A princess with a powerful and dangerous secret must find a way to save her country from ruthless invaders…
We’re excited to share an excerpt and an interior map from The Frozen Crown, the debut fantasy from author Greta Kelly—publishing January 12, 2021 with Harper Voyager.
Askia became heir to the Frozen Crown of Seravesh because of her devotion to her people. But her realm is facing a threat she cannot defeat by sheer will alone. The mad emperor of the Roven Empire has unleashed a horde of invading soldiers to enslave her lands. For months, her warriors have waged a valiant, stealth battle, yet they cannot stop the enemy’s advancement. Running out of time, she sets sail for sun-drenched Vishir, the neighboring land to the south, to seek help from its ruler, Emperor Armaan.
A young woman raised in army camps, Askia is ill-equipped to navigate Vishir’s labyrinthine political games. Her every move sinks her deeper into court intrigues which bewilder and repel her, leaving her vulnerable not only to enemies gathering at Vishir’s gates, but to those behind the palace walls.
And in this glittering court, where secrets are worth more than gold, Askia fears that one false step will expose her true nature. For Askia is a witch gifted with magical abilities—knowledge that could destroy not only her life but her people. As her adversaries draw closer, Askia is forced to make an impossible choice—and no matter what she decides, it may not be enough to prevent Seravesh’s fall.
The salty sting of sweat rolling into my eye roused me from a fitful night’s sleep. I swore and peeled myself off the bed, glaring at the sun through my cabin’s tiny porthole. I stood for a few bleary-eyed seconds, heat and lethargy making me long for a cold bath.
There was nowhere on board for me to bathe, though, so I did my best to clean myself with the meager water from the washstand. My hair was far too long to wash, so I wetted the crown of my head, washing out as much of the oil as I could.
Lady Night, I hoped I didn’t stink.
I lay naked on the cabin floor, hair splayed out above me, and tried not to sweat. It was a vain effort. The ship was stifling; not even a whisper of wind reached me. I may as well have been lying in an oven.
When my hair finally dried, I sat at the cabin’s sole chair and carefully pinned the strands up at the base of my neck. I dressed with exaggerated slowness, but each layer added a fresh hell of burning heat. The gown was beautiful; its emerald fabric exactly matched my eyes. The sleeves and skirt were embroidered in gold-threaded whorls sewn in intricate waves. But it was wool.
Perfect for winter in Seravesh. Absolute murder for Vishir at any time of year. I shook my head. Longing for a better gown was a waste of time. This was the nicest one I owned. It would have to do.
I left my cabin the moment I was dressed, and I climbed the steps to the main deck, praying for a breeze. The sun was up in full blazing glory, blinding me momentarily as I passed from darkness to light.
No breeze. Great.
I smiled vaguely in the direction of Prince Iskander’s voice and blinked the sun spots out of my eyes. When my sight returned, I went to the railing where he stood with Lord Marr and took in the sprawling city of Bet Naqar.
Northwestern Vishir was all desert. That it could support any city was incredible, but Bet Naqar was inconceivable. The city emanated a steady hum of industry, like the pulse of a living thing. Beyond the massive harbor, I could make out homes and shops, temples and mansions. And the palace…
“Is Bet Naqar like you remember?” Lord Marr asked.
I shook my head. “It’s so much bigger.”
“And it gets bigger every year.”
Energy snapped and sizzled over my skin. It had been six years since I’d last set foot on these shores, and then I was just a child. My past experience meant nothing now that there was a kingdom depending on me to wrest aid from an empire that spanned half the world. Why should they help me when every one of their provinces must be constantly fighting for money and influence?
I squared my shoulders, refusing to bow beneath the pressure.
“Tell me what to do.”
Iskander flashed a solemn smile. “We’ll ride directly to the palace once we make landfall. My father is holding an audience, like he does every three days, and we will try to attend.” Iskander took a deep breath. “He may, or may not, choose to see you.”
My mind immediately rejected the possibility. I couldn’t fathom it, refused to. We were family… after a fashion. When my father had saved Iskander’s mother and Prince Tarek, the emperor had named me his goddaughter.
“Your status as goddaughter will weigh in your favor,” Iskander said, reading my thoughts.
“But the emperor has over two hundred godchildren,” Lord Marr added. “All of them eventually come for handouts. Better you treat him as one ruler to another.”
