Tuesday, December 28, 2021

#Review - The King of Koraha by Maria V. Snyder #YAlit #Fantasy

Series: Archives of the Invisible Sword # 3
Format: Kindle, 414 pages
Release Date: November 22nd 2021
Publisher: Maria V. Snyder
Source: Kindle
Genre: Young Adult / High Fantasy

Hard on the heels of trouble in Zirdai city, Shyla Sun-Kissed and Rendor are ordered to report to the King of Koraha - a summons that is deadly to ignore. The King holds the key to Koraha's existence, but a formidable new enemy threatens Koraha's very survival and the King desperately needs Shyla and Rendor's help.

Wielding a terrifying and unknown magical power that can convert opponents into devoted soldiers, the mysterious army is hellbent on usurping the crown. Shyla and Rendor are tasked with discovering who in the seven hells these insurgents are. And what their real endgame is.

Trekking through the punishing conditions across the searing surface of Koraha, and facing numerous unseen foes and untold danger, they must follow the clues to uncover the truth before it's too late. The fate of the King and all the citizens of Koraha rests in their hands.

The King of Koraha is the third and final installment in author Maria V. Snyder's Archives of the Invisible Sword series. Coming off the successful rebellion against the Water Prince and the Heliacal Priestess in Zirdai city, Shyla Sun-Kissed, leader of the Invisible Sword, and Rendor are ordered to report to the King of Koraha in the city of Qulsary. Ever since she was little, and training with the Monks, she always wanted to see the world. Now, she gets her opportunity. But nothing is going to be easy. 
Trekking through the punishing conditions across the searing surface of Koraha where mercenaries and pirates rule, facing numerous unseen foes and untold danger, Shyla finds that she's the valuable conquest that more than a few enemies which love to have. The fate of the King and all the citizens of Koraha rests in their hands. The King holds the key to Koraha's existence and he controls water, but a formidable new enemy who once worked for the King's elite army, threatens Koraha's very survival and the King desperately needs Shyla and Rendor's help.
For at least two circuits now, taxes from the cities that should be coming straight to him have disappeared. The city is almost broke and the king fears an uprising if the citizens were to learn about this. Shyla has to go deep undercover in order to fish out the betrayers within the neighboring cities. Trekking through the punishing conditions across the searing surface of Koraha, and facing numerous foes and danger, they must follow the clues to uncover the truth before it's too late. 
Wielding a terrifying and unknown magical power that can convert opponents into devoted soldiers, Xerxes is hellbent on usurping the crown and he has the powerful to turn a willing person to a meat puppet. Unfortunately for Shayla, who aside from King may be the second most powerful person in Koraha, she's just the person Xerxes needs to become the next leader of the country. But, we can never count out Shyla. When the chips are down, she finds yet another way to push through and fight until the end.
With the The Eyes of Tamburah, and her three other abilities—movement of the sand, influence over another persons perceptions, and manipulation of people’s thoughts and actionsfalling into the wrong hands may have devastating consequences for Shyla and her Invisible Sword team. On the plus side, the relationship between Shyla and Rendor grows stronger throughout this story. She's also not alone after her friends in the Invisible Sword show up to assist.
“That’s why I call you sunbeam,” Rendor whispered in her ear. “That’s what you do to my heart every time you look at me like I’m worthwhile.” 
What I enjoyed about this story is the fact that the world becomes much bigger. Shyla ends up visiting a few new cities on her quest to defeat the villain and prevent the King from being ousted. I also loved that Shyla saw through Rendor's anger at what he has done in the past, and how he didn't trust her in the previous installment to tell her what he was doing in regards to actually helping her. I liked that Shyla put a whole lot of faith and encouragement into helping Gurice and Mojag find their true calling. 
I think one of the strengths of the author is that she doesn't rush the story along to fit into a certain time frame. It takes time to go from place to place in this world; sometimes weeks. I liked the idea of underground cities since most of the known world has suffered from the brutality of the sun and everything is set around the rising and falling of said sun to ensure one doesn't get toasty. 

Ever since Shyla was six circuits old, she'd wanted to visit all the vast underground cities of Koraha. At that time, her world had been very limited. Raised in a monastery by the Monks of Parzival for eighteen circuits, she'd only ventured out to the nearby city of Zirdai on the rare occasion. Her desire to travel never dimmed as she researched the history of each city, their various famous and infamous inhabitants, and catalogued the underground wonders of Koraha. In her dreams, she'd plan her visits, listing the sights that shouldn't be missed.

It was a nice bit of dreaming that failed to factor in one crucial detail--visiting those cities required traveling over the hot sands of the desert for far too many sun jumps in a row.

Far, far too many.

Now, Shyla trudged up yet another sand dune, hot, sweaty, and tired of the unending vermillion sands that stretched out in all directions. They were endless, rippling out to the horizon and beyond. As Shyla followed a step behind Lota, she wondered, not for the first time, how in the seven hells the caravan owner knew where she was going.

