The Impostor Queen by Sarah FineThe Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine

The Impostor Queen

bySarah Fine

Hardcover | January 5, 2016

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The elders chose Elli to be queen, but they chose wrong in this beautifully crafted novel in the tradition of Kristin Cashore and Victoria Aveyard.

Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic. Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.
Title:The Impostor QueenFormat:HardcoverProduct dimensions:432 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 1.4 inShipping dimensions:8.25 × 5.5 × 1.4 inPublished:January 5, 2016Publisher:Margaret K. McElderry BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1481441906

ISBN - 13:9781481441902

Appropriate for ages: 12


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Really Good I really liked this book. I've become a bit picky though so I can't give it 5 points as it didn't 'wow' me. I am kind of wondering why people have labelled in LGBT. I think maybe it's because Elli and Mim seemed like they might be in love but then nothing came of it so I'm not sure. Also Elli ended up with (crap forgot his name already. Oskar?) so the lesbian angle is gone but I guess she could be Bi? Also I just noticed that the next book isn't about Elli? :( I was very surprised to learn the priests were evil. They did not seem like it for most of the book. I had started to get suspicious of the same priest Elli didn't like (I am horrible with names right now) but at no time did I think he was bleeding out hundreds or maybe thousands of young people for their power. And to think the nice priest was worst of all!!!! I'm sad that Sig either died or was taken. But at least the little girl is alive and well.
Date published: 2018-04-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A For the Lover of Books Review Number of pages: 432 Number of times read (including the time before this review): 1 Rating (out of five stars): 3.5 The Impostor Queen was enjoyable, but it didn’t blow me away by any means. I’m probably not going to continue the series, despite there not being anything glaringly “wrong” with it. The world building was well done. When you can convince me that fire and ice magic comes from copper, you know the world building was done well. The magic and political system made sense, and it was easy enough to picture the setting, so I count that as a win. I also liked the characters, and I think they were well done. I especially liked Oskar and Elli. They were flawed and strong characters. I really liked that despite living a pampered life, Elli is determined to learn how to help Oskar’s family while she stays with them. I also really liked the premise. It’s about a girl who thinks she is the “chosen one”, only to have everything she has ever known ripped out from under her. It’s about her learning to find new strength. It’s about her finding a new purpose and adjusting to what life has thrown at her. The Imposter Queen makes me wish there were more YA fantasy books with themes like those. Overall, The Impostor Queen was fast paced at points with well written characters and solid world building, earning it 3.5 stars out of five.
Date published: 2017-06-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from 2.5 stars I expected this to be like a cross between a fairy tale and Avatar: The Last Airbender (cartoon, of course, not live action). It was disappointing: too full of romance that came to fruition with out a believable build-up, almost gratuitously gory, and often quite slow. Still the world-building and midway plot twist were intriguing enough that I may pick up the next two books in the trilogy.
Date published: 2017-03-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Had potential but was underwhelming The premise was interesting but ultimately the writing didn't work for me. The writing made the world seem ordinary and boring. The world is on the smaller scale, which I didn't expect and ended up having so many questions about this world, the Valtia and the Kupari. The first 80 pages were hard to get through, but if you push through them the plot picks up pretty quick from there. I have a neutral opinion when it comes to the protagonist; I don't hate her but I don't love her - she doesn't have a personality to me and so doesn't show up on my radar. I'm not sure if I'll read the sequel. I want to know what happens but the writing makes the reading process harder to deal with. I really wished I'd liked it more because the idea of magic choosing the next queen was really interesting. If you liked Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong, you might like this.
Date published: 2017-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thrilling and Heartfelt “You're strong enough to bear anything, Elli. That's why the stars chose you.” I loved this story so much. I didn't really know what it was about when I picked it up at the library, and while the synopsis was intriguing, the first chapter was not. It didn't make me interested in what would happen next, but I am SO glad I kept reading! The Impostor Queen is about Elli, who has been trained to love the Temple and the Valtia - the queen who wields both fire and ice, with coppery red hair and ice blue eyes. But beyond that, this story is about having your world ripped away from you in an instant and finding that you are not who you think you are. There's prophecy, fire & ice magic, thieving, Eli running for her life, and war. These combined made for a heart-pounding tale! Eli's relationships with her handmaiden, with Oskar, and with the old Valtia are well told through her lens and you really want to root for her the entire way. She struggles with who she is and manages to make it through her burdens and her pains. In a world where nothing is as she thought it was, she is a heroine that holds her own. "Our lives aren't ours, darling," she murmured. "We are only the caretakers of this magic. We don't use it to protect ourselves - we use it only to protect the Kupari. They call us queens, but what we really are is servants."
