Beaty’s engrossing debut introduces 16-year-old Sage Fowler, who is sent to apprentice with a matchmaker, Darnessa Rodelle, after her Uncle William declares her unmatchable. Sage is initially livid about this turn of events, but she realizes that the apprenticeship might be her ticket to freedom. Soon, Mistress Rodelle, Sage, and a bevy of brides-to-be set off on a monthlong journey to the capital city of Tennegol, where the girls hope to be matched, with Capt. Alexander Quinn and his soldiers as escorts. When a plot to overthrow the king is discovered, Quinn seeks to use Sage as a spy. The frippery of matchmaking provides an enticing counter to the treachery; Sage is outspoken, smart, and determined to make her own way, though all bets are off after she meets the intriguing Ash Carter. This is an action-packed, expertly plotted story, drenched in double crosses and intrigue, with an irresistible heroine and a sweet and sexy romance. A late-breaking twist gives way to a final act that will leave readers eager for subsequent books in this planned trilogy. Ages 14–up. Agent: Valerie Noble, Donaghy Literary. (May)
Marital and martial matters collide when brides and spies become ensnared in a treasonous plot. A matchmaker’s apprentice, 16-year-old Sage Fowler accompanies a bevy of noble brides on their way to the quinquennial Concordium. Not a bastard—despite her botanical name—but an orphaned poor relation, the unmarriageable, white Sage cannily observes servants and ladies until her spycraft catches the attention of the military and the mysterious, “dusky”-complexioned Ash Carter. The brides’ escort of royal soldiers (and incognito royalty) provides protection…and also seeks to stop an impending revolt by disgruntled nobles and a raid by desperate—if one-dimensionally barbaric—Kimisar bandits. Soon, Sage and the soldiers must save the brides, the prince, and the kingdom. As indicated by cuisine and clothing, Demora is a pre-industrial, vaguely European nation bound by marriage and divided by class. Sage is a clever, contrary female protagonist who remains realistic and likable, while her fellow protagonist Ash is enigmatic enough to require a second read. Debut author Beaty overcomes a pedestrian fantasy premise and built world through her complex characterization, deftly layered adventure story, and balanced blend of political maneuvering, romantic interludes, and action scenes. This is one series opener that really merits a sequel. Both epic and intimate, a semi–old-fashioned alternative to the wave of inexplicably lethal superheroines and their smoldering love triangles. (Adventure. 14-adult)
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Politics and peril unfurl slowly in this old-fashioned sequel.
Eighteen-year-old former matchmaker’s assistant Sage Fowler now serves as a royal tutor and unauthorized spy, eager to protect Demora against its neighbors: hostile Kimisara and enigmatic Casmun. Tasked with training an elite unit and uncovering rogue Kimisar soldiers, 20-something Capt. Alexander Quinn takes the army to the borderlands, Sage and 14-year-old Prince Nicholas in tow. Haunted by his brother’s death, Alex keeps Sage at a distance, fearing that his love for her endangers everyone around him. When an attack forces the Demorans into an uneasy alliance with the isolated desert-dwelling Casmuni, Sage and Alex find their diplomatic skills, military experience, and even romance tested. While white Sage is dismayed by discrimination against darker-complexioned Alex, who had an Aristelan mother, her adventures rely heavily on stereotypical fantasy racial divisions pitting the pale Northerners (who read as European) against the darker Southerners (described as living in formerly nomadic, desert-based, slightly exoticized societies). Lacking lavish fantasy elements and heavily focused on politics and war, Beaty’s (Traitor’s Kiss, 2017) tale resembles a more YA-friendly Game of Thrones and recalls classic novels such as Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series and Robin McKinley’s Blue Sword.Plentiful action scenes, unflinching but never gratuitous violence, and a smoldering yet still-chaste romance should keep readers’ appetites whetted for the third installment. (Fantasy. 14-18)
Power grabs spoil peace talks in this trilogy finale.
After saving a Demoran prince, befriending the long-estranged, desert-dwelling Casmuni, and deploying a dreadful weapon against a Kimisar army, Sage Fowler seeks peace between the three contentious kingdoms. Now an ambassador with powerful allies among the royals of Demora and Casmun, teenage Sage’s solitary schemes alienate her friends and frustrate her loyal love interest, Maj. Alex Quinn. When assassins interrupt Sage’s clandestine rendezvous with Kimisara’s Queen Regent Zoraya, the women flee, and Sage scrambles to protect Zoraya, Casmuni Princess Lani, and her grieving Demoran friend, Lady Clare Holloway. Feminist Sage wants peace but also empowerment for the women of all the kingdoms; always strategizing, Sage insists that women be queens, not pawns in this political chess game. Amid danger, romance still blooms: Sage and Alex contemplate marriage while Lani, Clare, and Zoraya also encounter love. Like a PG-13 Game of Thrones, the flurry of political and military maneuvering unfolds against a pre-industrial, Northern-European–like setting. Many Demorans—such as Clare and Sage—are white, in contrast to the usually bronze-skinned, dark-haired Casmuni and Kimisar. Beaty (Traitor’s Ruin, 2018, etc.) offers flawed, flailing, and often furious characters grounded in reality and sans superpowers or inexplicable skills.
A satisfying and suspenseful end to a solid political fantasy series. (map) (Fantasy. 12-18)