Review copy was received from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Bloodsworn by Erin Lindsey
Series: Bloodbound #3
Published by Ace on September 27, 2016
The bonds of family, love, and loyalty are pushed to their limits in this thrilling conclusion to the epic saga started in The Bloodbound...
As the war between Alden and Oridia draws to its conclusion, the fates of both kingdoms rest on the actions of a select group of individuals—and, of course, the unbreakable bonds of blood...
Unbeknownst to most of Alden, King Erik, in thrall to a cruel bloodbinder, is locked away in his own palace, plotting revenge. To save her king, Lady Alix must journey behind enemy lines to destroy the bloodbinder. But her quest will demand sacrifices that may be more than she can bear.
Meanwhile, as the Warlord of Oridia tightens his grip on Alden, the men Alix loves face equally deadly tasks: her husband, Liam, must run a country at war while her brother, Rig, fights a losing battle on the front lines. If any one of them fails, Alden could be lost—and, even if they succeed, their efforts may be too late to save everyone Alix holds dear..
I love the Bloodbound series. I adore the battles, the romance, the humor and the characters. It surprised me because of the historical feel. I don’t always enjoy historical. Read this series in order. Here is my review of the second book, BloodForged. I found myself almost hopeless after this book, everything was so dire – a matter of life and death. So I was afraid to read this final book of the trilogy. TERRIFIED. I worried my favorite characters would be hurt or die. I worried the romances would end up with couples I didn’t ship. I was a mess!
The story began as frightening as I expected. My anxiety continued at high levels. I even peeked at the end to just see if the names of my favorites were at the end, and I never do that. I died a thousand deaths reading this book, in addition, to a few while waiting for it. My emotions were high – a sign of a good book which can make me feel so much.
On the other side of heart attack, Liam can be one of my book boyfriends. He’s not the typical alpha male but he’s funny and awesome. And Rig, too, he’s a genius at battle strategy. I love smart! The focus is not on romance in this series; it’s a subtle background layer.
The Bloodsworn is a fitting end with most things settled. Like real life, there are some open ended situations. I look forward to see what Erin Lindsey will write for us next.
The publisher is providing a copy of the first book: The Bloodbound (US / Canada only). Please comment below if you’d like to enter and let me know your favorite historical type fantasy series. This will end quickly, Monday September 26th.
The publisher provided an excerpt for us, which is the first chapter of The Bloodsworn (since it is from the third book it does contain spoilers for the first two books) :
“We’re ready, Captain.”
The anxiety in Pollard’s eyes belied his words. A sheen of sweat glistened under the edges of his helm, and he clutched his spear in a white-knuckled grip. He might have been marching into battle against a horde of bloodbound thralls instead of preparing to walk down the burnished hall of the royal apartments. Behind him, the rest of the royal guardsmen fared no better, shifting on their feet and trading uneasy glances, a restless herd smelling a storm. One of them, a bull of a fellow called Notcher, looked like he might actually throw up.
Alix might have pitied them if she weren’t too busy fighting down her own queasiness. “Remember,” she told her new second-in-command, “this needs to be handled quickly and quietly. I’m counting on you, Pollard.”
A convulsive, thin-lipped nod was the guardsman’s only reply.
Feeling a hand on her arm, Alix glanced at Liam. Her husband was as pale as the rest of them, grey eyes haunted with guilt. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come? Maybe I could talk to him, try to—”
“Nothing we do will make this all right. It’s better you stay out of this. No point in the prince getting his hands dirty too.”
“My hands are already dirty,” he snapped. “They’re never going to come clean, either, not after this.” His voice dropped to a hiss. “It’s treason.”
Alix scowled. “You think you need to tell me that? I’m the king’s bodyguard, Liam. I’m supposed to protect him.”
“And I’m his brother. I’m supposed to support him.”
Behind them, someone cleared his throat. Alix turned to find Albern Highmount levelling a reproving stare at both of them. Somehow, the chancellor managed to look both grave and impatient at the same time. “Your Highnesses. We have discussed this to exhaustion. We have no choice in the matter. The king is bewitched. We are at war. There is not a priest in the world who would condemn us for what we are about to do.”
