Friday, March 22, 2013

The Last Priestess

Yesterday we talked with Elizabeth Baxter, author of The Last Priestess, Book I of The Song Maker. Today, learn more about her book and read an excerpt. If you enjoy it, buy a copy, and be sure to comment.

Blurb

There is a name that is uttered only in whispers. The Songmaker. A ruthless rebel mage, he is bringing civil war to the once-peaceful kingdom of Amaury, enveloping all in a tide of violence. For Maegwin, a tormented priestess, the path forward lies in forgiving her temple's enemies—but she dreams only of revenge. For Rovann, a loyal mage haunted by his failures, salvation might be found in the unthinkable: defying the very king he swore to protect. If they are to succeed they must form an unlikely alliance. For someone must stand against the Songmaker. Someone must save Amaury from his dark designs. But first, they’ll have to learn to trust each other.

And so a magical fantasy of darkness and redemption begins.

Review



A priestess whose entire sisterhood was burned to death in a deliberately set fire teams up with the king’s mage (a man tormented by his wife’s suicide) to stop a dangerous rebel mage, known only as The Songmaker. While Rovann seeks to protect his king, Maegwin’s only goal is revenge against those who murdered her sisters. Both Maegwin and Rovann are complex, compelling characters who you want to win despite their character flaws. The plot is fast paced and will keep you turning the pages and up late at night. I could wish for a little more resolution in the ending, and there was too much gore for my taste, especially in the final battle, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Priestess and strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in fantasy literature. I look forward to reading the next volume in The Songmaker series. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Excerpt


Maegwin de Romily woke with a headache on the morning of her execution.
As she roused from frightening dreams she became aware of smells first: damp stone, rotting straw, an undercurrent of urine. Next came sounds: the slow drip of water, the skitter of rats, the hushed voices of the other prisoners. Then finally, sight. Dawn sunlight fell through the barred window so brightly it brought tears to her eyes and made her head pound like a drum, beating out the rhythm of her heart.
She levered herself into a sitting position and clasped her head as pain rampaged through her brain. Last night, after she had smashed her knee into his groin, the guard had punched her so hard she was surprised to find all her teeth still in place. But at least he’d left her alone after that. A headache and swollen jaw were a small price to avoid rape.
She leaned forward, pressing her forehead against the cold, damp stone of the cell floor, hoping for some relief.
“Sho-La, my mistress,” she whispered. “Give me the strength to meet my death with honor. I am lost in the dark. Guide me.” The words echoed off the walls and faded into silence. There was no answer.
Maegwin glanced at the window. Outside, in the town of Mallyn, life went on as normal. The townspeople would be getting dressed, emptying chamber pots, cooking breakfast and doing the simple things people did every morning. In a few hours Maegwin would be led to the gallows and hanged and nobody in Mallyn would care.
Maegwin shook her head, pushing the somber thoughts away. Instead, she brought to mind the morning prayers she'd been taught in the temple of Sho-La.

Blessed Mother, guide me.
Blessed Mother, heal me.
Blessed Mother, teach me.
Blessed Mother, I am yours. 

“Pssst! Maegwin? You awake?”
She crawled to the door and slumped against the bars. “Good morning, Morran.”
A bearded face appeared at the cell bars opposite. Deep lines framed eyes filled with worry. “Ah, lassie, you had me frightened last night. It would have been easier to let him have what he wanted. I thought he was going to kill you.”
Maegwin smiled wryly. “Would it have mattered, Morran?”
The old man's face became stern. “Now, don’t go talking like that. We aren’t beaten yet! Something will turn up, you’ll see. The Songmaker will save us.”
Maegwin sighed. She was tired of hearing him prattle on about this Songmaker of his.  “How many times, old man? I’m not one of you.”
“Well mayhap you should be. Where has loyalty to the king got you, eh? He’s going to hang you whether you be a rebel or no.”
Maegwin didn’t reply. He wouldn't listen. For Morran there were two choices: you were either loyal to the king or loyal to the rebels. But Maegwin had never sworn loyalty to either and yet she'd been dragged into the conflict anyway.
Maegwin closed her eyes, remembering the day that had changed her life forever. Had it really only been a week ago? How could her life change so much in so short a time? She recalled the soft pressure as her sword blade slid between Lord Meryk Hounsey’s ribs and punctured his fiercely beating heart. She tasted the spray of hot blood across her face and smelled the sweat that soaked his expensive clothes.
And heard the screaming of her sisters.
“Hoi, Morran!" someone shouted, jolting her from her thoughts. "Are you rambling on about your bloody Songmaker again? I was an idiot to listen to your lies! Damn you to the Darkness, old man. Your sweet words have brought me nothing but a noose!”
“Ah, you’re a chicken-hearted bastard, Randle!” shouted Morran. “If not for you they wouldn’t have caught the rest of us. You deserve to hang!”
“Really? And what would you have done if they had captured your wife and son? Kept your mouth shut and sacrificed them for your precious Songmaker I suppose?”
“Better that than betray the cause. You lost your faith, Randle. The Songmaker will save us, you’ll see.”
Randle laughed shrilly. “Fool! I doubt the Songmaker even knows your name! He certainly won’t give two shits when you’re dancing on the end of a rope!”
Morran retorted but Maegwin shut their voices out, shuffled over to the window, and lifted her face up to the sunlight. She had no desire to spend her last hours listening to them argue. Through the bars, she could see a blue sky dotted with tiny wisps of clouds. A beautiful summer's day.
A good day to die.
           