Date published: 2017-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Queens of Ice and Fire I really enjoyed this read! I liked Elli (our main character) from the start. She was bold and inquisitive, constantly seeking answers rather than meekly minding her place (as was expected). Also, once removed from her life of privilege she worked extremely hard in order to make herself useful, rather than wallowing in despair. While this book mirrors the popular new trend surrounding elemental powers, Fine was able to completely remove her tale from the general mold. I have read nothing like The Impostor Queen, and her back-story was built wonderfully! This novel could easily be read by an older audience. Recommended for fans of The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst, Frost Blood by Elly Blake and The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen.
Date published: 2016-11-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Slow and Steady Start After a fit of starts and stops, I finally managed to read this book in its entirety on Friday. We didn’t have the greatest of starts, this book, and I. The first few chapters was painstakingly slow, but the story picked up as soon Elli escaped from the Temple of the Rock. After that, it was smooth sailing. I can never deny Sarah Fine’s talent in the world she lets us see. It doesn’t matter where she takes us. More often, it’s a world entirely her own. The stories tend to be dark, with characters well-suited and perfectly conceptualized. I will never doubt this woman again. ABOUT THE STORY Somewhere along the way, the Priests that govern the queen’s people got greedy. They wanted powers beyond anyone’s imagination and control of the kingdom forever. Three hundred years before the world of Impostor Queen, a prophecy that the strongest Queen will be born. A Queen who will rule and protect a kingdom where fire and ice wielders will have the free will to live however they want. When the stars aligned and this powerful queen was born, the priests did whatever they could to find this child. They had so much hope for her. They trusted her to protect them from the invading Soturis. And to provide for them when the winter months was long and cold. It is to their utter disappointment when Saadella was unable to wield any magic. When she found out that was to be put to death, she escaped with the help of her handmaiden. Near-death, bleeding, and delirious, she was rescued by a mine dweller suspected to be a part of a group of thieves. Here, she will find out more about herself. She will find the truth about the prophecy. And most of all, she will find love. Love for an ice wielder who hates his power; and love for people who only ever wanted to be free. WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT For non-fantasy readers such as I, Sarah Fine has this incredible ability to simplify her world and her stories. Sometimes, the prophecies are written in such a way that will put Bill Shakespeare’s writing to shame. I mean, seriously. I’d hate to have to read and re-read that part of the book just to get a better understanding of what I was up against. But Sarah’s writing is so concise and clear that I don’t burst a vein reading them. I must admit that I had a tough time with Elli’s powers and her role in the prophecy at first. I was disappointed with it, in fact. I thought it was anti-climactic. She was supposed to be powerful, but she hardly exerted any of it. She’s able to siphon powers, but she’s not able to wield them. She’s more like a Teflon. Fire and ice do nothing to her. I mean, she can wield power, but she would need a conductor first. If anything, I thought the Suurin was more powerful than her. Regardless, I thought she was still a great character. She went through the motions of denial and acceptance once she found out what she can do. The romance. Oh, the romance. For a moment there, I thought Sarah Fine was going to ruin it all by introducing a love triangle arch. I’m so happy she didn’t. Though, I’m a little afraid of what’s to come. Let’s just say,“you will regret this love”, is not sitting so well with me. Ominous much?
