This long ago and far away romantic fantasy is a tragic fish-out-of-water story. This particular “fish” takes the form of a strong-willed, red-haired girl named Lili who learns to survive in an unfriendly new environment.
After unwittingly drawing attention to herself by stumbling during a royal ceremony, Lili is removed from her home and forced to live in the castle with the widowed King Tali and his family. Still a child, her position remains nebulous: Upon maturing, is she to be the king’s wife, his mistress, or the ongoing ward of his evil brother? It isn’t until many years later that Lili discovers a fourth option.
While living at the castle, her servant (Mia) appears to be on her side, as do one of the King’s daughters (Kesma) and his youngest son (Cam). However, there’s something sinister lurking inside the castle walls, and Lili’s happiness – and life – depend upon her discovering the secret.
Despite some unsavory aspects (underaged Lili is sexualized and later mates with multiple family members), the story’s illicit elements are handled skillfully. Main characters are well developed, and each scene builds the foundation for the next. Humor often balances tragic elements. For example, when Lili travels with Tali, she notes: “The dishes were tasty and aesthetic, causing me to sometimes eat things that were meant for decoration.”
The story provides enough foreign concepts to create a fantastical world while retaining relatable ideas of love and loss. (For example, members of Lili’s race develop shading on their skin and streaks in their hair upon sexual maturation.)
Minor errors occasionally distract, such as missing or extra words and unclear dialogue attribution. Narrated in first person, mostly by Lili, the text can be jarring when it switches to Cam’s narration, and readers may be confused about the point of view.
Nonetheless, the story offers many rewards. Fantasy readers may enjoy this first in a planned series, especially young adult females and fans of romantic fiction.