Prisoner of the Crown
by Jeffe Kennedy Series: The Chronicles of Dasnaria #1 Published by Rebel Base Books
on June 12, 2018 Genres: Fantasy Format: eARC Source: NetGalley Goodreads Amazon
She was raised to be beautiful, nothing more. And then the rules changed…
In icy Dasnaria, rival realm to the Twelve Kingdoms, a woman’s roleis to give pleasure, produce heirs, and question nothing. But a plot to overthrow the emperor depends on the fate of his eldest daughter. And the treachery at its heart will change more than one carefully limited life…
THE GILDED CAGE
Princess Jenna has been raised in supreme luxury—and ignorance. Within the sweet-scented, golden confines of the palace seraglio, she’s never seen the sun, or a man, or even learned her numbers. But she’s been schooled enough in the paths to a woman’s power. When her betrothal is announced, she’s ready to begin the machinations that her mother promises will take Jenna from ornament to queen.
But the man named as Jenna’s husband is no innocent to be cozened or prince to charm. He’s a monster in human form, and the horrors of life under his thumb are clear within moments of her wedding vows. If Jenna is to live, she must somehow break free—and for one born to a soft prison, the way to cold, hard freedom will be a dangerous path indeed…
I grew up in paradise.
Tropically warm, lushly beautiful, replete with luxury, my childhood world was without flaw. My least whim was met with immediate indulgence, served instantly and with smiles of delight. I swam in crystal clear waters, then napped on silk. I chased gorgeously ornamental fish and birds, and enjoyed dozens of perfectly behaved pets of unusual coloring and pedigrees. My siblings and I spent our days in play, nothing ever asked or expected of us.
Until the day everything was demanded—and taken—from me.
Only then did I finally see our paradise for what it was, how deliberately designed to mold and shape us. A breeding ground for luxurious accessories. To create a work of art, you grow her in an environment of elegance and beauty. To make her soft and lusciously accommodating, you surround her with delicacies and everything delightful. And you don’t educate her in anything but being pleasing.
Education leads to critical thinking, not a desirable trait in a princess of Dasnaria, thus I was protected from anything that might taint the virginity of my mind, as well as my body.
Because I’d understood so little of the world outside, when my time came to be plucked from the garden, when the snip of the shears severed me from all I’d known, the injury came as a shock so devastating that I had no ability to even understand what it meant, much less summon the will to resist and overcome. Which, I’ve also come to realize over time, was also a part of the deliberate design.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me go back to the beginning.
I grew up in paradise.
And it was all you’d imagine paradise to be. A soft palace of lagoons and lush gardens, of silk bowers and laughter. With little else to do, our mothers and the other ladies played with us, games both simple and extravagantly layered. When we tired, we napped on the velvet soft grass of the banks of the pools, or on the silk pillows scattered everywhere. We’d sleep until we awoke, eat the tidbits served us by watchful servant girls, then play more.
Hestar and I had our own secret games and language. All the ladies called us the royal pair, as we were the emperor’s firstborns and we’d been born less than a month apart.
My mother, first wife, the Empress Hulda, and the most highly ranked woman in the empire, spent much of her day at court. When she was home in the seraglio, she preferred to relax without noisy children to bother her. Hestar’s mother, Jilliya, was second wife and kept getting pregnant, forever having and sometimes losing the babies. So, by unspoken agreement, we kept clear of her apartments, too. Something else I understood much later, that the miasma of misery has its own brand of contagion—and that those who fear contracting the deadly disease stay far away.
Saira, on the other hand, third wife and mother of our half-sister Inga, had a kindness and sweetness to her, so we kids often played in her apartments when we grew bored of games like climbing the palm trees to see who could pluck the most dates while a servant counted the time. Inga, along with my full brother, Kral, were the second oldest pair—the second-borns, also arriving in the same month, to my mother and Saira. Less than a year younger than Hestar and me, they completed our set of four. Our six other brothers and sisters played with us, too, but they were babies still, needing to be watched all the time. Whenever we could, the four of us ditched the babies, exploring the far corners of our world, then making hideouts where no one could find us.
