TITLE: ORIA’S GAMBIT
AUTHOR: Jeffe Kennedy
PUB DATE: 2016
A Play For Power
Princess Oria has one chance to keep her word and stop her brother’s reign of terror: She must become queen. All she has to do is marry first. And marry Lonen, the barbarian king who defeated her city bare weeks ago, who can never join her in a marriage of minds, who can never even touch her—no matter how badly she wants him to.
A Fragile Bond
To rule is to suffer, but Lonen never thought his marriage would become a torment. Still, he’s a resourceful man. He can play the brute conqueror for Oria’s faceless officials and bide his time with his wife. And as he coaxes secrets from Oria, he may yet change their fate…
An Impossible Demand
But success might mean an alliance powerful beyond imagining...
Author Guest Post
I’m writing this post from WorldCon, the World Science Fiction, in Kansas City. At this point in my career, a con like this is mainly about going to the panels I’m presenting on, supporting friends at their events, volunteering here and there, and hanging in the bar with my agent, talking up my books.
Actually, he does a lot of the talking, which is great—every writer should have a rampant extrovert to talk them up—and he cues me when I need to go more in depth.
But It’s amusing that Maghon here at Happy T&T asked me what makes me a unique writer, or makes my books unique. Because if there’s one thing I can glean from these bar conversations, it’s that both me and my books sure are unique! A typical conversation about this book my agent (Connor Goldsmith) is pitching for me goes something like this.
Connor: Jeffe’s amazing—she’s known for her world building, and she writes these tight romances that are erotic and set against these mythological and political backdrops.
Editor: So is it ... epic fantasy?
Connor: It is! This new series is Jacqueline Carey meets the Bene Gesserit from Dune.
Editor: But not alternate history or science fiction.
Connor: Exactly! Here’s one of her award-winning books [pulls THE PAGES OF THE MIND out of his bag]. This is straight-up romance.
Me: [opens mouth to say it’s not really straight-up romance; closes it when Connor gives me a look]
Connor: That series is set in a fantasy world—magic, shapeshifters, dozens of kingdoms—and the new one will have that and more, a slow-burn romance and very erotic, where the men are subjugated because women control the magic. You can keep that copy.
Editor: Dominatrices? [puts book in bag]
Connor: Yes, but without the creepy male gaze.
I could go on, but you get the gist. Fortunately Connor does a great job of explaining my cross-genre niche and all of these lovely editors get excited about my books and ask to see this one we’re pitching. It sounds like I might be writing a new series soon!
In the meanwhile, I’ve been keeping myself off the streets by writing the Sorcerous Moons series. This one is another Fantasy Romance (or straight-up romance set in a fantasy world, Connor would say to the fantasy editors). LONEN’S WAR came out last month and the sequel, ORIA’S GAMBIT, is hitting the shelves now.
This series is a little different in that I have both male and female points of view. The story alternates between Lonen and Oria—leaders of their respective peoples, who happen to be at war. Oria’s magic works in such a way that she can’t abide physical contact with anyone untrained—particularly not a barbaric Destrye warrior like Lonen. Her Familiar is a small, white dragon. Lonen is obsessed with the foreign sorceress even as he’s battling golems.
So, yeah: slow-burn romance, political backdrop, cool world, magic, erotic.
The golem’s glassy claws flashed, arcing through the rosy light of the moon, and sliced open his throat. Blood poured down his naked body, steaming in the chill desert air. Out it flowed, sweeping around him like the bore tides of Bára. So much of it pooled around him that he began to drown in it. He strained to lift his battle axe, to cut the golem down with cold iron, but found a flower in his hands instead.
A white lily, luminescent and fragile, somehow escaping the blood that drained his life away.
The golem struck again and he shouted at it, no sound escaping. Because he had no throat left. Because he was dead.
How could he still be standing?
The golem’s claws dripped crimson and its black maw yawned, glistening with glasslike fangs. It wouldn’t ever die, forever coming after the Destrye until every last one of his people were dead, unless he managed to cut it down. Out of its mouth, sickly green fire blew, a lethal wind of flame that burned the crops and aqueducts. Not a golem then, but one of the Trom. Skin over bones, a humanoid spider, it grinned, lips red as the claws, hand reaching to turn him into skin without bones, nothing but pulped flesh. No, they were fingernails, enameled and jeweled. Natly’s elegant hands slicing across his throat again, lips curving in a lascivious smile. With that third swipe, his head tumbled to the ground, and as she reached for his cock with those scarlet daggers of her nails, he finally managed to shout his anguish and fury.
