A Queen in Hiding is the first book in The Nine Realms fantasy series by Sarah Kozloff. This book sets the stage for the series. Kozloff draws a fascinating world for us and introduces us to the most important characters. We get to know Cerulia and her adopted family well. We meet the scholar Thalen and his family, and the army commander Sumroth. Kozloff puts a lot of attention into developing the characters, showing us how they act with those around them as well as their internal dialogue.
I devoured this book, reading it over a weekend. And then I realized that it’s part of a series and there were three more books to read! Stay tuned for posts on the other three books.
Below this line, you’ll find the spoils.
The story starts off in Cascada, the capital of Weirandale, with an empty throne. We then find out that the throne is empty because eight years into her reign, Queen Cressa fled with her daughter, princess Cerulia.
Queen Cressa fled after getting a threatening letter from another realm, Oromondo (fire), and armed guards tried to enter the castle to kill her. Her husband was away, and she realized that her fear of enemies inside the palace amongst her councilors. was justified. She only escaped harm because Cerulia’s dogs warned Cerulia about “men with death in their hearts” before the intruders could get inside, and she was able to hide with her mother while the guards fought the intruders. This was the first time Cerulia used her power; it hadn’t been officially announced. It was the job of the scribe, Sewel, to declare her power, but he’d missed it. He thought that she was being a typical child when she talked of speaking to her horse. It was only later that he realized her power (by learning about a previous queen who’d had that same power).
Cressa brought Cerulia to Wyndton to stay with a family that she had met in the capital city one day. However, the family didn’t recall that first meeting nor the next one because she enchanted them. She had them believe that Cerulia was an orphan that the husband, a peacekeeper, had found living on her own after her parents died. Queen Cressa’s power was as an enchanter. While touching someone, she could use her powers to find the truth and also change their memories.
In Wyndton, Cerulia took on a modest personality and a fitting name, Wren, staying in the shadow of her adopted sister, Percia. After an altercation with some bullies, she decides to learn forestry lessons.
Upon leaving Cerulia, Queen Cressa’s goal was to find Ambrice’s (her husband’s) ship, Sea Pearl. In the end, the boat found her, rescuing her and her guards against some pirates, the Pellish. Queen Cressa and her army decided to attack the Pellish because they were allies with the Oromondians. This would be a way to further hinder the Oromondians’ fight with Weirandale. After other realms received invitations to join the fight, the first ally to join was Queen Cressa’s half-brother Mikil.
Queen Cressa and the rest of the army were doing a good job winning against the Pellish, but then they were pulled into a trap where fireballs were thrown at their ships. Ambrice died from an arrow, while Cressa was severely injured in the fire. She pleaded with Mikil to finish the job, and he did it as a mercy to her. Mikil survived with a woman and a baby, and the three of them managed to get to a deserted island.
Rise of Regent Matyck
Once Queen Cressa left the palace, one of her councilors, Matwyck, assumed the throne. Then, he started a reign of terror on the people, arresting anyone that he thought would make a problem for him, i.e. any of Queen Cressa’s people. He also spread a rumor that Queen Cressa fled because of an illicit liaison with one of the other councilors, and that Cerulia was visiting family in another realm. He arrested Cerulia’s tutor but kept her nanny close to watch over her. Likewise, he let the scribe, Sewel, keep his job.
With the death of Queen Cressa, Matwyck was even more desperate to get hold of the princess and control Weirandale through her. Matwyck used both people and magical creatures, such as bats, to try to find Cerulia. However, many animals warned her and helped her escape capture.
Eventually, Matwyck had one of the councilors, Tenny, go to Wyndton, Androvale to search for the princess. Her foster father realized that the girl he knew as Wren might be the princess. In a roundabout way, he warned her that she needed to leave Wyndton if she wanted to stay safe. The same night that he mentioned this, Cerulia sneaked away, telling no one in the family of her departure but leaving a letter behind to say that she was leaving because she was ashamed of her pregnancy for a sailor. However, before she could get far, she was stopped as she tried to get passage on a boat to leave Weirandale.
