When Princess Amarande’s father is suddenly declared dead, the Kingdom of Ardenia on the Continent of Sand and Sky, must appoint a new ruler. Due to antiquated and sexist rules, Princess Amarande is unable to claim her rightful throne because she is a woman. The only way for her to become Queen is to marry. Taking advantage of Amarande’s predicament, the neighboring Kingdoms of Pyrenee, Basilica, and Myrcell send forth their most eligible bachelors to make Amarande their bride and fortify their Kingdom with Ardenia. Amarande rejects their proposals and refuses to marry without love. Although she has not declared her feelings yet, she is in love with her best friend, Luca, the stableboy. Knowing that her status as Princess keeps them apart, Amarande vows to change the laws of Ardenia and reclaim her destiny.
However, unsatisfied with Amarande’s rejection, Prince Renard of Pyrenee concocts a despicable plan to have Luca kidnapped by pirates. He gives Amarande no choice but to marry him if she wants her true love to live. But Prince Renard severely underestimates Amarande’s strength and bravery. She flees Ardenia to save Luca. With her trusted swords, Egia and Maite, and the knowledge that her father had taught her of battle, Amarande follows Luca’s kidnappers through the Torrent, a desert area that was once ruled by the Otxoa family but is now governed by the infamous leader known as “The Warlord.” Facing thieves, bandits, and natural elements, Amarande finds Luca and rescues him from his kidnappers, Ula, Urtzi, and Dunixi.
Reunited at last, Amarande and Luca confirm their love for one another and head back to Ardenia, but they are intercepted by Prince Renard and taken back to Pyrenee where Amarande is forced into a wedding. Now, Amarande and Luca must trust their courage and strength to defeat Prince Renard and his wicked brother, Taillefer, who has an affinity for extreme methods of torture. In the end, Amarande and Luca make their escape to freedom with the help of unlikely allies and prove that their love can conquer any challenge.
The novel possesses the same romantic charm as The Princess Bride with a twist making Amarande the dominant hero. Amarande is a strong and empowering character who proves that women can also be the rescuers and fight for what they believe in. Although Amarande tries to guard her emotions in the beginning of the novel, she soon learns to be honest about her feelings and proves to be an admirable and sympathetic character. The book also has an emphasis on true love and demonstrates that love and friendship are more important than power and wealth.
With all Amarande and Luca’s daring adventures, the book is fast-paced and filled with well-written action and romance scenes. As the author warns in the dedication page, “this is a kissing book.” However, the kissing scenes are very wholesome. Fans of The Princess Bride will enjoy the references to the timeless classic within the novel but be thrilled by a new story with even more adventure and a feminist twist. Although the unique names of all the Kingdoms and characters can be a bit confusing, this is only the first installment of The Kingdoms and Sand and Sky series, and the world will soon become more familiar as Amarande and Luca grow and learn more about each other.
- Urtzi, one of the pirates who captures Luca, makes a comment that he has “been with plenty of women.” To which Ula, a female pirate, responds, “Lying in bed with a woman is completely different than knowing a woman.”
- Amarande notices that her fellow prisoners are “all around the same age—middle teens. Pretty, all likely dumped at the Warlord’s feet as payment of one kind or another.” It is implied that they were kidnapped to be raped.
- Amarande kisses Luca on the forehead and around his face. Amarande had “never kissed him before. And yet her lips found dust and sweat and fear and him. The princess immediately wanted more, and took . . . In time, Amarande’s mouth landed on his and it was a relief when he finally moved—to kiss her in return.”
- Luca kisses Amarande again and her “fingers splayed across his jaw, encouraging him.”
- After Prince Renard forced Amarande’s hand in marriage, he has her wear his mother’s wedding dress but acknowledges she is “shorter and less voluptuous than Mother.”
- In a practice battle between Amarande and Luca, Amarande “swung a leg hard, kicking his feet out from under him. Luca flew up and then back, landing in a heap, the wind and her name knocked out of him. Before he could even attempt to right himself, the princess was sitting atop his stomach, her knees locking his arms against his heaving ribs.” No one is injured, though, as the battle is only practice.
- After seeing her father in his coffin, Amarande observed, “there wasn’t a jagged stitch across his throat, thread straining to hold his head flush to his neck. Both arms were there, too, crossed primly about his barrel chest, and no gaping hole underneath his palms from a heart taken as a prize for killing the Sun and Sky’s greatest warrior.”