I nodded, wrapping my hands around the railing. “What else?”
“Should he see you, greet him formally, thank him for his hospitality, and excuse yourself,” Iskander said. I looked between the men. “Are you sure?”
“It’s the Vishiri way,” Lord Marr explained. “We like to get acquainted with a person before discussing business.”
“It could be a few days before my mother officially welcomes you to court, and you won’t be able to attend any court events until she does,” Iskander warned. “Give them a taste, but leave them wanting more.”
There wasn’t time to wait. How could I squander my first meeting on niceties? But Arkady wasn’t here to advise me. Iskander and Marr were all I had. I nodded reluctantly.
Iskander bit his lip. “The emissary from Roven will be present.”
My vision flashed red.
“Count Dobor is extremely influential,” Marr warned. “He will want to see you. Acknowledge him, but do not get drawn into conversation.”
“All right,” I said through clenched teeth. Avoiding the Roven emissary wouldn’t be hard; not killing him on sight would be.
“Good.” Iskander sighed. “Now, you can’t go looking like that. What else do you have to wear?”
“Nothing.” Amazing how much bitterness I could pack into one word, but it wasn’t like Roven had given me time to pack when they took my castle.
“Oh.” Iskander winced, clearly realizing how his words sounded. “Not that it’s not pretty, but we won’t arrive at the palace until midday. You’ll melt.”
“Don’t worry, my lady. Your necessities will be provided,” Marr said, kindly. “In the meantime, you will be more comfortable if you wear what you wore when we first met.”
“Are you sure?” Vishiri fashions were just as modest as in the north. A woman in breeches would no doubt cause a stir.
Iskander smiled. “Oh yes. Father will love it.”
“You only get one chance at a first impression,” Marr said when I still looked unsure. “Make it count.”
I forced a smile and retreated to my cabin. The second the door slammed shut, I ripped off my dress and shoved it into my trunk. Pressing my palms against the wall, I closed my eyes.
The name hissed through my mind. The logical part of my brain reasoned that, of course, the Roven emissary would be at court. Of course, I would have to meet him. It didn’t stop me from wondering if I could kill him and get away with it.
You don’t have time for this, I thought, shoving the anger away. I might not get to slit Dobor’s throat today, but stand out? That I could do.
I laced myself into my leathers and yanked the pins out of my hair. With only my fingers to guide me, I braided the left third of my hair. It took a few false starts, but when I was finished, a tight plait ran all the way down my scalp. I brushed out the rest of my hair and layered in tiny braids here and there, fastening little bells to the ends the way my distant shieldmaiden ancestors had once done.
The ship groaned and shuddered to a stop. It was time. Shoving my weapons into place, I wrenched open the door andwalked straight into Illya.
I stiffened with surprise at the sight of him emerging from the gloom. He’d shaved both sides of his head, leaving a long strip of ash-blond hair braided down his back. Dark green tattoos—evidence of his Raskisi heritage—etched his scalp, weaving across half his bare chest and down most of his right arm.
He really was unfairly attractive, I thought, prying my eyes away from his chest.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes, of course,” I replied quickly. Too quickly. The false optimism in my voice writhed between us. “Shall we go up?”
Rather than wait for his reply, I made to move past him, only to feel the brush of his fingers at my wrist. “You can do this, my lady,” he murmured, in a voice filled with certainty.
“Do I have a choice?” My voice was so dry it drew a faint smile from Illya’s lips.
The ship swayed, knocking me back into the wall. Illya would have fallen onto me were it not for the giant hand he braced on the wood beside my face. The heat of his body, somehow different from the stifling warmth of the ship’s underbelly, slid electric across my skin. His throat bobbed, muscles rigid, like he felt it, too, and was struggling to pull away.
Somewhere above us, a bell rang, breaking the spell. I nodded, darting for the stairs—for the relative safety of duty—as I tried to ignore the feeling of his eyes on my back.
Thankfully Iskander and Marr were waiting on the deck. Their conversation dropped dead to the sea when they spotted me. I shrugged. “You said to make an impression.”
Iskander looked me up and down, a wicked glint in his eyes. “Mission accomplished.”
From The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly, published by Harper Voyager. Copyright © 2021 by Greta Kelly. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.