Alix wasn’t sure about that, but she wouldn’t argue with the chancellor—not now, in front of her guardsmen. “We’ve lingered here long enough. The last thing we need is a servant running to Erik and telling him we’re about to stage a coup. Let’s just get this over with.” She marvelled at the steadiness of her own voice. She was about to lead her guardsmen into the royal apartments to arrest the king. Her brother-in-law. The best man she’d ever known—until the enemy poisoned his mind. Her insides were thrashing about like a fish on a barbed hook, but her expression remained firm, a mask of resolve. Maybe you’ve finally learned a thing or two from Erik about controlling your emotions. What a bitter irony that would be.
“With me,” she said, starting down the corridor.
Sunlight slanted through the arched windows on the east side of the hall. It glared off the marble tiles, harsh in Alix’s eyes, as though Rahl himself rebuked her for what she was about to do. Unwittingly, her gaze fell to the sunburst emblazoned on her breastplate. Rahl, the sun, first among the Holy Virtues and patron of the royal family. Patron of King Erik White, whose crown was about to be usurped by the people he loved most.
Stop it, she commanded herself. This must be done. We have no choice.
So why did it feel like a cold hand clutched at her throat?
Her mind snagged on a memory from their days at Greenhold: Erik sitting across from her in the solar, clasping her hand in gratitude. You are a true friend, Alix. A golden smile, blue eyes filled with trust and warmth and something more, something Alix hadn’t recognised until later. He’d been hurting then, rolling the bitter taste of Prince Tomald’s betrayal on his tongue. I may have been deceived in my brother, but there are others I know I can rely on. They’d stayed up all night, the two of them, drinking and laughing, Alix basking in the sunshine that had once been Erik White.
A true friend.
The memories flashed mercilessly through her mind now, one after another, each more painful than the last: Erik’s arms around her, comforting her as she wept; shoulder to shoulder in battle, defending each other’s flank; his laughter when he’d stumbled across her in her wedding dress, that cheeky wink . . .
She rounded the corner and there he was, on his way to his study. She froze.
Erik cocked his head. “Alix, whatever is the matter?” At first, she thought he meant the guardsmen, but he didn’t even seem to have noticed them; his gaze, filled with concern, belonged only to her. “Are you crying?”
She touched her cheek; her fingers came away wet.
His glance flicked over her shoulder, taking in the guardsmen now. “What’s happened?”
“I . . .” Though she’d rehearsed the words a hundred times, they died on her lips.
Erik gazed at her expectantly. He was immaculate as always, dressed in a blue doublet and leather breeches, red-gold hair tied back in a short, tidy tail. His posture was straight, eyes keen and focused. The enemy’s dark magic left no visible mark upon him, and for a fleeting moment, a worm of doubt wriggled in Alix’s belly.
But no. She knew him too well, and she’d seen too much. Erik was certainly bewitched.
Pollard, bless him, stepped into the breach. “With regret, sire, we must seal off this wing of the palace.”
“Seal it off? Why would we do that?” There was no suspicion in Erik’s voice. He trusted Alix too much, even with the bloodbond gnawing at his mind. The enchantment wasn’t yet at full strength. The bloodbinder, whoever he was, must still be too far away for his cursed magic to command Erik completely. Which only made Alix’s task all the more painful.
She swallowed, tried to master herself. “Your Majesty,” she began, before faltering again. Gods, it was so hard . . .
Now he did look wary.
“Sire,” she said. “Erik. I’m afraid you’re not well.”
“Not well,” he repeated blankly.
“There’s a bloodbinder. An Oridian, one who knows how to warp men’s minds. We thought the secret died with the Priest, but we were wrong. The magic is still out there, and the enemy is working it against you.”
Erik’s eyebrows flew up. “I beg your pardon?”
“It sounds strange, I know. I need you to trust me.”
“Of course I trust you. More than anyone, but . . . ?”