***

Rovann rode into the clearing and yanked the reins, pulling his horse to a halt in a spray of mud. The acrid odor of charred wood lingered on the air, strong enough to make his horse snort and stamp, unwilling to go closer.
Rovann studied the scene. A once-magnificent building lay in ruins in the center of the clearing. The walls and roof had collapsed, leaving a heap of rubble. Blackened beams stuck out from the pile like the fingers of a corpse.
The surrounding forest lay quiet and peaceful, giving no clues to what happened here. In an oak nearby a squirrel chirped angrily at Rovann’s intrusion. A blackbird alighted on a holly branch, stared at Rovann with one beady eye, and then took off into the trees.
The saddle creaked as Rovann swung his leg over the horse's back and jumped to the ground. Drawing his short-sword, he padded silently toward the ruins. Crouching at the base of a wall, he placed his palm on the blackened stone and closed his eyes. Nothing. No resonance remained within the granite. The fire must be at least a week old.
Rovann straightened and re-sheathed his short-sword. There were no clues here. Lord Cedric Hounsey, on whose land the temple lay, claimed the blaze had been an accident. But Rovann suspected otherwise. Yet, without survivors to dispute the lord's story, there was little he could do about it. Rovann kicked the ground in frustration, sending up a shower of ash that blew back at him, covering him in a fine gray cloak.
His horse, Glynn, snorted and gazed at his master with ears pricked forward. Rovann trotted back to his mount and noticed a piece of parchment pinned to the trunk of a large sycamore. He strode over and ripped it down. He scanned the crude black letters, his breath quickening. There was still a chance. But he had to get to Mallyn. And fast. 
 Swinging into the saddle, he kicked Glynn into motion, leaving behind the woods and coming down onto the paved Kingsroad. Glynn's hooves made a loud 'clip-clop' on the hard stones. The sun was just poking above the tree-line. Lazy streamers of mist rose from the fields. Farm workers dotted the road, pulling carts or carrying tools. They stared at Rovann with wide, fearful eyes, wary of strangers.
Rovann chewed his lip. If he didn’t reach Mallyn by midday… Shaking his head, he choked the thought. He would not fail. Could not. He had a duty to his king, to his people. Rovann smiled crookedly. Duty. That word again. Istra always hated how he was torn in two.
Duty? she would say. Must it come before everything? Before us?
Ahead, the Kingsroad forked. Rovann cursed, pulled Glynn to a stop and threw his hands up in frustration. The roads were identical with no way-markers to aid the travel-weary stranger.
“What do you think, Glynn?” he asked his horse.
The chestnut gelding flicked his ears idly.
Rovann closed his eyes and slowed his breathing to a deep, steady rhythm. He felt the life around him: the thump of Glynn’s heart, the rustle of rodents in the undergrowth, the movement of worms in the soil. Thousands of tiny life forces shimmered, connected by the all-encompassing tapestry of the Eorthe. Rovann pushed his senses further out and found it: a mass of iridescent life energy so strong it could only indicate a town full of people. It lay to the south-west, many miles distant.
He opened his eyes and sank forward, fatigue flooding his limbs. Pressing his head into Glynn’s mane, he breathed in the musty smell of the horse and impressed the image of their destination on the beast's mind. Clinging on, he pressed Glynn into a gallop down the south-western road.