This recap was written by Irvin Khaytman.
King Gerard Montaigne of Arden is the worst, and he’s been warring with the Fells for 25 years. Ash, the prince of the Fells, saw his father killed. He infiltrated Montaigne’s court as a healer in order to assassinate him. Jenna, a miner in Delphi, saw her friends killed. She joined the rebels against Arden, but Montaigne goes on a hunt for her because Empress Celeste of Carthis wants her for reasons unknown. Jenna was taken prisoner to Arden, where she and Ash fell in love. Lila is a double agent, watching over Ash and pretending to supply Montaigne with equipment to keep his enslaved wizards in check. Destin is the son of Marin Karn, Montaigne’s army general who’s also terrible. Destin is just trying to be a halfway decent person and not get killed. Someone keeps trying to kill Montaigne, but is doing a clumsy job of it. An envoy from Celeste, named Evan Strangward, shows up at Arden to trade a dragon for Jenna, but the deal goes south.
what went down
- In Crimson Crown, 25 years ago, Queen Raisa of the Fells declined a marriage to Gerard Montaigne of Arden. Montaigne has spent the last quarter century trying to conquer the Fells, to little avail.
- Hana, the heir apparent to the Fells throne, was killed by Arden soldiers recently. Or rather, attacked by them and killed herself to avoid capture. We don’t know much about this, but it’ll be important one day.
- Hana’s younger brother, Ash aka Adrian aka Adam aka any-other-name-beginning-with-A, wants to be a wizard healer. He’s friendly with a professional healer named Taliesin, aka the Voyageur. He wants to go to Oden’s Ford (the university of the Seven Realms) to study healing, even though he’s too young. He talks his awesome dad, Han (protagonist of the Seven Realms), into talking to his mother about it.
- Ash is attacked, and when Han comes to his rescue, Han is killed. We’re 26 pages in and crying. Must be a record.
- Ash runs off, meets up with Taliesin down the road, and goes to Oden’s Ford as planned… while letting everyone assume he was also killed.
- Jenna is a resident of Delphi, a mining town subjugated to Gerard Montaigne (the evil king of Arden). She, like all the other kids, works in the mines. She has two friends, Riley and Maggi. She has a magemark and knows things about people.
- Gerard Montaigne comes to visit Delphi. He’s super evil and kills Maggi, though his wife is not evil and rather liked Maggi. He keeps being evil, and kills Riley. Jenna fakes her own death, creates a new identity, and joins the rebellion against Montaigne.
- Flash forward four years.
- Ash is still at Oden’s Ford, incognito as Ash Hanson, but every summer vacation goes about poisoning soldiers in Arden.
- He gets attacked by the priests of Malthus, religious fanatics who think wizards are evil, so they kill wizards and drink their blood to cure them of sin.
- He gets saved in the nick of time by a military student, Lila Barrowhill, who very deftly avoided getting roofied earlier that evening.
- It’s no longer safe at Oden’s Ford, so Lila and Ash hightail it out of there, right after a blood-sucking priest exposes Ash’s identity to Lila.
- Ash ditches Lila (not cool!) and decides to go kill Gerard Montaigne. He gets a job healing horses in the king’s stable, now going by Adam Freeman.
- Ash is attacked by another blood-sucking priest, and in the process of killing the priest, starts a fire. The palace cook, Hamon, is badly burned in the fire. Ash heals Hamon, which exposes him as a wizard.
- Gerard Montaigne makes Ash one of his healers, and puts a collar on him to control him (forbidding certain types of magic, and hurting him should he misbehave).
- It turns out Lila is a double triple n-tuple agent. She pretends to be working for Gerard Montaigne at court. Among other things, she supplies him with the magic collars that he uses to enslave wizards. Her supplier is named Shadow Dancer, which is probably worth remembering.
- Another POV character: Destin Karn, wizard, son of Marin Karn, the really evil general of Arden’s armies. Destin is a pretty decent guy, actually. Gerard Montaigne gives him an assignment, to find a girl with a magemark in Delphi. He tries the “catch more magemarks with honey than with vinegar” outlook, but is hampered by the over-the-top cruelty of Montaigne’s other minions.
- Jenna, the girl in question, has grown incredibly bitter as she continues participating in the rebellion at Delphi. She has a heart-to-heart with her dad. We find out she was dropped off as an infant by a strange witch claiming to be her grandmother. The grandmother left a bunch of fancy artifacts for Jenna, which her dad finally gives to her.
- Destin starts hanging out at the tavern owned by Jenna’s father, where he’s intrigued by a fake fortuneteller named Lyle Truthteller.
- After a kerfuffle, Jenna’s dad kills himself to protect her, and Lyle is unmasked as Jenna by Destin. Jenna tries to kill herself, but fails at it. Destin takes her and hightails it to Ardenscourt.