The words cut her to the bone. Alix forced herself to press on. “Then you have to believe me now. The enemy has you in his sway, just as the Priest controlled his thralls on the battlefield. But I promise you we’ll fix it. We’ll—”
“What did you say?” He spoke the words in a cold, horrified whisper.
“The bloodbond. The Priest’s dark magic. The Oridians are working it against you, manipulating you.”
He stared at her, the blood draining from his face. “Why would you say something like that?”
“I know how it sounds . . .”
“How it sounds? Have you taken leave of your senses?” Still in that horrified whisper, as though he willed the conversation to be private, just the two of them, so she could take it all back and they could pretend it never happened.
“You have to trust me,” she said again, pleadingly.
He took a step toward her, hands raised as if he were approaching a madwoman. “I don’t know what in the gods has got into you, but you’re not thinking clearly. The Priest is dead. We destroyed him. You were there, Alix. His magic died with him, and even if it hadn’t, the enemy cannot simply snap his fingers and turn someone into a thrall. They would need my blood, a great deal of it. You know that.”
Your blood, or your twin’s. She couldn’t explain it to him, not like this. Whatever happened, they needed to keep the existence of Erik’s twin an absolute secret, even from her guardsmen. Besides, in his current state, he probably wouldn’t believe her anyway.
“I’m sorry, Erik.” At her signal, the guardsmen moved, heaving on the great panelled doors.
“What are you doing?” Erik cried. “Stop that at once!”
One of the guardsmen wavered, gaze darting between his captain and his king.
“Pollard, get him out of here!”
Her second obeyed, shepherding the reluctant guardsman away. The others resumed closing the doors, all except the four who had been chosen to stay behind to guard the king from within.
Alix began to back away through the narrowing gap.
“Wait!” Erik started toward her, but a pair of guardsmen grabbed his arms. He looked from one to other in stunned disbelief. “Alix?”
Tears splashed cold down her face. She continued to back through the doors.
“Alix, look at me, for gods’ sake! Do I look like a thrall to you? Alix!”
“I’m sorry, Erik. I’m so sorry . . .”
“You can’t do this!” Then, with quiet intensity, “Please, don’t do this.”
The doors were almost closed now. Through the gap, Alix could only stare at him, heartsick.
She saw it the exact moment he broke: his eyes, so painfully blue, went dull, and he wilted in his captors’ grip. Alix’s vision swam with tears, blurring out everything but his sagging form.
The doors came to with a cavernous boom. Alix slumped to the floor, hand over her mouth to stifle the gasps of grief. Above her, the guards hammered makeshift bars in place before withdrawing, leaving their captain alone with her misery and betrayal.
A soft rustle sounded against the far side of the door, as of someone sliding to the floor.
“Are you there?” In spite of the thick wood, it sounded as if he were right beside her, as though they leaned against each other instead of the barrier between them.
She laid her hand against the door. “I’m here.” The words came out in a strangled whisper; she doubted he even heard.
“It’s Liam, isn’t it? He’s poisoned you against me.”
Alix squeezed her eyes shut, sending another flood of tears over her cheeks.
“Whatever he’s told you, it’s not true. He wants my crown. Can’t you see? Just like Tom.”
Her gaze strayed to the window, into the glaring sun. “I’m going to fix this. I swear to you, Erik.” I swear on my blood, and the blood of my family. I swear on the Nine Virtues and anyone else listening.
A long silence. Then: “I never thought it would come to this. Liam . . . I believed he might betray me one day. Highmount too. But you . . .” When he spoke again, the ache in his voice was more than she could bear. “I tell you truly, Alix, I would rather have died than see this day.”
She curled into a ball, arms over her head, shaking with silent sobs.
“It’s done,” Alix said dully, dropping into a chair across from Highmount. Beside her, Liam took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
Even the ever-stoic Highmount looked sympathetic. “I know this has not been easy, Your Highness.”
She laughed bitterly and swiped at her eyes. “You have a gift for understatement, Chancellor.”
“You did what you had to,” Liam said. “We had no choice.”
“Can we not do this, please?” Her voice wavered precariously. “I can’t . . . I’d rather focus on where we go from here.”
“Quite right,” Highmount said with a brisk nod. “Your men are deployed, then?”