Cerulia was brought to meet Tenny for questioning. Tenny had a truth stone from Matwyck, but she wanted to help the princess. Matwyck had used a past transgression to win her to his side, and she regretted betraying Cressa. Consequently, she’d swapped out the truth stone for a regular stone so Cerulia was able to lie and escape capture.
Cerulia On the Run
Using a note from Tenny for safe passage, Cerulia got a ticket to the Green Isles and left Androvale.
After Cerulia left the family in Wyndton, they suffered. No one believed her note. Her adopted father, Wilim, suffered the most because his enchantment was partially broken.
Thalen of Sutterdam
In Sutterdam, we meet another important character, Thalen. Thalen grew up in a pottery family, but loved learning and had no interest in pottery. With the support of his aunt, Norling, he got permission from his father to continue studying at the Scoláiríum in Latham.
First, Thalen studied Earth and Water. Then, thinking about his brother’s experience in the army, he decided to change his focus to history and diplomacy. Putting his two focus areas together, Thalen realized that the Oromondians were poisoning their own water through their mining activities.
His advisor suggested he learn basic weaponry, and Thalen took it seriously. With help from his friend Quinith, he learned fencing and archery. This attracted attention, and other students and teachers joined the daily practice.
At a visit with the assembly of the region, Thalen’s advisor gave some advice to prepare for the Oromodians but was ignored. Back at the Scoláiríum, the faculty and students hid the books in caves and closed down the school so all the students could go back to their families. He also gave Thalen five books to take home. These books were about Oromondo, battlefield healing, the magi and being a leader. Thalen has a photographic memory and memorized each of the books. One of the things he learned was the strengths and weaknesses of Oro mail (armour).
Once war broke, Thalen first went to visit his family, then to the battlefield. He observed that the battle was poorly led, but his attempts to suggest other options were resisted. His plan was to help injured people, so he concentrated on doing that. But then Thalen found himself in the middle of the battle. He saw his youngest brother die before getting accidentally kicked in the head by a horse. When he woke up, he found his little brother, Hake, injured and unable to move his legs.
Hake, Thalen and a few other survivors banded together. When Thalen snuck back into town for food and to visit his family, he found out his mother had been killed and his father imprisoned. Only Norling was left in their old ohme, and she advised Thalen to take care of his brother and stay away from Sutterdam.
Thalen came up with a plan to attack Oromondo so that they would call their army back, threby freeing Sutterdam. Hake’s role was to spread the word and send survivors to the assembly point, Yosta.
Sumroth is a high ranking army commander in the Oromondian army. He thinks that the eight magi who rule Oromondo are deranged but follows their instructions. He hopes for safety for himself and his wife.
The Oromondian army are well-trained and Sumroth has fifteen thousand troops. However, there are no bowmen because of their poor eyesight. Their goal was to go through first Melladrin and then the prosperous free states. They were successful and took over in Sutterdam.
Power of the Spirits
Nargis has the power to heal people, and does so capriciously when they visit the fountain in Cascada. One of the people healed was Percia (of a crippled leg). Tiklok, on the other hand, who worked at the palace, was never cured. However, he was selected to carry out missions for Nargis. One of his missions was to help Cressa and Cerulia escape by providing a hair dye for them. Cerulian queens uniquely have blue hair, and Cerulia’s disguise needed (generic) brown hair.
His last mission was to find the truth stone. His life ended when Matwyck caught him looking for the stone in his private chambers. After his death, Nargis chose Nana, Cerulia’s old nanny, who was still employed at the palace.
From Matwyck’s questioning of Tiklok, we also learn that the spirits communicate with each other. They are not dispassionate about what happens in the world, and they let their displeasure be known.
The Ending of A Queen in Hiding
Nana is at the Fountain and hears something that makes her think her mind is playing tricks on her:
Thou has proven to be rare amongst mortals. I choose thee as my servant and my agent.
Then, a Brothers of Sorrow comes by and strikes up a conversation with her, making it clear that he is loyal to the queen and awaits her return. When he leaves, NN sees something in the water and picks it up. It’s a blue feature, and she hears that “it’s a gift, a badge of sorts”. She pins it to her collar and heads back to the palace.
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