A royal birth, a royal tragedy. 

In the kingdom of Bounten, Queen Ava gives birth to a baby girl with white hair and pale blue eyes. Believing the baby is cursed, the king is left alone with his child for only a few minutes. When Ava’s midwife returns, the infant is dead. 

Was it a natural death, or was she murdered?

Sarana and the Dark King by Ivy Keating (Champagne Book Group) is a suspenseful, medieval fantasy of intrigue, magic and danger. In it, King Edmund VI, known as the Dark King, is holding onto his empire by a thread. The birth of such a child would weaken his power even more. 

A KING CLENCHING ON TO HIS POWER

Years before, a powerful sorcerer had drawn false maps to trick the rulers of all kingdoms into a fool’s search for the strongest metal in existence, tarilium. After the sorcerer is killed and eaten by wolves in the wild forest of Northland, the wolves become supernatural creatures called Valomeres. All have special, deadly powers they can confer on their masters. 

Edmund’s pet Valomere, with “its magical ability to kill with undetectable speed,” was hiding under the Queen’s bed as she gave birth. Did the beast have anything to do with the death of her royal child?

The king orders the infant’s body to be cremated immediately. He also commands the queen’s midwife, Meriden, to leave the palace, and to forget all she’s seen. As Meriden escapes into the night, however, she hears a baby crying. Inches away from the flames of a funeral pyre, the child is alive.

THE CHILD WHO COULD TAKE IT ALL AWAY

Risking her own life, Meriden rescues the baby, whom she names Sarana, and takes her to the humble farmhouse of her sister and her husband in a neighboring kingdom. The couple promise to take care of her, but even here, Sarana may not be safe. Children with white hair are kidnapped and sold to witch doctors. And the Valomeres, the magic wolves, will stalk her, too. Will her royal blood prevail?

The intrigue deepens as King Edmund begins to suspect the hidden motives of his mistress, and her even more psychically gifted twin sister. The search for tarilium intensifies, igniting wars. Demanding more labor and more taxes from his subjects, Edmund ravages his kingdom with his search for the rare metal, his fearsome Valomere at his side. As the book’s publisher aptly states on its website, “Only one thing can stop his reign of terror—a commoner with a secret past and a powerful Valomere of her own.”

The author’s characters are strong and well defined, and the tension of their interactions creates a fast-moving story. An added bonus: romance. Meriden falls in love with Richard, the man who helps her on her secret journey, and Sarana meets Cabe, the man who will follow her into battle with her father’s army. The way is lined with danger, and this heroine is ready to fight.

Trigger warning: This novel includes some sexual content and scenes of physical abuse. 

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Motivated by nature’s mysteries and the complexity of human behavior, Ivy Keating writes science fiction and fantasy novels that explore the relationship between mankind and the natural world. A master’s degree in social work helps her understand the nature of her characters as they struggle with the repercussions of their actions. Her first novel, Camouflage, was inspired by the landscape and natural beauty of New England. Sarana and the Dark King was imagined from a mental picture of the Great Lakes. The proximity of these bodies of water and the land that surrounds them conjured the images of separate kingdoms — at least they did in her mind. Ivy believes that her challenge as a writer is to take a setting that intrigues her and create a plot that is both clever and surprising. Ivy’s blog offers writing and publishing advice with an encouraging, self-help twist.