She drew a deep, shuddering breath. Forward. Erik needs you to move forward. “Four inside,” she said, sounding steadier now. “Though Pollard thinks we should increase it to six when we bring the first meal.”
Highmount grunted sceptically. “I do not think it wise to bring additional men into our confidence.”
“Agreed,” Alix said. “If we did augment the detail inside, it would have to come from the existing dozen.”
“Meaning only six outside,” Liam said. “Is that enough?”
“We don’t dare have too many,” Alix said. “People will notice, and our story won’t hold up. There’s no reason to post extra guards at the doors if the king is sick with fever.”
“What do you intend, then?” Highmount asked.
“We’ll keep to four inside for now. Two on the doors. The rest will patrol outside, keeping an eye on the windows. They’re less likely to be noticed that way.”
“And the bars on the doors?” Liam asked. “How do we explain that?”
“Those were only temporary, so we could get it done quickly. Pollard will replace them with something more discreet. We’ll just say that the locks on the other side are broken. Those doors are ancient; no one will question it. Besides, I don’t want anyone getting close enough to take a look. From now on, the corridor to the royal apartments is off-limits.”
“Due to the risk of contagion, of course,” Highmount said.
The old man nodded, satisfied. “Everything would seem to be in place, then. And what of your journey—whom will you take with you?”
“Three White Wolves, as agreed. Rona Brown, Dain Cooper, and Ide. I haven’t told them where we’re going yet, or why, but I’ll have to explain once we’re on the road.”
Highmount grunted, but if he had any misgivings, he kept them to himself. “When will you depart?”
“Tomorrow morning. That should put me at the front in about five days. I’ll spend a day or so with Rig, explain the situation.”
“How do you anticipate he will react? Your brother and the king are close. If there is any chance he will not support us in this . . .”
“Rig will support us,” Alix said firmly. “He’ll support me. And he needs to know. He’s commander general of the king’s armies. If we should fail, or if Erik were somehow to get word to him, my brother would obey whatever orders the king gave.”
“Which orders would very likely have been fed to His Majesty by the enemy through the bloodbond. I do understand your concerns, and I share them. But you must ensure that General Black fully grasps what is at stake here. It is imperative that he guard this secret with his life.”
As though Alix needed to be told. “My brother will do what is necessary,” she said coolly. “You can rely upon it.”
Highmount nodded again. “And then?”
“And then,” Liam said, “it’s off to Andithyri, smuggling herself into enemy territory.” A scowl and crossed arms accompanied this interjection, in case either of them had missed the tone.
Highmount fetched a scroll case down from the bookshelf and rolled out a map of Andithyri. It had been updated recently, the borders redrawn in red ink along with a note in the chancellor’s tidy hand: Occupied by the Trionate of Oridia. “Rodrik was raised here,” he said, “in a village called Indrask.”
Alix leaned over the map. Liam, she noticed, did not; instead he looked away, mouth pressed into a thin line. Alix didn’t blame him for being unhappy—she’d feel the same if the situation were reversed and he was the one infiltrating occupied territory in search of Erik’s captured twin—but sulking about it surely didn’t help.
“As you can see,” Highmount said, “Indrask is in the middle of nowhere. That was by design; we needed the boy kept out of sight, living in anonymity in a place no one would recognise him as King Erik’s twin. That should work to your advantage, Your Highness. Enemy soldiers will be fewer and farther between, and I doubt the Warlord has troubled to garrison the smaller towns, let alone villages. If you stay off the main roads, you may well travel unmolested.”
Liam snorted and shook his head, which Alix did her best to ignore. “Is this farmland?” she asked, running a finger along the map.
“Largely. A few bits of wood here and there, but the country is small and crowded, so most of the land is under cultivation.”
“Good. Open territory will make travelling faster.”
“It’ll also make you easier to spot,” Liam put in.
“I’m a trained scout, Liam. I don’t need you to explain cover to me.”
He sighed, raking a hand through his unruly hair. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be a prat. I just hate this.”
