They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king years ago. Now Kate lives as an outcast, clinging to the fringes of society as a member of the Relay, the imperial courier service. Only those most skilled in riding and bow hunting ride for the Relay; and only the fastest survive, for when dark falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals. But it’s this magic that she needs to keep hidden, as being a wilder is forbidden, punishable by death or exile. And it’s this magic that leads her to a caravan massacred by nightdrakes in broad daylight—the only survivor her childhood friend, her first love, the boy she swore to forget, the boy who broke her heart. The high king’s second son, Corwin Tormane, never asked to lead. Even as he waits for the uror—the once-in-a-generation ritual to decide which of the king’s children will succeed him—he knows it’s always been his brother who will assume the throne. And that’s fine by him. He’d rather spend his days away from the palace, away from the sight of his father, broken with sickness from the attempt on his life. But the peacekeeping tour Corwin is on has given him too much time to reflect upon the night he saved his father’s life—the night he condemned the would-be killer to death and lost the girl he loved. Which is why he takes it on himself to investigate rumors of unrest in one of the remote city-states, only for his caravan to be attacked—and for him to be saved by Kate. With their paths once more entangled, Kate and Corwin have to put the past behind them. The threat of drakes who attack in the daylight is only the beginning of a darker menace stirring in the kingdom—one whose origins have dire implications for Kate’s father’s attack upon the king and will thrust them into the middle of a brewing civil war in the kingdom of Rime.
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1.) The magic: Kate lives in a world where there are primarily two magic users: mages, who are respected and have a League of their own, and wilders, people with magic who are imprisoned and shunned. Kate is a wilder and has the ability to communicate with horses and other animals. Like many other wilders, she keeps this ability a secret. As the daughter of an infamous traitor to the throne, Kate is harassed enough. I love the exploration of magic in this world and the line that separates 'good' magic from 'bad' magic. While we learn about how the magic works in book 1, there are plenty of breadcrumbs to pick up in book 2 to deepen the magical world building.
2.) The romance: Kate and Corwin fit the bill for friends-turned-lovers-turned-enemies-turned-reluctant partners. When Kate's father attempted to kill the king, Corwin's father, their brief but strong romance was destroyed, and they were apart for 3 years. Kate is angry at Corwin for not showing mercy to her father, allowing him to be executed rather than her plea for exile. Corwin doesn't know how to face the daughter of his father's attempted killer who left his father's mind broken. While I wouldn't have minded their snarky banter to go on a while longer, I love how the two tried to reconcile their issues to face a bigger foe.
3.) The high stakes action: If you like fantasy with political intrigue, this certainly has it. Corwin must face three trials to determine if he or his brother should rule, while also dealing with the League's demands and an uprising from wilders. To top it off, scary creatures call day and night drakes are plaguing the kingdom, and no one knows who is controlling them. The action scenes were plentiful and engrossing, making this lengthier novel feel like a quick read.
4.) The dual narrative: Kate and Corwin both narrate the story, allowing the reader to easily get to know them both and understand their perspectives. Both have engaging primary and side character arcs, and I can't wait to follow them into the sequel.
5.) The secondary characters: As likable as Kate and Corwin are, their secondaries, Dal and Signe, nearly stole the show a few times. Both are witty and flirtatious with fascinating (and sometimes tragic) backgrounds. I would love to see a companion novel with them, but I'll happy take whatever I can get.