As with a lot of fantasy books lately, this one has been compared to the works of George R.R. Martin (other people too, but I can’t judge how accurate those comparisons are having not yet read those authors). Unlike those other books, I think this is a valid comparison for this one. In this case, there aren’t quite as many characters to try to keep up with (this is a good thing – I’d be worn to a nub if all books were as complicated as the Song of Ice and Fire Series) but the plot is nevertheless complicated enough to hold your interest to the end.
Ten years ago the Kingsmen, a group of Alreshemni sworn to protect their King, were called to come to the capital of Alrou-Mendera and re-swear their allegiance to their King. A group of five of their children who possessed special powers, went secretly to the capital guided by a vision of one of their members to retrieve an object that should have been able to protect all the Kingsmen. Unfortunately, when they brought back the box they had risked life and limb to retrieve, the ring it was supposed to contain was not in it. They failed. And their elders were lost, entering into the palace and disappearing in a single night, never to be heard from again.
Archers were fixed and ready, their attention steely upon the five Seventh Seals in their tight standoff in the dusty center of the amphitheater. The creak of leather and the crunch of steel came as swordsmen shifted their stances in a ring around the five Kingskinder, holding the standoff with blades bared.
Carlson, Jean Lowe. Blackmark (The Kingsmen Chronicles #1): An Epic Fantasy Adventure Sword and Highland Magic (p. 131). Jean Lowe Carlson. Kindle Edition.
Not only that but the group of five children – Seventh Seals on the verge of passing their final tests to become proper Kingsmen themselves – were caught by the King’s men (or people who appeared to be the King’s men), forced to tell where the younger children had been taken, separated and forced into service in the King’s army. Sometime in all this, they had tattooed themselves with the black markings that marked them as Kingsmen, although they were technically not supposed to be marked until they had passed their eighth seal.
Ghrenna couldn't stop him as she twisted in agony over Halsos’ Fire, writhing in the dust of the practice yard. Broken, her mind flickered through the images of her vision, revealing it all to the man in herringbone leathers as she babbled between screams about how he would find the location of the Kingskinder. About how he would find the trail to the ruined fort, by the old beech grove at the foot of the mountains. How he would find them all, catching every last child of the Kingsmen and clapping them in irons.
Carlson, Jean Lowe. Blackmark (The Kingsmen Chronicles #1): An Epic Fantasy Adventure Sword and Highland Magic (p. 137). Jean Lowe Carlson. Kindle Edition.
Now one of the group of five is dead, and the others are scattered. Elohl, more or less leader of the group is just being released from ten years in a military unit known as the High Brigade which does all its fighting in snow-covered high passes on the border. His twin sister Olea is captain-general of the King’s guard in the capital. His beloved, Ghrenna, whose talent is prophetic visions, has deserted from the army and joined a thieves’ guild. And Dherran, whose main talent appears to be fighting like a berserker, has left the army and now wanders about the countryside engaging in prize fights. But things are changing. The old King is dead, and his daughter is about to be crowned Queen.
Olea lifted one eyebrow and set her jaw. Castellan Lhaurent den’Karthus’ smooth baritone always irritated her. Whenever he approached, his soft-booted silence made Olea think of rain barrel eels slipping through dark water. Lhaurent had never given anyone specific reason to think he was disloyal, but Olea didn't trust him. She’d never been able to accuse him of anything, but she had her suspicions. Thievery, perhaps. Embezzlement. Maybe plotting to murder someone to better his own station. Although he was absolutely indispensable as Castellan, running Roushenn with impeccable effortlessness.
Carlson, Jean Lowe. Blackmark (The Kingsmen Chronicles #1): An Epic Fantasy Adventure Sword and Highland Magic (p. 86). Jean Lowe Carlson. Kindle Edition.
The new almost-Queen asks Olea, captain-general of her guard, to find out what happened at the Kingsmen Summons, and she begins looking – again because she had already begun to explore the mystery with the Dhenrya’s now-dead brother two years earlier. She learns some things but not enough before she manages to anger the Dhenrya and get herself put into a cell in the palace. About this time Elohl and Ghrenna make their way separately to the capital. They discover that not all Alrashemni were Kingsmen and that at least one secret order of Alrashemni is willing to help them. But we also learn that there have been layers and layers of plots and betrayals and that these are still going on. And the Dhenrya’s life is in grave danger.
An intriguing story unmarred by typos or grammatical errors. Includes a pronunciation guide and lists of characters, places, and things at the end.
Cover image from Goodreads.
The Kingsmen Chronicles Book One
Author: Jean Lowe Carlson
Publisher: Jean Lowe Carlson
Format: Kindle edition
Genre: Fantasy/ Epic