Lonen jerked in the hot water, the nightmare shredding around him with the spray of droplets. The servant boy gave him a wide-eyed look. Bero. The Báran lad had attended him his last time at baths, too. He was in Bára, again, cleaning up after the journey. No Trom or golems here.
Except in his tortured brain.
“Did you need something, Your Highness? You called out, but I didn’t understand the words.” Bero carried a stack of the much lighter colorful clothes that men of Bára wore. Silk, Oria had called the fabric, another thing apparently made by insects. Despite its disturbing origins, and like the addictive and tangy sweet honey she’d also introduced him to, the cloth had an exotic loveliness, more refined than anything produced in his homeland.
Like the sorceress herself, both unsettling and compelling.
“No, I’m fine.” He cupped his hands and splashed water on his face. Sloppy of him, to have fallen asleep in the city of his enemy—and then failing to awaken at Bero’s footfalls as he approached. Too comfortable in the soothing waters. Too many months of short sleep. Ion would have slapped him upside the head hard enough to have his brain ringing for the carelessness. But his brother was dead and gone these many weeks, reduced to boneless pulp at the simple touch of the Trom’s evil hand.
“Would you care for wine or food now, King Lonen?” Bero asked in the trade tongue, setting out the soaps and oils. “Princess Oria said you’re to have anything you ask for.”
Luxurious baths, booze, and fine food—an excellent strategy to lull him into meekly doing the sorceress’s bidding. The nightmare had served as a timely reminder of his purpose here—to save his people from destruction, not to indulge in Oria’s gifts or seductive presence. He might have agreed to her startling proposal of marriage, but he’d proceed on his terms, not hers. For the sake of the Destrye and his sanity both.
“What are the chances of a decent steak?” He meant it as a joke, though the boy wouldn’t know that. The Bárans didn’t eat meat as a rule and, though the Destrye did, the grave losses to their livestock and wild game meant Lonen hadn’t had anything worth calling a steak since before Battles of Bára.
“Princess Oria said to tell you she sent some of the hunters to find meat for you, Your Highness. It might take a few hours, however. Until then the best she can offer is some meat kept to feed the animals, and our usual fare.”
Him and livestock—both pets of the Bárans. But his stomach growled, cramping with hollow pain, so he told Bero to bring whatever, enjoying the quiet when the boy went to fetch it. It seemed like years, not weeks, since he’d last visited the baths. That evening he’d washed himself clean of the ashes of too many dead before negotiating the peace treaty with Oria. Short-lived as that peace had been.
Then, as now, the elegant beauty of the underground chambers both enchanted and intimidated him. Built of carved gold and rose stone like the rest of Bára, the baths were pools of still water, several of them at varying temperatures, going from shallow to deeper than a man could stand. Elaborately carved pillars and arches supported the shadowy ceiling, the subtle light of the sconces not quite enough to illuminate it or the far corners of the room.
For a man who’d learned to jump at shadows, he found it surprisingly lulling. As evidenced by his falling asleep deeply enough to dream, though the nightmares were nothing new. The cursed things plagued him most nights. Odd to see Natly in this one, though, rather than Oria stalking him. A facet perhaps of his dramatically changed reality—exchanging one fiancée for the other. It appeared that by agreeing to marry Oria, he’d now have Natly haunting his sleep.
At least no one else had heard him cry out. He had the place to himself on this occasion. Probably the Bárans didn’t bathe in the middle of the day. The baths simply remained filled, awaiting their convenience.
A shocking waste of water.
Bero returned, setting down a platter of food and a jug of wine, along with a tray of shining instruments. “Would you like me to shave you before you eat, or after, Your Highness?”
Reflexively, Lonen clapped a hand over his beard. He had no doubt he looked scruffy from his travels, and in comparison to the Báran men who were all clean shaven that he’d seen, but...
“Is that another of Princess Oria’s edicts?” He asked, not bothering to disguise the sarcasm.
Bero ducked his head, clearly chagrined. “I apologize, Your Highness. Please forgive me. I did not mean to offend. When I serve the prince and folcwitas at their baths, they—”
Lonen held up a hand to stop the increasingly penitential torrent of explanation from the already nervous boy. “No apologies. I am short-tempered.” He rinsed himself one last time, then rose from the water.
“Your Highness, I did not mean to abbreviate your bath.” Bero sounded even more contrite.
“You didn’t. I’m clean and I don’t need to lie about, indulging myself.” Especially not while his people could be dying by the Trom’s dragon-breath while he luxuriated in deep water and napped. Oria had said she’d stop the incursions, but she’d also promised him that very thing before this. He had no reason to trust her—and plenty of evidence otherwise. Better to be ready to fight whatever battle presented itself next.
About the author