Though, of course, when the least desire took our fancy, someone always appeared instantaneously to satisfy us. Another of the many illusions of my childhood.
Hestar and I, we had a cave we’d made under a clump of ferns. He’d stocked it with a box of sweetmeats and I’d stolen one of my mother’s silk throws for a carpet. Embroidered with fabulous animals, it told tales of a world beyond our corner of paradise. We loved it best of all our purloined treasures, and made up stories about the scenes and creatures, giving them names and convoluted histories.
One day—the kind that stands out with crystalline clarity, each detail incised in my memory—we played as usual. Hestar had been mysteriously gone for a while the day before, or perhaps several days before or for several days in a row. That part fogs in with the timelessness of those days that never ended, but blended one into the next. What I remember is the elephant.
“And the miskagiggle flapped its face tail, saying nooo—”
“It’s called an elephant,” Hestar interrupted me.
“It’s not a miskagiggle. It’s an elephant, and the face tail is a trunk.” Hestar beamed with pride at knowing something I didn’t.
“You’re making that up.”
“No, I’m not! My tutor told me.”
“A teacher. My tutor is named Ser Llornsby.”
“Is that where you went?” Hestar and Kral had been whisked off by servants, and no one would tell me or Inga where they were, just that we’d see them again soon.
Hestar’s blue eyes went wide and he looked around to see if anyone was listening. “Want to know a secret?”
Oh, did I. Even then I understood that secrets were the carefully hoarded and counted currency of the seraglio. “Yes!”
We pulled the silk throw over our heads to make a tent. It was the usual grass beneath, so we didn’t really need the carpet. Having it just made our hideaway more special—and the throw became a blanket, excellent for exchanging secrets.
“We went through the doors!” Hestar told me, whispering but much too loudly.
I hushed him. I didn’t question how I knew, but this secret held power. Most of our secrets had been silly, frivolous things, like how Inga kept candied dates under her pillow. Or ones everyone already knew, like that Jilliya was pregnant again. With the unabashed enthusiasm of children, we absorbed all the murmured gossip and repeated it with equal relish. This, though—I recognized immediately how important it was.
No wonder no one would tell us where they’d gone. Children didn’t go through the doors. Only my mother and some of the women. The rekjabrel and other servants, they went in and out all the time. But a lot of times they came back crying or hurt, so we understood the doors led to a terrible place. And yet Hestar had gone and returned, beaming.
“Was it terrible? Were you scared? Did Kral go, too?”
Hestar nodded, solemnly. “We were brave boys though. And it’s not like here. There aren’t the lagoons and it’s not as warm. They took us to a library and we met Ser Llornsby. We looked at pictures and learned animal names.”
I couldn’t bring myself to ask what a library might be. I wanted to look at pictures and learn animal names. Though I didn’t know the emotion to name it at the time, a jab of envy lanced through my heart. Hestar and I always had everything the same, only I had the better mother, because she was first wife. It wasn’t fair that Hestar got to go through the doors and learn things without me. An elephant. I whispered the exotic word to myself.
“Elephants are huge and people ride on their backs, and the elephants carry things for them in their trunks.” Hestar continued, full of smug pride. “Ser Llornsby is going to teach me everything I need to know to be emperor someday.”
“Why do you get to be emperor? My mother is first wife. Yours is only second wife. Besides, I’m older.”
Hestar wrinkled his nose at me. “Because you’re a girl. Girls can’t be emperor. Only empress.”
That was true. It was the way of things. “Well then you can be emperor and I can be empress like Mother.”
“All right!” Hestar grinned. “We’ll rule the whole empire and have lots of elephants. Kral and Inga can be our servants.”
For the rest of the day we played emperor and empress. Kral and Inga got mad and decided they would be emperor and empress, too, not listening when we said there could only be one of each and we were firstborn so they had to be our servants. They went off to play their own game, but we got Helva to be in our court, and also her little brothers, Leo and Loke. The boys were identical twins and liked any game they could play together. Baby Harlan could barely toddle, so he stayed with his nurse. Ban went off with Inga, of course, as he followed her everywhere, but her full brother, Mykal came to our side.