Date published: 2016-03-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from interesting start Elli's world grabbed me immediately when I read the synopsis. A world where there is a Valtia who has the power of ice and fire and also able to balance it, surrounded by Priests who are powerful in either one of these powers, as well as a Saadella who is the next in line to the Valtia. All Saadellas (and in turn Valtias) are distinguished by a birth mark. That is why Elli is currently the Saadella. Not only that, but her birth and existence was told through a prophecy. She will be the strongest Valtia in the history of mankind. Unfortunately once the Valtia dies, Elli's power don't come and she must escape. All of this was told in the synopsis, but unfortunately it took around 80 pages of the book to catch us up to the synopsis. I dislike it when a synopsis tells too much, and I am left reading and reading and reading things I already knew will happen. However once I passed that 80 pages, and Elli became on the run.. that's when things got interesting for me. I think The Impostor Queen is gruesome and graphic at times in terms of the horrific acts Elli had to go through. I was grimacing and wincing reading about her struggles, it was harsh, but I think it suited the flow of the book. Elli herself is a very naive but likeable character. Initially she was a bit too sheltered, living her life like a princess, but the tides were turned 180 degrees and she became a prisoner in her own tower, but she ended up running away... that's when she had to grow up.. really fast. I liked the survival aspect of the book, especially her meeting the outcasts and people with powers who aren't contained in the priesthood. The world building was done very well, that I have no complaint about. However the pacing of the novel suffered from being super slow, to quite exciting, so sluggish to a sudden showdown. I would definitely pick up the sequel if I had the chance. I am very interested in the direction of the story and what will happen to Elli as well as the kingdom and the structure that crumbled at the end of the book.
Date published: 2016-02-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A World of Ice & Fire Sarah Fine's The Impostor Queen introduces a world of ice and fire magic, love and friendship... and a kingdom on the brink of war. Magic runs in the veins of the Kupari, and the most powerful of them all is their queen, the Valtia, who rules the land with the guidance of the Elders. The Valtia and her Elders, exalted magic-wielding priests, rarely venture outside the walls of the Temple on the Rock, but the Kupari cherish their queen nonetheless. Everyone knows it's only the presence of the Valtia that stops the Soturi from invading. When Elli was four-years-old, a red flame mark appeared on her calf, proclaiming her as the Saadella, the heir to the throne and the next Valtia. Since then, Elli has dutifully attended her lessons in the temple, surrounded by luxury and coddled by the Elders and their acolytes. Now sixteen, the Elders still treat her like a child to be protected; only her handmaiden, Mim, sneaks information about the outside world to her. But when her beloved Valtia suddenly dies, the magic doesn't pass into Elli—it has mysteriously vanished. As the Elders immediately begin searching for the next Saadella, Elli flees into the outlands, home to Kupari's banished criminals and bandits. Settling into her new humble life in the outlands is quite the change in circumstances, but Elli is determined to not be a burden. She has no magic. And her entire life feels like a lie. With all her heart, she wanted to serve and protect her people as the next Valtia, but now those dreams have been shattered. If Elli isn't truly the Saadella, if she's only been an impostor, then who is she, really? I loved the world-building in The Impostor Queen! Deeply imaginative and rich in detail, the Kupari's elaborate customs and traditions were absolutely intriguing to read. The Elders have quite obviously been carefully guarding secrets of their own, and withheld information from Elli for years, but the degree of their corruption is still quite the shocker! I'm absolutely excited to see Sarah Fine expand more into the world of the Kupari in the sequel. If you're a fan of YA fantasy, be sure to add Sarah Fine's The Impostor Queen to your TBR!
Date published: 2016-01-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Review from Esther's Ever After The Impostor Queen reminded me a little bit of Disney's Frozen - now bear with me - but not in a way that felt overly familiar or predictable. The world of The Impostor Queen is a magical realm ruled by a young queen who is gifted with awe-inspiring fire and ice magic, in a world where magic isn't very common and the two types are not combined in such strength. And many of the characters struggle with themselves and their own identities. But that's where the similarities end. Reasons to Read: 1. Strong character development: Ellie's demeanor changes drastically over the course of the story, as she leaves the only life she's known behind her. It's a pivotal moment for her, because while she has clearly always been a curious person it spurs her to action and to finally start making decisions for herself. It can be tricky to write a character who experiences such extreme changes in just one book, but it's done well here in a way that feels natural and crucial. 2. A vibrant fantasy world: This is so important in fantasy books, but too often it's skipped over. Sarah Fine has put an incredible amount of thought and imagination into creating the world found in The Impostor Queen making it a captivating read in which it's easy to lose yourself as a reader. There are rules to magic and how it can be used, some of the politics are hinted at (and I'm hoping to learn more of later on in the series), along with secrets and mysteries. 3. A story that doesn't disappoint: It's fairly often that I read a book which I enjoy, but disappoints me in some small ways. Usually, it's because I feel the book relies on cliches or overused plot twists. I loved that The Impostor Queen didn't rely on any of these to keep the story moving ahead. For example, instead of having a love triangle, the romance in the story changes and flows naturally. And instead of dragging out the story with a ridiculous and unnecessary fight, the characters learn to deal with their problems head on. These are minor details, but they make for a much more enjoyable story. I've written about another one of Sarah Fine's books before, but I have to repeat myself here: Sarah is an exceptional author. She's talented and writes beautiful books which hold your attention and flow beautifully. She instills emotion behind each and every word and truly sets the stage for her story with the language she uses. The only thing I might add to the story is additional character development for some of the secondary characters. While Elli stands out as a lifelike character, I felt that some (Oskar and Sig, in particular) could have benefited from more backstory and more dimension. I'm optimistic that this is something that will come in the future, as they're able to engage more with the plot on their own instead of relying on revealing more about Elli's situation as The Impostor Queen needed to do. The Impostor Queen is a lively book, one that will readily hook readers for a satisfying read and left me anxiously awaiting the next book to learn more about the future Kupari and its citizens. ARC received from S&S Canada for review; no other compensation was received.
