Our story, ‘The Queen’s Knight’, begins with a royal occasion. The coronation of Queen Pheresa of Mandria or it would, if this was a simple, medieval story, written by someone else. It is actually a fantasy story set in another land, with monsters, demons and dark magic written by Deborah Chester.
This story begins with a bloody-pitched battle on the steps of the mighty cathedral of Savriox-en Charva, the capital city of Mandria. Princess Pheresa denounced her father, Duc du Lindier, and her consort, Duc Lervan, for treason against the state.
As rightful heir to the throne, Princess Pharesia has the backing of the royal army, who are in opposition to her consort, Duc Lervan, who has Cardinal Theoli and a contingent of the army of the church behind him. The coup failed and Duc Lervan got, for his scheming, was death by her sword. Cardinal Theoli now has to distance himself from Duc Lervan and Duc du Lindier, so his schemes and power plays must now go along different, more subtle paths.
Before Pharesia can ascend to the throne and be crowned, she must go to the Robing Room to be cleaned of sweat, blood and unkempt clothing and outfitted in robes and jewels as befits a queen of the realm. Problem is, Pheresa has to go in there alone, without her protector, Talmour, or any of the palace guard. In this private audience with Pheresa, Cardinal Theoli takes this opportunity to bend her mind to his will but, is again, unsuccessful. While this is going on, Talmour is over-powered and taken away by some of Cardinal Theoli’s men to be interrogated.
Pheresa leaves the Robing Room, and goes through the ceremonial rites but, no sooner is the crown actually on her head, than a thick, cloying, grey fog envelopes everyone on the dais. Under cover of the fog, Pheresa is abducted by an outlawed group of religious zealots known as the Sebbeins and held in a dungeon in the catacombs beneath the cathedral.
Verence’s predecessor, King Tomias, had the Sebbeins outlawed and they live in tunnels with a price on their heads. Their leader, Bokone, explains to Phareasa that one of their ancestors saved King Velange, who had sworn an oath of allegiance to help them that none of the royalty since have fulfilled. This is all new to Pheresa because Verence was killed on a hunting trip and hadn’t passed on any information. Immobilised by Bokone’s magic, Pheresa waits for him to tire before making her escape into the tunnels. Luckily, a contingent of the palace guards, led by Sir Perrell, find her and kill some of the following Sebbeins in the rescue.
Lord Salba, Pheresa’s court advisor, suggests she sends Talmour away from court to allow matters to die down and people to forget what has transpired despite Pherea wanting Talmour as her consort. Cardinal Theoli has also set plans in motion for Talmour to die and Pheresa to obtain a new, more suitable consort for a queen to marry and bear children with. Things are complicated because Talmour is seen as a commoner with magic and considered demon spawn by all of Mandria, who are unaware of the dangers moving ever nearer to their corner of the world.
Reluctantly, Talmour is persuaded by Lord Salba to leave the court and retire to lands given him with the title of count. Both Pheresa and Talmour are unhappy apart and pine for each other, but feel they cannot be together openly at court or, at least, not for many months. Even though Talmour now has a title, he is still not considered suitable marriage material for Pheresa.
Queen Pheresa should now be safe in the palace, with her guards around her, but suffers many sleepless nights or has Sebbein-induced nightmares, pinning for Talmour and an attempt on her life by Bokone. Less lucky is Talmour, badly injured after a fight with Lord Perell, has been captured and imprisoned in a cave by the Sebbeins to force Pheresa to take their blood oath.
You will have to read the book to see what happens to Pheresa and Talmour and see what orders Sir Perrel has from Cardinal Theoli.
I found this to be a very descriptive story, full of texture and substance and loved strong ruler Pheresa. You do not really need to have read any of the previous volumes to understand what is going on, though it would help to fill in some of the background details. The story flows smoothly and I found it to be rich in dialogue and characterisation, making for a very real world, populated by fleshed-out characters.
Deborah Chester describes the disgusting, run-down state of the tunnels that the Sebbeins inhabit and the grubby clothes they wear, but there is no mention of how they live there, obtaining food, heating, light and clothes. For it all seems very dank and dark, I can only assume that they have to scavenge for food wherever and whenever they can.
As for this Rite of Blood oath that Bokone demands of her, persecution of the Sebbein was started in the reign of Tomias, so I doubt if he took this blood oath and don’t really know if Verence did neither, so perhaps the observance has fallen into abeyance. Hence the anger and impatience of Bokone, when yet another ruler will not rescind the persecution orders of Tomias.
As for why Pheresa does not send her guards after the Sebbein cult members? Well, she has many other things on her mind, trying to deal with affairs of state as well as her heartache at the loss of Talmour, plus I think she does not realise how much of a threat the Sebbeins could become. Pheresa and Cardinal Theoli must at least appear to be working in harmony for the peace of the realm. Talmour is not used to being a count nor with lands and servants, so that takes a lot of his time and energy, plus he is also pining for Pheresa.
It becomes a very tangled web of intrigue, which made for an interesting and absorbing page turner of a book that I can recommend reading.
(pub: Ace. 360 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 0-441-01225-65)
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