Published by Createspace on January 13, 2015
~THE PRINCE OF NO VALUE~
Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne secured many times over. A trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty. Always a dutiful son, Brishen agrees to the marriage and discovers his bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined.
~THE NOBLEWOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE~
Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn't just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she's known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light.
Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics will discover they are destined for each other, even as the powers of a hostile kingdom scheme to tear them apart.
I absolutely love the premise of this story.
Months ago someone offered me a free copy of Radiance and I didn’t pick it up because someone’s review turned me off about the story. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was and with 23,000 reviews on Goodreads (mostly 5 star), I couldn’t find it again. Let me say big mistake. What a wonderful story. Someone else on Goodreads said instead of Beauty and this Beast, this was Beast and the Beast, which is a perfect description. Let me explain.
Ildiko, is the niece of the king of Gaur. Ildiko is human. Brishen, is the second son of the king of Bast-Haradis. Brishen is Kai. The Kai are gray-skinned with glowing-yellow eyes, sharp teeth and claws, and are nocturnal. They are both considered extremely attractive to their own people, but to each other…not so much. Both Ildiko and Brishen accepted that their lot in life would be to suffer a marriage beneficial to their kingdoms but neither expected to marry someone who wasn’t their own race. This starts off on the right foot because neither party is resentful of the other simply because they know that neither had a choice and while it was not a love match, neither was angry or belligerent of the fact they were marrying a hideous stranger.
I liked that Ildiko and Breshen enjoy each other’s company and really, really like the person inside, even if the outside is shockingly foreign. I also like that we see this not just from the human’s viewpoint of how strange Kai appear, because we hear Breshen’s thoughts often about Ildiko’s freaky eyes and pale skin. But whatever their outward appearance is, they quickly become a united front against the scheming king and queen of Bast-Haradis and against everyone else. They were in this together, and as neither one of them mattered much to their families except as a political pawn, they now had someone who cared about them. Someone really ugly, but someone who was kind and thoughtful too.
The basic story beside the marriage of Ildiko and Breshen, was that their marriage was to unite their kingdoms, but a third kingdom, who wanted to go to war with the Gaur, wasn’t so happy about it. Now they would have to fight the Gaur and the Kai, who were formidable warriors. This third kingdom wanted to kill Ildiko and Breshen.
While the plot was simple enough and we end up with some graphic violence, the best part of this story was watching Ildiko and Breshen enjoy each other’s company until eventually they stopped being turned off by the strangeness of the other person and find true love…with a still pretty hideous stranger.
This is the first of a trilogy? series? I am definitely starting Book 2 asap.
This is long. I give you a whole chapter to get to know these characters. This chapter is before the wedding. Breshen and Ildiko meet by accident in the garden, unaware of who they run into. Ildiko was about to scream until she remembered this might be a family member and would set a bad precedent if the bride runs away screaming.
Brishen braced for an ear-pinning scream from his unexpected visitor or, if he was lucky, a quieter gasp and mad dash through the hedgerow to escape him. The Gauri woman who stared at him wide-eyed with her strange gaze did neither. He’d obviously startled her with his presence in the garden. She flinched away when he raised a hand in cautious greeting, but she didn’t run.
“Forgive me, madam,” he said softly. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
Most of the Kai party sent to witness the wedding and accompany the bride and groom on their return journey to Haradis had traveled to Pricid, the Gauri kingdom’s capital, a fortnight earlier. They’d had time to adjust to the Gauris’ appearances. Brishen and his personal escort had arrived only the previous day. Though he and some of his troop dealt with the Beladine humans neighboring his territorial borders, he didn’t think he’d ever seen so many repellent-looking people gathered in one place.
Thank the gods he wore a hood that hid his expression; otherwise he might inadvertently give insult to his unintended companion. She was young–that much he could tell. To the human Gauri she might be beautiful or banal; to him she was profoundly homely. His upper lip curled in distaste at the sight of her skin. Pale with pink undertones, it reminded him of the flesh of the bitter mollusk Kai dyers boiled to render amaranthine dye. Her bound hair burned red in the punishing sunlight, so harsh and so different compared to the Kai women with their silverly locks.