Date published: 2016-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LOVEEEEEEEE A kingdom where magic is held in the most powerful Queen known as a Valtia. Eli is supposed to succeed the current Queen, but when the magic never comes, she ends up fleeing and finding out more about the outsiders that border her kingdom's lands. I am now one of the biggest Sarah Fine fans around. Her books just grab my attention and they never seem to let me go. Loved her other books and when I realized she's publishing another I knew I had to read it. This one was right up my alley. Fantasy book with magic, mystery and adventure? Sign me up! I couldn't put this down, even reading this to the very end at three in the morning!! It was that epic! Elli was such a likeable character. Not only for her determination, but for the sheer tenacity she had for doing the right thing. I like that she was bisexual having her like both genders because love knows no borders. It also helps that I like both of her love interests. Then there's the mystery of where her magic went and how she's in the dark for most of the book like we were. I enjoyed all the magic sequences the most! Loving all the various magical powers that the citizens wielded. It felt like this whole new world where I dropped in and wanted to be a part of. I kid you not, this book has me singing its high praises and I'm now adding Sarah Fine as an auto-buy author!!! She also writes diverse characters so that's just a huge bonus for me!
Date published: 2016-01-04

Read from the Book

The Impostor Queen CHAPTER 1 The heart lies before me, still, colorful, and more mysterious than I want it to be. I lean over the diagram etched onto the scroll, trying to memorize it all at once. The main vessel that carries the blood to the rest of the body is marked in red ink, and I slide my fingertip across the label. Valtimo. I like the word. It’s vital and meaty. “Elder Kauko, are the vessels in a loop, somehow? How does the blood know when it is time to return to the heart?” Elder Kauko, seated next to me at this sturdy table laden with scrolls depicting livers, brains, all the bones of the hand and fingers, and so many other fascinating things, adjusts his robe over his round belly. “You are so clever, Elli. Yes, it is like a loop. The blood never leaves the vessels, merely travels through the tunnels until it passes through the heart again.” I frown. “Why, though? Why is it so important, if all it does is flow through our veins? What does it do?” He smiles. When I was little, his lips used to fascinate me; they stick out like two grubs pasted to his pale face. “The blood is life itself. It carries warmth to the limbs and strength to the muscles.” My fingers trace the path of the blood into the lungs. “And what about magic? Does the blood carry magic throughout the body too?” The elder lets out a breath as if I’ve elbowed him, then starts to chuckle. “Magic is more complicated than that.” I blow a strand of my hair off my forehead, frustration warming my skin. “I know it’s not simple, but if the blood is life . . .” I glance at the elder, who waits patiently for my thought to form. “When magic leaves a Valtia, she dies. So it seems as if magic is life too. And if that’s true, then—” He puts up his hands, as if in surrender. “My dear Saadella, magic infuses the wielder. It is everywhere within her.” I tap the diagram. “Including the blood?” “Yes, yes. Including the blood. But—” “Can you distill the magic from the blood, then? Will it separate like oil from water if it sits out overnight? Have you ever—” The elder starts to laugh, his belly wobbling. “Darling child, do you ever stop? Some things simply are, and it is best to be at peace with that.” “And magic is one of them,” I say slowly. How many times have I heard that from my tutors? “But where does it come from, Elder? I know the Valtia’s magic passes to the Saadella, but what about the other wielders?” Elder Kauko nudges my hand, which has now curled around the edge of the scroll, and in my eagerness, crumpled the paper. “We never know how it chooses a wielder.” He taps the tip of my nose with his index finger. “We only know it chooses wisely.” I smooth my fingers over the wrinkled paper. “But when I had my geography lesson with priest Eljas the other day, he told me the Kupari are the only people in the world with magic. So why did it choose us?” “Why did it choose us?” He gestures toward the corridor that leads to the grand domed chamber of our temple. “Because we serve it and keep it well, and . . .” He bows his head and lets out a huff of quiet laughter. “It just did, my Saadella. But I, for one, am