We didn’t care, because our court was the biggest. Besides, everyone knew the emperor gets to pick his own empress, and Hestar already promised me I’d be first wife and I could pick his other wives, just like Mother did. Which meant Inga wouldn’t get to be one. Maybe not Helva, either, though I told her she would be.
Mother didn’t much care for Saira and Jilliya, so maybe I wouldn’t have other wives at all. I didn’t need them to be empress.
Playing emperor and empress turned out to be terribly fun. Hestar made me a crown of orchids and we took over one of the small eating salons, getting the servants to clear out the table and pillows, instead setting up two big chairs to be our thrones. His Imperial Majesty Emperor Einarr Konyngrr, our father, had a throne. So we’d heard. And we badgered one of the rekjabrel who’d served in the court to tell us what it looked like.
“Huge, Your Imperial Highnesses,” she said, keeping her eyes averted. “It towers above, all platinum and crystal, so bright you can’t look upon it. I can’t say more.”
“What about the Empress’s throne?” I persisted.
“Just the one throne, Your Imperial Highness Princess Jenna.”
“That can’t be right,” I told Hestar, when we let the rekjabrel go. “She must not have seen properly.”
“We don’t have platinum anyway,” he replied.
It is no secret, I’m a huge fan of Jeffe Kennedy’s The Twelve Kingdoms series. I’ve been reading it since I met her at RT15 in Dallas. Back then, I got a copy of the second book in the series, The Tears of the Rose. The third book, The Talon of the Hawk, wasn’t even out yet. Now, we have three The Twelve Kingdoms books, three more of The Uncharted Realms books (which follows the same characters in chronological time.
Now, we have The Chronicles of Dasnaria, which starts before any of these books. We actually see Kral (hero in The Edge of the Blade) and Harlan (hero in The Talon of the Hawk) as children back in their home realm of Dasnaria. We also get to meet their brothers and sisters and even mothers and father.
We learned early that Dasnaria isn’t a great place for women. Harlan had little good to say about it in book three. We even get to see some of it in Kral’s book. But that doesn’t prepare you for what you see in this book. Dasnaria, women really have little rights. We start with Jenna and all her brothers and sisters living in the seraglio, a paradise for the women deep within the palace. There are lagoons and the temperatures are always warm and comfortable. In the Imperial Palace seraglio, there are no windows (though some of the other castles do have them). Jenna has never seen the sky or the sun.
When her brothers come of age (I think it was around seven), they leave the seraglio and don’t return, as men aren’t allowed, only young boys and females of all ages. Jenna doesn’t see her brothers again until she is to attend an betrothal party where she is to meet her husband.
Jenna’s life was pretty pampered as a child. She was the first daughter of the first wife, which basically put her above everyone in the seraglio except her mother, the first wife. She could even push over the second and third wife. Once she’s married to her fiance, that all changes. She now has to answer to him. Plus she will have to leave the only home she’s ever known, to live with him in his kingdom that is part of her father’s empire.
I think most fans of The Twelve Kingdoms World (including The Uncharted Realms)will enjoy this new series. However, there are some that may not. The Twelve Kingdoms is fantasy romance. There is a couple that will get their happily ever after in each book. That is not the case here. Knowing Jeffe Kennedy, there will be a happily ever after at some point for Jenna, but that doesn’t happen in this book. While The Twelve Kingdoms isn’t all hearts and flowers, there are some dark moments in the series, it does end happy for each couple. I think if people can deal with the dark side of this series, they will be greatly rewarded in the end. I also want to point out that Ms. Kennedy did a great job of showing us the darkness of this world without getting into the gruesome details. I think that will also help people who maybe wouldn’t enjoy the darker side of this series. I really hope that fans of The Twelve Kingdoms will give this series a try.
You can read this book if you haven’t read anything from The Twelve Kingdoms world. If you haven’t read Jeffe Kennedy, she writes really great fantasy stories. Her characters are great. You will find yourself really rooting for her characters.