Her eyes bothered him the most. Unlike the Kai, hers were layers of opaque white, blue ringed in gray and black pinpoint centers that expanded or contracted with the light. The first time he’d witnessed that reaction in a human, all the hairs on his nape stood straight up. That, and the way the contrasting colors made it easy to see the eyes move in their sockets gave the impression they weren’t body parts but entities unto themselves living as parasites inside the hosts’ skull.
He was used to seeing the frantic eye-rolling in a frightened horse but not a person. If the parasite impression didn’t repulse him so much, he’d think humans lived in a constant state of hysterical terror.
The woman crossed slender arms. Despite the odd skin and grotesque eyes, she had a lovely shape and regular facial features. Brishen began to bow, eager to take his leave of this awkward situation.
“What do you think of the royal gardens?”
Her question made him pause. She had a pleasant voice–even yet not toneless, low but not hoarse. Brishen cocked his head and studied her another moment before speaking. She’d lost the frightened hare look, and while he still had difficulty correctly reading the more subtle emotions in human faces, he could tell she watched him now with curiosity instead of fear.
Had she asked him what he thought of Sangur’s armory, he might have waxed more eloquent. He shrugged. “There are plants and flowers and trees.” He paused and offered her a pained smile she surely couldn’t see within the depths of his hood. “And a lot of sunshine.”
She motioned to him to follow her. He hesitated before falling into step beside her until she led him to a stone bench cast in the shade of an oak’s thick branches. She sat and indicated he do the same. It was Brishen’s turn to startled. During his short time in Pricid, his Gauri hosts had been civil, accommodating, and almost obsequiously polite. They were never friendly. This woman’s affable manner surprised him. He sat, grateful for the relief from the bright summer light.
She turned to face him, her parasitic gaze scrutinizing every part of him from his booted feet to his hands resting on his knees to his eyes he knew glowed back at her from the hood’s shadows. “Does the sunlight truly bother your eyes?”
He blinked. He’d expected her to ask his name or offer hers. He liked that she didn’t. This brief anonymity offered a certain respite from formality. He was a prince of the blood, and the Gauri stepped lightly among Kai Royalty. “We are a people of night. We see better in the dark. The moon is the sun to us; we live by her light.”
“Yet you walk our gardens in midafternoon.”
Brishen chuckled. “A guarantee that no other Kai will be about.”
Her serious features relaxed into a wide smile. She possessed the teeth of a tiny horse–white and square except for two pairs of pathetic canines. He’d seen Kai toddlers with milk teeth sharper than those. He tried to focus on her words.
“Nor Gauri either. The royal household is far too occupied at the moment with its guests and the wedding.”
The way she said “wedding”–in the same way someone might have said “execution” or “torture session”–made him sputter with laughter. He had no doubt he’d uttered the same word in the exact same tone recently.
She was a challenge to look upon without wincing, but he very much like her wry humor. Until now, he’d wondered if most Gauri were only capable of speaking in monosyllabic sentences. His kin who’d come here before him had little good to say about them, finding fault in everything from their manner of dress to their food preferences. Brishen had no expectations about his bride, but he hoped she might possess a small amount of the same pleasant demeanor this woman exhibited.
He gave an exaggerated sigh. “A more tiresome affair of state I’ve yet to attend. Gauri and Kai each wondering who might eat the other first.”
His companion’s eyebrows rose. Her lips closed over her tooth, and she smiled archly. She pointed to his face and then to his hands. “I think the Kai, with their teeth and claws, have the advantage over the Gauri in that contest.”
Brishen snorted. “True, but you can rest assured we don’t find humans particularly appealing as a dinner item.”
“Well then, that’s good to know. I’m sure I taste awful.” She lowered her gaze and smoothed the heavily embroidered silk of her gown over her knees. Brishen swore he heard a whisper of true relief in her gentle sarcasm.
She lifted her gaze once more. He twitched. Lover of thorns, but those eyes disconcerted him. “You don’t have to answer of course, but do you think the Kai prince will hate his wife?”
She stunned him with the question. Brishen had always considered himself an agreeable man. He didn’t envy his older brother’s place as heir to the throne, understood his duty to his kingdom and never balked at the fact he was merely a pawn in the endless power machinations between empires. He assumed his future wife had no choice in the matter either. They were duty-bound by their stations.
