by Jeffe Kennedy
Series: Forgotten Empires #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Genres: Romance, Fantasy
Welcome to the world of Forgotten Empires from award winning author Jeffe Kennedy that begins with The Orchid Throne.
A PRISONER OF FATE
As Queen of the island kingdom of Calanthe, Euthalia will do anything to keep her people free—and her secrets safe—from the mad tyrant who rules the mainland. Guided by a magic ring of her father’s, Lia plays the political game with the cronies the emperor sends to her island. In her heart, she knows that it’s up to her to save herself from her fate as the emperor’s bride. But in her dreams, she sees a man, one with the power to build a better world—a man whose spirit is as strong, and whose passion is as fierce as her own…
A PRINCE AMONG MEN
Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, has built an army to overthrow the emperor. But he needs the fabled Abiding Ring to succeed. The ring that Euthalia holds so dear to her heart. When the two banished rulers meet face to face, neither can deny the flames of rebellion that flicker in their eyes—nor the fires of desire that draw them together. But in this broken world of shattered kingdoms, can they ever really trust each other? Can their fiery alliance defeat the shadows of evil that threaten to engulf their hearts and souls?
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With how much I love fantasy romance, I can’t believe I’ve never read this author before. She’s got quite the backlist, but this is the first book in a new series. There’s fascinating world building, a slow burn marriage of convenience, and lots of sly humor.
Calanthe is a tropical pleasure island, and the betrothal of its Queen Euthalia to Emperor Anure is the only thing keeping it from being razed like the rest of his conquered territories – though they are forced to tithe increasingly large amounts to the emperor. Euthalia is playing a dangerous game, constantly manipulating her court and the emperor’s ambassador so that it appears that she intends to go through with the betrothal even while she’s secretly looking for ways to work against the emperor. One way she doesn’t want to consider, though? Working with Con, the so-called Slave King, who’s leading an armed revolt of escaped mine slaves and supposedly cutting a violent path through the conquered lands. But a prophecy – claim the hand that wears the Abiding Ring, and the empire will fall – sets them on a collision course. Can they find common ground, or will the emperor use their differences to conquer the rebellion and Calanthe in one fell swoop?
The pacing is very slow, and in terms of your traditional fantasy plot, not much happens. Most of the focus is on setting up the relationship between Con and Lia, though it takes a decent portion of the book before they even meet. It’s told from both Con and Lia’s POVs, and it’s interesting to see what misconceptions they both have about the other. I personally enjoyed Lia’s sections more – I thought her subtle manipulations were more enjoyable than Con’s “Imma smash it with my hammer” style.
Con is blunt, with little time for anything that doesn’t get him closer to his goal of revenge against Anure. Lia, on the other hand, is more of a magician, both literally and figuratively. Like the kings and queens of old, she’s connected to the land magically, plus she knows the value of a good distraction. Her fanciful and elaborate outfits (I got serious Queen Amidala vibes) and deliberate shows of emptiheadedness are the only thing keeping Calanthe from becoming another of Anure’s conquests. Con initially can’t look past that Calanthe surrendered to the emperor, and views Euthalia as nothing more than a pretty, thoughtless doll – a view that doesn’t survive his first meeting with her, thankfully. Euthalia, for her part, is concerned with protecting Calanthe above all else, and that’s best done by capturing Con as the emperor ordered. She expects nothing more than a barbaric brute, and, well, he definitely lives up to that!
“Don’t throttle the wizard, Conrí. Please.”
This is a marriage of convenience, and for political reasons it has to be consummated pretty much immediately. I enjoyed that while Lia was technically a virgin, it’s Con who had zero experience in bed, though he’s a quick learner. Their chemistry is excellent and I can see the beginnings of a solid relationship. The side characters, from Con’s right-hand woman Sondra to Lia’s oldest friend Tertulyn, were very interesting, though my favorite is the wizard Ambrose, who’s hilariously reticent about how, exactly, this prophecy will help Con.
Overall, despite the slow pace, I enjoyed the lush storytelling and slow burn romance, and I’m very excited for the next book!