- Gerard commands Ash to heal Jenna. He struggles, because magic just flows through Jenna for a mysterious reason.
- In the process of healing, Ash and Jenna see into each other’s souls. This is enough to establish a basic trust between them, and is a convincing reason for the insta-love.
- Jenna calls Ash “Wolf” instead of “Adam Freeman,” because this guy hasn’t received a new name in a hundred pages and that just won’t do. The nickname is indicative of her seeing his true self, since he’s part of the Gray Wolf line of queens.
- Jenna rapidly gets better, and gets more mysterious just as rapidly. Why does magic flow through her? Why does her skin occasionally go all shiny and metallic? Hmmm…
- As everyone ponders the mystery, things get sexy between Jenna and Ash.
- Someone keeps trying to kill Gerard, but very clumsily so: a viper in his mistress’s bed, and poison in the drink (called wassail) at Solstice celebration. Gerard’s marriage to Marina is evidently not a happy one, as Marina attempts to drink the poisoned wassail. Ash is called upon by Destin to heal Marina, and becomes Gerard’s trusted healer.
- On another continent, Carthis, there is an Empress Celeste. She has offered to trade armies and whatever else to Gerard in exchange for Jenna. No one quite knows why. In fact, no one knows anything about Carthis except Destin, who briefly lived there when his mother fled his abusive father.
- Celeste’s emissary arrives at Ardenscourt – he is fabulous and powerful, name of Evan Strangward. He passes on several gifts of Celeste’s. Among the gifts, there is some magical living silver that Ash convinces Gerard to take… because the living silver is actually mercury that’ll make him really ill.
- As a down payment, Strangward offers a dragon. People didn’t even think dragons were real, but Lila and Destin confirm that it is real.
- Literally everyone wants this deal to go south. Jenna and Lila both think that the easiest way out is to just kill Jenna, but Ash isn’t a fan.
- News comes that Delphi has fallen – the rebel Patriots have taken over and wrested control from Arden. Yay!
- The thanes (nobles) attempt revolting against Montaigne because he’s terrible. The revolt is mostly quashed, but one very powerful noble (Lord Matelon) has had enough and starts active rebellion. Yay!
- Montaigne is a dick because he never learned to play nice, and refuses to give Jenna to the Empress until the army he was promised shows up. Strangward is not pleased.
how did it end?
Strangward attempts to steal Jenna away in the middle of the night. He also claims not to know why Celeste wants Jenna, but turns out he has a similar magemark. But kidnapping Jenna doesn’t work out for him when she gets wise to it and spills burning oil everywhere. Lila reveals herself to be Lila Byrne, daughter of Amon Byrne! Whoa! The Byrnes are the protectors of the Gray Wolf line (and there’s also a really shitty tradition that magically makes them be in unrequited love with the queens). Turns out Lila was a bit of a difficult child, and has been tasked with protecting Ash all these years… because Taliesin totally ratted him out to his mother when he ran away. Lila is also messing with Montaigne by supplying faulty collars for his wizards. Ash decides to blow up Strangward’s ship to scuttle the alliance between Arden and Carthis. Ash and Lila go together to blow up the ship, and Ash promises Jenna to free the dragon. They find the ship empty (because Strangward’s off kidnapping Jenna), and go to free the dragon. The dragon is collared similarly to Ash, and it turns out Lila has a key! They are rudely interrupted by more blood-sucking priests. Ash sics the dragon on the priests. The priests are burned to a crisp. The dragon flies off towards the palace. It has a connection with Jenna, who passes out, and the dragon whisks her away… presumably to Carthis. It leaves quite a trial of devastation in its wake.
Ash returns to the palace, and has a rooftop showdown with Montaigne. Montaigne has gone a little loopy from all the mercury. Seeing Ash’s no-longer-collared neck, Montaigne assumes that Ash is a literal demon sent to punish him for using wizards in his war. Ash is hanging off a gargoyle, but manages to stick Montaigne with a slow-acting poison. Shame about the “slow-acting” part. Montaigne is about to kill Ash when someone puts a torch to Montaigne, who then plummets towards his death! Yay! The hero of the hour is… Queen Marina?!? She quickly tells all after rescuing Ash, and it turns out she’s the smartest person there. She knew who Ash was right away because she’s a big fan of his mom. She kept waiting for someone to kill Montaigne, but if you want something done right, you do it yourself… she was behind all the amateurish assassination attempts. Basically, she’s a total badass.
Marina and Gerard’s son, Prince Jarat, is hastily crowned King of Arden. We all wonder what he’s like. Literally everyone assumes Jenna is dead. Ash angsts about this a lot. Now that Montaigne’s dead, he decides to go back to the Fells with Lila. In the epilogue, we zero in on Strangward, who’s being awfully cryptic as he chats with his buddy Teza. But apparently he’s planning some sort of betrayal of Celeste, and he’s close with Destin (probably romantically).