“I think the prince expected to marry a Kai noblewoman and father children one day. He never imagined an arranged marriage with a human woman to seal a war and trade alliance between Bast-Haradis and Gaur. He might resent the circumstances thrust upon him, but I doubt he’ll bear any ill will toward his future wife. She’s as much a pawn in this as he is.” Brishen frowned. “Unless the bride is a foul-tempered harpy.”
He liked her laughter, a throaty chortle as if she found some additional secret mirth in the moment. She braced an elbow on the bench’s back and rested her cheek in her palm, the pose striking in its casualness. “I’m sure her mother called her that a time or two, but she tries very hard to be pleasant.”
They gazed at each other before she knocked him flat with another question. “You find my ugly, don’t you?”
Brishen had faced abominations on the battlefield without flinching, leapt into the thick of the fighting against creatures born from the nightmares of lesser demons. Not once had he been temped to run away in fear. Now, his leg muscled rippled with the urge to flee. He clenched his teeth instead, prayed he wouldn’t start a war with their newest ally and answered honestly.
“Hideous,” he said. “A hag of a woman.”
Another peal of laughter met his words. Brishen wilted, relieved she took no insult to him so bluntly validating her assumption. He didn’t even know her name, but he liked her and didn’t wish to hurt her. Assured she wasn’t planning to flounce off and sent a pack of offended relatives after him, he turned the same question on her.
“And you,” he said. “You don’t think me a handsome man?”
She shrugged. “I’ve only seen your hands and eyes. For all I know, you’re hiding the face of a sun spirit in that hood.”
Brishen scoffed at the idea. “Hardly.” He’d never lacked female company, and his people thought him well-favored. Certainly nothing as wretched as a sun spirit. He slid the hood back to his shoulders.
The woman’s eyes rounded. She inhaled a harsh breath and clasped one hand to her chest. Her mollusk skin went a far more attractive shade of ash. She remained silent and stared at him until he raised a hand in question. “Well?”
She exhaled slowly. The space between her eyebrows stitched into a single vertical frown line. “Had you crawled out from under my bed when I was a child, I would have bludgeoned you to death with my father’s mace.”
Brishen rocked back on the bench and howled. When he finished and wiped the tears from his eyes, the woman was staring at him with her horse-toothed smile in place. He cleared his throat. “I don’t know whether that’s a testament to my looks or to your penchant for violence.”
“The first. If you visited me, I’d have to cover all the mirrors in my house or replace a lot of cracked glass. You could put a pack of wolves to shame with those teeth.”
He snapped his teeth together in a feral grin. She didn’t draw away from him. “At least I have all my teeth, which is more than I can say for a lot of the Gauri men–and women. Besides, I’d rather look like I can bay instead of whinny.”
They laughed together then until the woman’s features turned somber. “Thank you for not lying about what you thought of my appearance. You might have a face to turn my hair white, but your honesty is handsome.”
She charmed and fascinated him, and Brishen wished he had the leisure to know her better. But there was no time. He married at dusk when both human and Kai eyes could see each other clearly and recoil at the sight.
Voices in the distance carried across the green lawn and into the oak’s shaded sanctuary. The woman rose and scraped her hands across the imaginary wrinkles in her skirts. “I have to go. I am missed.”
Brishen rose as well and captured her hand, surprised at its warmth when he had expected cold, flaccid flesh. She didn’t try to break free of his clasp as he lifted her fingers and brushed his lips over her knuckles. “I have enjoyed our chance meeting, madam.” He released her and bowed.
She returned a brief curtsey and a last smile. “As have I, sir. You have lessened my worries. We’ll meet again.” She turned and hurried toward the voices growing ever closer.
He might glimpse her at the wedding, but there would be no chance for a second conversation. Brishen called after her. “What is your name?”
Her voice drifted back on a hot breeze, raised his suspicions and his hope. “Ildiko. I am Ildiko.” She disappeared behind a hedgerow.
Brishen stared at the path she’d taken, her figure no longer visible. Surely, his luck did not run this true. His Gauri bride was named Ildiko.