“Of course you do, but that’s not exactly new, is it? You hated it when Erik and I travelled to Harram too, just as I hated it when you were sent to Onnan. This is no different.”
He scowled. “Is that supposed to make me feel better? Both of those missions ended in spectacular failure, on top of which, I seem to recall that we all nearly died.”
“This is who we are, Liam. That’s not going to change until this war is over.” Turning back to Highmount, she said, “Go on.”
Highmount’s glance cut between them, but he wisely let that part of the conversation drop. “There is not much else to tell. Your brother will know better than I which routes are safest, and which best avoided. All I can offer you is this.” Reaching into an inner pocket of his jerkin, Highmount withdrew a key and unlocked the top drawer of his desk. Inside was an iron box, unadorned, guarded by the most formidable padlock Alix had ever seen. Whatever was inside that box, Albern Highmount had taken great pains to ensure that it remained for his eyes only. He opened it and pushed it across the desk.
“From an Aldenian royal guardsman, a man called Terrell. He was sent to live among the Andithyri, to join the cadre of guards assigned by our allies to keep watch over the boy. He posed as a farmer and sent these missives from time to time. As you can see, they are few, but perhaps you will find something useful in them to help guide your search.”
“And now, Your Highness, before you depart, there is something I would like you to consider. Another perspective, if you will, on the mission you are about to undertake.”
Something in the chancellor’s tone made Alix wary. “All right.”
“Twenty-seven years ago, I gave a crucial bit of counsel to King Osrik. It went unheeded, to my lasting regret, a mistake that led directly to the delicate position in which we now find ourselves. Had His Majesty followed my advice, his heir would not now be bloodbound and locked away in his own palace. Indeed, there is a very good chance we would not be at war at all.”
Alix regarded him coldly. “I presume you’re referring to your suggestion to—how did you put it—destroy the boy?”
“Rodrik White posed a grave threat to the kingdom. He still does. More so, now that he is a man grown and Alden is at war. We know nothing about his character. It is not difficult to imagine that the enemy could persuade him to become a puppet king, or any number of other scenarios. I am sure I do not need to remind you how this country has suffered when a White brother, legitimate or otherwise, chooses to contest the crown. We have already known two such tragedies in our kingdom’s brief history, the latest scarcely a year old. When you find Rodrik, you would do well to remember that, and consider carefully what comes next.”
“What in the hells does that mean?” Liam snapped.
Highmount met his gaze unrepentantly. “It means, Your Highness, that a rescue mission may not be what is called for under the circumstances.”
“He’s joking. You’re joking, surely? This is my brother we’re talking about, Highmount. My brother. Do you understand that?”
The chancellor ignored him, turning his hawkish gaze back on Alix. You know I’m right, those eyes seemed to say. And a cold, logical voice inside Alix whispered, I do. But however much that voice might be in harmony with Highmount’s, she could not heed it. Erik would never forgive her. And neither, judging from the look on his face, would her husband. “Erik told me once that he mourned his twin for his entire childhood. That’s when he thought he had a stillborn sister. If he found out he had an identical twin, only to learn I’d taken that from him . . .” Alix shook her head. “It’s Erik’s choice to make, Highmount. Not mine, and not yours.”
The chancellor seemed to expect that answer, for he merely nodded, as if to say, On your head be it. He rose, signalling that the conversation was over.
But Alix wasn’t through quite yet. She kept her seat, gaze in her lap.
There was an uncomfortable stretch of silence. Highmount cleared his throat. “Is there something else, Your Highness?”
For a moment, she almost lost her nerve. But she couldn’t hide from the truth forever; Highmount needed to know. “Before I go, there’s something I have to tell you.” She glanced at Liam. “Both of you.”
Highmount resumed his seat.
“Varad’s assassination,” Alix said. “It was me.”
Highmount’s brows gathered. “What do you mean?”
“I killed him.” Alix stared ruthlessly ahead. She could feel Liam’s gaze on her, but she couldn’t face it. Not yet.
As for Highmount, he betrayed no emotion beyond a slight narrowing of the eyes. “I’m afraid I still do not understand, Your Highness. How could you possibly have killed the King of Oridia, particularly since you were on your way back from Harram at the time of his death?”
