Shanna is a queen-in-waiting, forced to submit to her stepfather, the Regent’s, demands. Most of the time she tries to stay away from him by working in the castle stables, but that also means she’s quite isolated. Two friends she’s made include the traveling merchants, Kallarr and Ahmla, who pop into her remote country of Remnien every few months.
After years of knowing them, Shanna normally looks forward to their visits, but when she sees them on the eve of her courtship tournament she’s dismayed. She’d build a fantasy of love with Kallaan, and even Ahmla, despite them being unsuitable Consorts, and she doesn’t want them to see her paraded out to the nobility who could become potential spouses.
Imagine her surprise when she learns that Kallaan is a prince and Ahmla his bodyguard. Reading the documents her beloved mother left behind indicating a betrothal between herself and Kallaan is a boon and a bust. Shanna can see that Kallaan is very much attached to Ahmla and expects she’d be a poorly accepted third wheel. Plus, her stepfather’s bloodthirsty ambition is more than incensed by the advent of this “prince” who’d been sniffing around Shanna undetected for years. Kallaan’s kingdom holds no strategic import to the plans the Regent has in mind, and this puts Shanna, Kallaan, and anyone connected to them in very grave danger.
I really enjoyed this fantasy-romance-adventure. It’s a MMF that has elements of both MM and MF, which was cool. Kallaan and Ahmla are a couple, but not in our sense of the term. Their culture advocates a “lifesworn” protector, but Shanna misinterprets what this means. For her part, Shanna has always desired a poly relationship, and while partnering with the prince and his lifesworn is intriguing, she’s not willing to ruin things between them. This was handled really well, I thought, and had good character development. I could easily visualize the vicious Regent-king laying his traps and snaring his victims with a smile, and feel the plight of Shanna’s intense loneliness. The world building is spare, but enough to give us the scene and context of the story, and the pacing is excellent. The intrigue and specter of peril is sharp enough to keep the pages turning.
There’s a bit of chase, prompted by the dastardly Regent, but Shanna finds respite and love where she least expected it. This is the first book in a series, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next! If you liked The Captive Prince, I think you’d also enjoy this series.