"Wow. C. E. Murphy is good. Court intrigue in an alternate Elizabethan-era fantasy world: realpolitik with the sex included."
-Kate Elliott, author of Crown of Stars
In a world where religion has ripped apart the old order, Belinda Primrose is the queen's secret weapon. The unacknowledged daughter of Lorraine, the first queen to sit on the Aulunian throne, Belinda has been trained as a spy since the age of twelve by her father, Lorraine's lover and spymaster.
Cunning and alluring, fluent in languages and able to take on any persona, Belinda can infiltrate the glittering courts of Echon where her mother's enemies conspire. She can seduce at will and kill if she must. But Belinda's spying takes a new twist when her witchlight appears.
Now Belinda's powers are unlike anything Lorraine could have imagined. They can turn an obedient daughter into a rival who understands that anything can be hers, including the wickedly sensual Javier, whose throne Lorraine both covets and fears. But Javier is also witchbreed, a man whose ability rivals Belinda's own . . . and can be just as dangerous.
Amid court intrigue and magic, loyalty and love can lead to more daring passions, as Belinda discovers that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.
"C. E. Murphy vividly reimagines Renaissance Europe as a world both familiar and strange. Filled with intrigue and betrayal, her story is a chess game with six of seven sides, and I look forward to seeing what the next moves are."
-Marie Brennan, author of Warrior and Witch
Taking a break from urban fantasy, Murphy (House of Cards) turns to this uneven opener for a Reformation-inspired fantasy series. Belinda Primrose is a lovely young woman whose mysterious father, Lord Drake, has trained her to be an assassin serving Lorraine, the queen of Aulun. While Belinda is Lorraine's unacknowledged bastard, young Prince Javier of Gallin was secretly adopted by Lorraine's dangerous rival, Queen Sandalia, when her husband's untimely death caused her to miscarry the child who was to be Gallin's heir. When Javier encounters Belinda while she's on a spy mission in Gallin, he falls hopelessly in love with her, a devotion that deepens when they discover they're both "witchbreed" magic users. Murphy excels in depicting their passion, but readers looking for romance will be shocked when Belinda incites and abets Javier's rape of another woman, and the talky political intrigue frequently comes at the expense of much-needed action. (Apr.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 28, 2008
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Excerpt from The Queen's Bastard by C.E. Murphy
15 March 1565
Brittany, North of Gallin
"It cannot be found out."
She knew the words as if they'd come down to her through the blood, in the first moments of awareness. There was darkness, red-tinged and warm, a battlefield of sound filling it: explosions and grumbles that came so steadily they were comforting rather than cause for alarm. There were voices, both low, but one more distant than the other. The first voice, closer, tickled through her to the very centre of her being, becoming a part of her that could never be cut away. It was that voice that carried fear into her, intense and sharp: "It cannot be found out."
In the first moments of cold, with the air screaming all around her, she heard the voice again, high and distorted. She grasped with tiny fingers at a blurred, weary face that retreated before her wide, tearless gaze. She was pressed against a different warmth, scratchy and soft and scented. She would come to know the scent as chypre, and associate it with safety for the rest of her life. She was enclosed in strong arms, the world shifting perspective dizzily as she was taken from the first, the last, glimpse she would have of her mother for twelve years.
Behind her, from the breadth of a man's chest, the less familiar voice echoed the words that seemed to define her, even at mere minutes of age: "It cannot be found out."
Then he spoke again with more clarity, the certainty and strength of love colouring his words with richness: "I know. It will not be found out, my lady. Have faith. I'll return by dawn, and by the ninth bell you must be dressed for court. You must be seen well, or their hearts will fail. Attend her." The last words were spoken to someone else, somewhere else; a murmur of reply in a deep voice came, and then the woman spoke again:
"Yes. Go. Go, Robert. And be seen with a woman in the small hours of the morning." Weariness is left behind by command. "There are too many who see you dance attendance on us already. We demand they find nothing of import. We shall be furious with you when we learn of your dalliances. Now go!"
A single image, burned into a newly made memory: slender shoulders, a proud straight spine. Linens clutched over milk-heavy breasts and wrinkling over a still-swollen belly, contracting with afterbirth labors. Thin grey eyes, a high forehead, and a proud chin, lifted in expectation.
Titian hair worn loose, bloody curls against translucent skin.
Enormous hands enveloped Belinda's head, turning her away from her mother, into the warmth of her father's body.
8 February 1577
Aulun, isolated by the sea
Memory, from what others said, did not stretch so far back.
The dream came often, sharp enough to take her breath on waking, but no one remembered the moment of her birth, not with clarity; not at all. It was only a dream, nothing more. Belinda crawled from her bed, pulling a duvet, down-filled and heavy, with her: the keep fires were long since banked for the night, the comparative heat of the winter day left behind. Her first steps were warm, onto a tapestry rug that told the story of hunting a white deer. The next steps were icy, nimbly taken on tiptoe before she scrambled into the velvet-cushioned window seat. The duvet hissed across unheated stone as she hauled it up.
Frost spread across the windows, spiked fingers growing up from the lead lining between the sheets of thin, undistorted glass. Belinda pressed a fingertip against the thickening frost, melting through to the cold glass below. Water beaded and spilled over the lead, a glistening black line picked out by the half-moon's light. She put her finger in her mouth and pulled the duvet farther up, hunching and squirming her shoulders until the warm comforter slid between her back and the chilly stone wall. Her breath fogged on the window, mixing with scattered clouds to obscure the moon for a few moments before winter proved stronger than one girl-child's exhalations and clarity crept back over the middle of the pane.
Memories she trusted more than the dreams reached back to her second Yule. The pageantry of Yule, she was told, was less than the Christ Mass whose date and name had been set aside by the Reformation Church as it schismed from the Ecumenists. Still, call it Yule or Christ Mass, gifts were exchanged in the shortest day of the year, just as they had been for what seemed to Belinda to be uncountable centuries past.
The first remembered gift from her rarely seen, beloved papa: a tiny dagger, sharp for all that she was not yet two years of age. Had her nurse-a dour-faced, dull woman with a grim sense of propriety and little in the way of imagination-not been so shocked, so very determined to remove the toy from her determined grip, Belinda thought she might not remember it at all. As it was, she carried it even now: a soft length of string, clipped from a chemise, held it around her waist.