not surprised. There is no better people than the Kupari, none stronger or purer of heart.” Like I so often do in my lessons, I feel as if I am banging against a closed door, begging entrance. “But if that’s true, and we should all be at peace that the magic chose us, then why do all the priests spend their days studying it? What are they trying to figure out?” I point to the deep shelves of scrolls in Kauko’s personal library. He is the physician, but he is also an elder, one of the more powerful magic wielders in this temple. “I know these texts aren’t only about anatomy. When will you teach me about the actual magic?” He sweeps his hand over the open scroll. “We teach you things every day, child!” I bite my lip. “I thought when I turned sixteen, my lessons might include more than teachings on the natural world. I hoped I could spend more time with the Valtia and learn how she rules.” Kauko begins to roll up the scroll, and that mysterious heart disappears into a spiral of brown paper. “The Valtia must keep her focus on her magic, and using it to serve the people. I know you mean well, but she cannot be distracted from that.” His thick lips quirk up in a sheepish smile. “And I know a horde of old priests are not equal to her company, but please believe we are dedicated to preparing you for the throne.” I look away from him, feeling ashamed of my selfishness. “I do,” I murmur. But I can’t help the way my heart yearns for my Valtia—nor my desire to learn from her. Elder Kauko gathers the scrolls into a pile. “You will have all the knowledge you need when the time comes, Elli,” he says, his voice gentle. “You don’t know when the time will come,” I say as urgency coils in my gut. His smile becomes wistful as he gives my arm a tender pat. “The other elders and I will guide you in the magic once it is inside you.” His dark eyes twinkle with a teasing mischief. “Besides, you cannot possibly know what you most want to ask until you have experienced the magic for yourself, hmm? Then you can bombard us with your questions!” He takes me by the elbow. “Come. I think it is time for your afternoon rest.” The only person in this temple who doesn’t treat me like a child is Mim. I almost say it, but my words clog in my throat as he turns me to face him. “We all know how devoted you are to your duty.” His expression is full of pride, and it makes me stand a little straighter. “We prize that in you. My dearest hope is that you come to understand how devoted we are to you.” My throat is tight, but not with questions now. With emotion. “I know, Elder Kauko. I am so fortunate to have you. All of you.” An echoing shout for Elder Kauko from down the corridor has us both turning toward the door again. “Coming!” he calls. I follow him into the stone hallway that connects this rear wing to the grand chamber of the Temple on the Rock. The shouting is coming from there. Elder Kauko runs his hand over the dusky shadow on his bald head, his fingers steady and smooth. It’s a habit of his. “Elder Aleksi, is that you?” Elder Aleksi rushes into the hallway, carrying the limp body of a boy who is bleeding from his head, his hands, his knees. My red skirt swishes around my ankles as I stop dead and stare. Aleksi, his heavy chin jiggling, gives the boy a concerned look. “He was hit by a horse cart,” Aleksi says as Kauko reaches him. Then he sees me hovering a few steps behind. “He was so eager to reach the temple that he wasn’t watching where he was going.” He mutters something else that I don’t hear as he lays the boy, who can’t be more than ten and is skinny as a pole, on the tiles. “I fear we’re losing him.” “No, he’ll be fine. I’ll do it right here,” says Kauko, leaning over the boy, his hands hovering over the child’s crimson-streaked sandy hair. He looks over his shoulder and gives me a faint smile. “Our Saadella can watch.” My heart speeds as I take a step closer. Aleksi’s brows are low with warning, an expression I see every time I ask to watch the apprentices practice their wielding skills in the catacombs. “My Saadella, this is an ugly business, and—” “But it will be something I can do when I have the magic inside me, correct?” I ask, edging along the marble floor. Only a few wielders can heal. To do it, they must have both ice and fire magic—a great deal, as I understand it—and the two opposing forces must be balanced. The Valtia’s magic is the most powerful, and it is also perfectly balanced, so this means— “Of course, Saadella, should you ever wish to,” says Kauko briskly. “And it is sometimes an excellent gesture of goodwill toward the citizens, to do healings on ceremony days.” “Then show me!” I