According to Lota, there was a road underneath the layer of sand. And Shyla had to admit--grudgingly--her dillo leather boots didn't sink in quite so deep. A good thing, as walking would require more effort if she sank up to her calves with every step.

Shyla glanced back at Lota's caravan trailing behind them. It was considered an average size, with fifteen wagons filled with goods and one for Lota's family. Each wagon had its own driver and was pulled by two gamelus. Then there were eight extra people that Lota referred to as her "muscles." They performed various jobs like taking care of the gamelus during stops and unloading and loading merchandise. There were also eight guards, counting Shyla and Rendor. Actually, as a former captain, Rendor should be counted as three at least.

Opposite her point guard position, he marched in the rear guard location, scanning the sands for potential threats, but he caught her gaze and smiled. The warmth inside her heated, and it had nothing to do with the sun jumping toward apex. She returned his smile, wishing for the millionth time they could have some privacy. But the travel shelters along the route only supplied protection from the killer heat and the cold darkness, with nothing fancier than a communal scattering of cushions.

There were two ways a person could travel across the vast desert that blanketed Koraha. Either you hired a guide, who arranged everything and escorted you safely to your destination, or you signed up with one of the many caravans that crisscrossed the world. Hiring a guide cost an outrageous amount of osmiums so only the deep-level wealthy could afford it. The second option gave you two choices: you either accompanied the caravan as a passenger or you joined as a worker, the latter being the cheapest way to travel and the easiest way to blend in. Too bad it was almost impossible for Shyla and Rendor to travel incognito.

As a sun-kissed, she stood out. Her sun cloak's hood helped hide her blond hair and kept the harsh rays of the sun off her chestnut-colored skin. However, she'd decided before this trip that she'd no longer worry about what other people thought of her. She hoped the citizens of Qulsary, the capital of Koraha, no longer believed that sun-kisseds must be sacrificed to the Sun Goddess right after birth. The new Heliacal Priestess of Zirdai had already outlawed the abandonment of sun-kissed babies on the sands.

Thinking about the new priestess, Shyla grinned. Not only was the woman a sun-kissed, but she was Shyla's mother. A pulse of love swelled in her heart. After years of thinking she had been abandoned and rescued by the monks, Shyla now had a family. Which she'd promptly left behind in Zirdai. Not because of her desire to travel. No. Because the King of Koraha had ordered her to report to him in person.

The knot in her stomach tightened and her gaze returned to Rendor. He too failed to blend in. At one hundred and ninety centimeters tall, Rendor was broad shouldered and pure muscle. And he was all hers. His solid presence helped steady her nerves but couldn't banish her fears completely.

What if the King had her arrested as soon as she arrived? There was nothing Rendor could do in that situation. She and her Invisible Swords had overthrown Zirdai's Water Prince and Heliacal Priestess--two very corrupt and power-hunger people who deserved to be usurped. Unfortunately, two hundred and sixty-four people died during the defeat--many of them Shyla's good friends.

Was the King worried her organization would set their sights on him? As far as she knew, he wasn't a despot. He was over eighty circuits old and preferred to rule from a distance, keeping an eye on the cities through the monks. The King only interceded in a city's politics when their tax payments stopped. Then he would send his legendary soldiers to deal with the problem. Otherwise, he seemed inclined to leave the cities alone, which had been unfortunate for Zirdai when it desperately needed his help.

To keep from fretting, Shyla concentrated on the fact that the King's emissary had investigated the events leading to the change in leadership and had approved Jayden as the new Water Prince and Kaveri as the new Heliacal Priestess. Yet Shyla's thoughts kept circling back to why the King wanted to see her.

Perhaps she should be more concerned about the sun nearing the danger zone. They had usually found shelter by now. If they were caught on the surface between angles eighty and one hundred, they'd be cooked alive. A few of the drivers muttered unhappily as other members of the caravan exchanged worried glances.

Shyla scanned the pink sky, searching for flocks of velbloud. The fuzzy white creatures rose into the air about twenty angles before apex to escape the killing heat, remaining attached to the sands by their long tethers. Tethers she'd used once in desperation to ascend with them. If it hadn't been for them and Zhek's healing goo, she would have died and joined the Sun Goddess.

"Beacon spotted," Yegor, Lota's husband, shouted. The tension dissipated as everyone relaxed.

"'Bout time, Yegor," one of the drivers called in a teasing tone. "Thought you'd gone sand blind."

"I wish," Yegor shot back. "Then I wouldn't have to see your ugly mug every sun jump." Laughter rippled through the caravan as Yegor urged his gamelu team to pick up the pace.

Yegor drove the first wagon, which contained his and Lota's two children. Actually, "contained" wasn't quite accurate as the little boy and girl rarely rode inside, preferring to either cling to the sides, lie on the roof, or ride one of the gamelus--which they had all named.

Shyla squinted through the brightness. Good thing they hadn't depended on her to find the tall obelisk that marked the entrance to a travel shelter. Even though they rose high above the dunes and had been built of black granite to contrast with the reddish-orange sands, they were still hard to find.