“I had my spy do it. That is, I ordered my spy to see it done. He has networks in Varadast.” She sat up straighter, forced herself to look Highmount in the eye. “It was a terrible error in judgement, and I take full responsibility.”
“I see.” Highmount’s fingers formed a steeple, a gesture Alix had come to recognise as a sign of careful reflection.
Liam found his voice at last. “Allie, why would you—”
“I thought I was helping.” It sounded childish, even to her own ears. “The Priest was already dead. I thought if the King were gone too, the Warlord would have no choice but to back down, at least for a while. As the sole remaining Trion, I thought Sadik would be too weak to continue. That I could end the war at a stroke.” True, as far as it went, but not the whole truth. The real reason she’d done it was far, far simpler.
She’d been exhausted. Afraid. Tired of feeling powerless. And then the news of the massacre at Raynesford, of the Warlord butchering children and women . . . So she’d done what she always did, acting without thinking, a true child of Ardin. It was just as Erik had warned her all those months ago: One of these days, your recklessness is going to cost you dearly. Cost all of us, perhaps. She’d played right into Sadik’s hand. He was the sole remaining Trion, all right—and all the more powerful for it. If she’d bothered to consult Erik, she would have learned that Varad had been a restraining influence on Sadik. On top of which, the Oridian public, outraged by the assassination of their King, had rallied in support of the war effort. With Varad out of the way and his people behind him, the Warlord of Oridia was free to indulge his ambition to the fullest.
She cleared her throat. “When Erik is . . . when he’s better, he’ll have to deal with me.”
“Deal with you, Your Highness?” Highmount lifted a bushy grey eyebrow. “What exactly do you believe His Majesty will do?”
“I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine what punishment could answer for what I’ve done. The Oridians were weary. They might have stood down. Only now, I’ve given them a martyr to rally behind. I’ve prolonged the war at the cost of who knows how many lives.” Saying it aloud made her queasy all over again, and she found she couldn’t quite meet the chancellor’s eye after all.
Highmount sighed. “You give yourself rather too much credit, I think. We cannot know what might have been. Your actions were ill-considered, Your Highness, and I do regret them. It is true that the Oridian people are united as never before. But the Warlord is not known for his . . . democratic inclinations. The views of the public are not likely to weigh heavily on him. Can we truly say you have prolonged the war?” He made a dismissive gesture. “Speculation.”
“But it’s possible.”
Alix waited for him to say more, but he only regarded her with that damnably closed expression, the one she could never read. “That’s it?” she demanded. “That’s all you have to say?”
He spread his hands. “What would you have of me, Your Highness? It is done. We cannot afford to dwell on it; we have more immediate concerns. Besides, I daresay there is little I could suggest that would be as severe as the condemnation you heap upon yourself.”
That, at least, was Destan’s own truth.
“If you will forgive an old man some unsolicited advice,” the chancellor went on, “put this behind you—but do not forget. There will come a time when the memory of this regrettable incident is all that stands between you and another rash decision. Forgive yourself, Your Highness, but do not forget.”
Liam reached over and squeezed her hand again, and when Alix met her husband’s gaze at last, she found no judgement there. Her heart flooded with gratitude, her fingers tightening around his.
“And now, Your Highnesses, if there is nothing else, I suggest you continue your preparations. As for me, I have a great deal of correspondence to take care of. The council must be apprised immediately of His Majesty’s terribly contagious fever.”
Alix didn’t envy him the task. It would take a deft hand to convince the council that the king was ill enough to require quarantine, yet not so ill that they needed to be concerned. If anyone could manage the balance, it was Albern Highmount. “Will I see you before I leave?” she asked him.
“I should not think so. Your departure must be as discreet as possible. My presence would not aid that cause.”
“In that case, farewell.”
Highmount rose, smoothed his doublet. Then he folded at the waist in a grave bow. It was the first time he’d ever bowed to her. “Take care, Your Highness. And good luck.”
Alix thanked him, though she doubted there was enough good luck in the Nine Heavens to see her through.