say eagerly, and then gasp. As Kauko’s palms hover a few inches from the boy’s scalp, I can actually see the skin knitting together over a ragged wound. I open my mouth to ask how exactly Kauko manages it, but Aleksi puts his hand up. “My Saadella,” he says quietly. “Healing takes complete concentration.” Elder Kauko leans back after a few minutes, smiling and rubbing his hands together. I want to grasp them in my own—would they be burning to the touch? Icy cold? Both at once? “There. He is out of danger.” He meets Aleksi’s eyes. “Take him down to the catacombs and get him settled, and I will attend to the rest of his wounds after I have escorted the Saadella back to her chambers.” “The catacombs?” I ask, peering at the boy more closely now. “Does that mean he’s a wielder?” Aleksi nods. “His name is Niklas. He was apprenticed to a cobbler, who was kind enough to let us know he’d seen Niklas leave scorch marks on a piece of leather he was working. I thought it might be a false lead, but this boy clearly has fire. I knew it as soon as I was in the same room with him.” Kauko shakes his head. “I’ve always admired your ability to sense such things.” Aleksi grins at the compliment. “I don’t know how much magic is inside him yet, or whether he has any ice magic too, but we’ll test him once he’s well.” I smile down at the boy, whose fingernails are black with grime, whose cheeks are hollow with deprivation. “Then he already knows how fortunate he is to have been found—it’s a shame that excitement got him hurt.” On impulse, I kneel next to him as his eyelids flutter. My fingers brush over his sharp cheekbone. “We’ll take good care of you, Niklas,” I murmur. “You have a wonderful life ahead of you.” The boys eyes pop open, and they are dark blue, like the waters of the Motherlake in spring. He blinks up at me, then his eyes trace the white marble walls around him and go round as saucers. Just as his mouth drops open, Aleksi gathers the child in his arms, his plump fingers curling over lanky limbs and holding tight. “I’ll take him now,” Aleksi says as the boy starts to squirm and whimper, probably still dazed from his injury. He stands up and strides down the corridor toward the entrance to the catacombs, the maze of tunnels and chambers beneath our temple where all the acolytes and apprentices train and live. Kauko turns to me. “Well, that’s enough excitement for the afternoon, eh?” I look down at his hands, which are firm and strong-looking, unlike Aleksi’s. “But I would love to hear more about how—” Kauko chuckles. “Perhaps another time, my Saadella. Our lesson is over for today, and I am sure Mim would be disappointed if you did not partake of the lemon scones she has acquired for your tea.” My cheeks warm. Mim knows all my favorite things, and the sight of her smile as she gives them to me is loveliness itself. “Well then. I would never want to disappoint my handmaiden!” Kauko grins and walks with me into the circular grand chamber, toward the eastern wing of the temple—the Saadella’s wing. My wing. As we reach it, heavy boot steps sound on the marble and the Valtia’s sedan chair is carried into the grand chamber from the white plaza outside. My heart squeezes with longing—I am only allowed to see my Valtia two days a year, at the planting ceremony and the harvest ceremony. She rarely leaves the temple, though, so I am frozen where I stand, gaping rudely. I narrow my eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of her face behind the gauzy material that covers the windows of the small wooden chamber where she sits. All I can see is the coppery glint of her hair, plaited and twisted and pinned into an exquisite coil atop her head. Elder Leevi, lanky and stooped, walks next to the Valtia’s chair. “I was simply saying another trip beyond the city walls does not seem like a good—” “You saw that homestead, Elder,” the Valtia replies. “I cannot in good conscience sit within this temple while our farmers live in fear. The raids are worse than ever, and the people might lose confidence if I did.” “You are wise, my Valtia, but there is danger in the outlands. We could bring . . .” His voice fades from my hearing as the Valtia and her procession disappear down her corridor toward her chambers. “What kind of danger is there in the outlands, that it could put the Valtia at risk?” I ask Kauko as he tugs on my sleeve, leading me to my own rooms. “I know the outlands are full of thieves and bandits, but the Valtia can defend herself against any threat, can’t she?” “Of course, my Saadella,” says Kauko, quickening his pace. He is probably eager to get back to the boy, the newest magic wielder