Lota led the caravan over to the beacon. As soon as they reached it, everyone burst into action. The gamelus were unhitched and brought over to the stone corral. They were given water and brought under the massive sun shade made from velbloud skin that the muscles erected. The gamelus were well equipped to handle the killing heat during the danger zone, however, due to the extra effort they expanded pulling the wagons, the shade allowed them to recover from their exertions faster.

Once the animals were settled, everyone climbed down the ladder into the shelter. Before joining them, Shyla scanned the horizon one more time, using the power of The Eyes to sense if there was anyone nearby. Not that she expected attackers to be hiding in the desert this close to the danger zone, but the shelter only had a single exit, and if it was blocked, they could be trapped. When Shyla had mentioned this to Lota and the other guards, they'd shrugged it off, unconcerned about the possibility. Only Rendor had understood the danger.

Satisfied they were alone, she descended into the cooler air. It was a straight shot down, ending in a long rectangular chamber about seventeen meters underground. By the time she reached the bottom, the temperature had dropped to twenty degrees Celsius. She waited at the base of the ladder for her eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness. The yellow glow from the druk lanterns hanging around the chamber were weak compared to the sunlight.

Once the black shapes inside the shelter solidified into people, Shyla nodded at Rendor, giving him the all-clear signal. He had waited nearby with his hand on his sword just in case. This habit of theirs amused the other guards, but they didn't know what magic could do. They had no idea that magic wielders could hide under the sands or disappear inside a dune.

The chamber was about five meters wide by fourteen meters long and identical to every other shelter they'd stopped in since Zirdai. Cushions for sleeping and sitting littered the floor. A few long low stone tables lined the walls. There wasn't a collection station. No one wanted to haul nasty-smelling buckets to the surface. Those who needed to relieve themselves were encouraged to go behind a sand dune before entering the shelters.

Shyla and Rendor headed to an empty sleeping cushion, weaving through the small clumps of caravanners. Some were already sprawled on cushions, others shared meals and gossiped, while a few rolled dice in order to pass the forty angles until the surface cooled to a safer temperature. Unaware that Shyla and Rendor had been involved in the turmoil in Zirdai, they didn't pay them much attention. Only Lota and her husband knew the truth because Shyla had wanted to be honest with the owner.

Once they reached the cushion, Rendor stripped off his sun cloak. Underneath he wore a sleeveless tunic. The soaked fabric clung to his well-defined chest. She relished the view as he wiped the sweat off his face, watching his muscles flex. Before he could catch her ogling him, she removed her own cloak.

Shyla welcomed the cool air that caressed her overheated body, sighing with relief. Too bad the water in her water skin was beyond tepid. Any hotter and she'd use it to make tea. Rendor handed her a couple rolls of velbloud jerky.

Taking her blanket from her pack, she spread it over the stained and lumpy cushion before lying down. Rendor joined her. This was one of the few times they spent together in relative privacy--not that they could do anything other than talk quietly and sleep.

"I don't think I'll be able to take fifty more sun jumps of this," she said, snuggling close, breathing in Rendor's unique spicy scent.

"This?" He squeezed her tight for a moment.

"No. The endless sameness sun jump after sun jump for the last twenty jumps."

"Traveling the world not as glamorous as you'd hoped? Or is it the lack of rebellions to lead? I could ask if the others want to overthrow Lota and her husband to generate some excitement," he teased.

"All right, you made your point. I just..." She searched her emotions.

"You just want to be there."

"Yes! The wait is killing me. Why couldn't the King say why he wished to see me?"

"It could be standard procedure when there's a change in leadership. Maybe he wants to get the details from a reliable source. Or to thank you for your help."

"Or to arrest me for murder."

"Ah. Tell me again how many people you personally killed?"

None, and he knew it. "You know what I mean. They died because of me."

"No, they died because the Heliacal Priestess set off gas explosions."

"Because she wanted me."

"She wanted The Eyes of Tamburah. It didn't matter whose eye sockets they were in, she was going after them regardless. You have to stop blaming yourself."

Except if it hadn't been for her, Ximen, Elek, and Lian wouldn't have been on level ninety-seven when part of it collapsed, killing them.

Rendor must have sensed the direction of her thoughts. "You're not going to be arrested."

"And if I am?"

"Then I'll rescue you."

She smiled at his confident tone. "What if I'm guarded by one of the King's elite squads?"

He huffed in derision. "I'll still rescue you. Just might take me a few more angles."

"Their fighting skills are legendary. They can't be beat."

"Everyone can be beat, sunbeam. And I would be highly motivated." His words hummed in the air like a promise.

No doubt the big brute would try. She gave Rendor a quick kiss. "Thanks."

His voice dropped to a husky whisper. "Thank me again when we're alone."

She nibbled on his ear before saying, "That'll be in fifty more sun jumps."

He groaned.

"Do you still think it's not that long?"

"Can't talk. I'm sleeping."

She'd punch him, but she'd end up just hurting her knuckles.

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