise. It never paid to forget her warrior's instinctsâand how much she loved the unexpected attack.
“Finishing this missive and a few other things, yes. I'll grab a nap after you adjourn court this afternoon.”
“I thought you just offered to go over Rayfe's new demands then.”
“After that,” I amended.
She gave me a long look.
“That's usually my line,” she said with wry amusement. “And it's a lie when I say it, too. I'll ask again. What troubles you?”
I fumbled for a reply. As well as I knew Ursulaâdistantly all her life and more recently, in closer quarters, through serious trialsâI never kidded myself that I was anything near her equal. She was High Queen and she had far more important concerns than my personal issues. I'd sworn not to tell her about Andi's vision. More than that, I trusted Andi's judgment that it wouldn't help Ursula to know. But how to give her a satisfying answer that wouldn't sound like another prevarication?
“Nothing troubles me on the scale of the problems we're facing, Your Majesty. You were the one to emphasize that we're too busy to worry about less important things.”
“And you corrected me that priorities sometimes should be revisited.” She sheathed her sword. “You know, you're valuable to me. Have been to all of us through all that's happened. In the past few days, I've come to appreciate that even more. There are not many people who will look me in the eye and tell me I'm wrong.”
“Not wrong, Your Majesty. I only mean toâ”
“I don't mind being wrong. And stop trying to make this a formal conversation. I consider you a friend, and it's been pointed out to me, by more than one person, that I don't have many and so should make an effort to be good to the ones I do have.” She grimaced ruefully. “However, I'm the first to admit that I have little practice and probably zero skill at it. So help me out. Tell me what I can do for you. How can I make things better for you?”
“Better . . . for me?” I couldn't imagine. It would be easier to go back to the endless task list.
“Dafne. These past weeks haven't been easy and they're not likely to get better anytime soon. I need you, but I can find a way to get by without you. You don't have to stay here. Uorsin's gone. You have no reason to be loyal to Ordnung or the High Throneâand good reason not to be.”
Everything clarified then. “Harlan said something to you.”
To her credit, she didn't wince, simply met my gaze with calm and clear understanding. “You didn't tell him not to and he felt I should be aware.”
I struggled with that. It was true that I hadn't thought to tell Harlan not to mention the long conversation we'd had when he escorted me from Annfwn to Ordnung. The Dasnarian former mercenary, for all his threatening bulk, had a way of worming confessions out of a person. The tradition he followed, the
âboth philosophical and martialâincluded the tenet that internal wounds harmed a warrior as much as or more than external ones. He possessed an uncanny knack for sniffing them out, including my own, which I normally never discussed, asking in such a way that I'd actually answered, telling him my sad and sorry tale.
“I regret that I never thought to ask you about it,” Ursula continued when I couldn't muster a reply. “All my life, you were always around. Though I knew on one level that you'd survived the fall of Castle Columba at Uorsin's hands, I didn't give it more thought than that. I'm ashamed of that blindness and I apologize to you.”
“You had plenty of your own concerns,” I managed, quite overcome. So odd how the pain you easily ignored became overwhelming when another offered sympathy. Ursula had always borne the brunt of Uorsin's ragesâand possibly far worse. I'd sometimes wondered but had so little power that I stopped there. It hadn't been my place. My own kind of willful blindness.