in our temple, but once again, my questions burn inside me. I place my hand on his arm. “Is it the Soturi? Is it so bad that they have become stronger than us?” The raiders from the north have struck hard this year—or so Mim tells me. She sneaks information to me from the city whenever she can, even though the elders have admonished her for it twice already. “The Soturi are no threat to the Valtia,” Kauko says slowly, as if he is thinking about every word. “But the strain and stress of the travel is wearying for any queen, and especially one who is a vessel for such powerful magic. Elder Leevi’s chief concern is our Valtia’s health.” He looks back at the doorway to my room, where Mim probably waits for me, laying out a blanket for my legs near my favorite chair by the fire. “A Valtia is all at once a magnificently strong and exquisitely fragile thing. For her to do her duty, she must be careful of what she demands of her body and mind. She must save her energy for when and where it is needed most.” And trips to the outlands must be exhausting, riding for hours over the hilly, rough terrain, having to constantly be on guard for bandits or, stars forbid, the vicious and brutal northern warriors who stab at our shores, seeking plunder. “She wants to help the farmers, though,” I say, my brow furrowing. How terrible she must feel, having to choose between her people and her health. Then I smile as an idea hits me. “Are we compensating the farmers for their losses?” I ask. “We have plenty of copper—I’ve seen the acolytes wheel it in. Surely we have enough, and it is more valuable than the bronze coins in the town. If she is concerned about the confidence of the people, maybe we could—” Kauko makes a quiet sound of disapproval that silences me. “My dear, when you are on the throne, we will discuss all of this, but forgive me when I say that right now you are talking of things you do not understand.” I flush with the reprimand, and Kauko’s frown softens. “I realize that all your ideas and questions sprout from the best intentions,” he says. “And I will speak with the Valtia about ways she can reduce the raids and bolster the confidence of the people while maintaining her health. I will also tell her you are concerned for her.” He winks. “And in a few days, you can tell her yourself!” I nearly bounce on my heels as I think of the upcoming harvest ceremony. I haven’t spoken to my Valtia in months. “I certainly will. I want her to be with us for years to come.” Everyone knows that Valtias fade young, but Kauko makes it sound like it is possible to live longer if care is taken. And I want my Valtia to take care—not just because I love her, though I do, with every shred of my soul—because I fear I will never meet the standard she has set as our queen. “I—I feel as if I won’t be ready for a very long time,” I add quietly. “If I ever disappointed our people . . .” Even the thought puts a lump in my throat. Kauko gives me the most kindly smile. “I am going to tell you something very important,” he says. “I was going to wait, but it seems like you need to hear it now.” I stare at him, his smooth face and silly-looking lips, his merry eyes. “What is it?” “All Valtias are powerful, but not all equally so. Some burn bright and fade quickly, while others are more steady, strong but muted. We never know what kind of Valtia we will have until the magic enters a Saadella. Except with you.” I have the strange urge to claw at my stockings to peek at the red flame mark that paints my left calf with its numb scarlet tendrils, the one that appeared at the moment of the last Valtia’s death—when I was only four years old. “What do you mean?” “There is a prophecy,” he says, glancing up and down the hall. “One made hundreds of years ago.” “Yes?” I whisper. His bald scalp is beaded with sparkles of sweat in the light of the torches that line the walls. “When we found you in that shabby little cottage by the city wall, too skinny for your own good, we made sure to check the town register for the day and season of your birth, and the exact position of the stars in the sky on that very day. It matches what was foretold precisely.” He grasps both my arms, giving me a little shake, as if to force this knowledge into me, to make sure I believe. “When the magic leaves our current queen and enters you, Elli, you will become the most powerful Valtia who has ever existed.”

Editorial Reviews

“Sarah Fine presents a fresh and fascinating magical world with its own rules and rituals, riveting action and relationships (and a sequel-worthy ending),featuring a protagonist who grows in wisdom, compassion, and self-awareness.”