- As Luca is being kidnapped, “he felt it, the thick side of his own practice sword cracking him in a wide smack across his back.” Luca is thrown “off balance, stumbling forward, one boot dragging a divot in the packed sod.” When he tried to get up, he was “cut down again, this time with a boot to his exposed gut.” Finally, “Luca felt a sword to his throat . . . Even without full sight he knew what sat across his windpipe, pressing in a curve as deep as the coming crescent moon.” Luca is beaten and bruised by his kidnappers; “the evidence was undeniable in the bruises that had bloomed across his back, the knot at his temple, the pounding behind his eyes. Not to mention the blood that coated his mouth, drier than it should be thanks to the arid climate.” Although he is injured, Luca survives.
- On her way to rescue Luca, Amarande encounters a group of bandits that she must battle. “They came without hesitation, without a signal between them. The leader and his clothing-appraising second each aimed for Egia and Maite with long swords of their own.” To escape the pressure of their blows, “Amarande placed her right foot on the leader’s horse and shoved with all the might of her own strong leg.” The inflicted bandit fell from his horse and “plummeted face first toward the ground.” Amarande continued to fight, “she brought her right sword up and around, slashing. The meat of the man’s shoulder flashed in the relentless sun, exposed with the hard blow.” Amarande positioned her two swords on the man’s throat and liver, but she could not kill him. In her hesitation, another man kicked the weapon out of her hand and “someone was clawing at her free hand now, trying to pull her off the horse.” The bandits robbed Amarande of her provisions, but left her relatively unscathed.
- Wandering through desert terrain, Amarande spots a wolf. Failing to get away silently, “the wolf came. Its paws connected high on her chest plate, the metal driving into the diamond necklace beneath the lace of her gown’s neckline.” As Amarande is focused on the wolf, she suddenly feels “an intense stinging at her neck, right beneath the edge of her kerchief.” Amarande finds “a dart, sticking straight out from the cluster of veins that made up her jugular.” She is paralyzed and kidnapped by another group of bandits.
- To escape her kidnappers, “Amarande’s arms shot up, crashing into the man’s forearms and breaking through his reach . . . Amarande’s hands were reset for another strike, and she thrust the heels of both palms out and upward, dislodging the man’s nose from its spot on his face with a bloody crunch.” Amarande fails in escaping at this moment, but she earns the attention of the guards.
- A cruel innkeeper Amarande encounters threatens to dump her into “very special white sand at the center of my compound . . . fed by a geyser that runs as hot as the Warlord’s fire pits.” According to him, “the second you slip through that earth, you’ll be poached.”
- When Amarande visits an innkeeper looking for information, she is suddenly turned “upside down, several feet in the air,” by a large man. To defend herself, Amarande “kicked back and up hard, heel of one boot and then the other smashing into his jaw from the underside.” The impact cracked the giant’s tooth. Amarande continues to fight the giant but is unable to reach her knife when, “His fingers were wrapped around Amarande’s ankles in the next instant.” Suddenly, Amarande witnesses “more movement, the ring of steel, and extended spray of blood.” Osana, Amarande’s ally, stabbed the large man through the back with a sword, killing him.
- When Amarande finally catches up to Luca, she must battle his kidnappers to rescue him. Luca assists by punching Urtzi who “scrambled to his feet, blood spurting off his moon-white nose and down his mouth.” Ula, who fought with Amarande, “decided to change tactics and kick backward, curling her legs over her head and springing up from her shoulders, nailing Amarande’s shins with the full might of her tumbling body.” Meanwhile, “Luca’s blade slashed [Urtzi’s] shirt from his skin, blood blooming under his rib cage as he shrieked.” Amarande’s sword “came down at an angle that grazed her forearm . . . the girl yelled, her slashed arm really bleeding now.” Eventually, Amarande and Luca escape leaving behind the bruised and scratched, though still living, kidnappers. Luca’s leg is injured from a snake bite.
- Frustrated that his plan was failing, Prince Renard stabs Captain Serville who “gasps, blood immediately soaking his elegant garnet-and-gold unform. Renard had to yank with both hands to remove the sword.” The captain dies.
- Renard’s brother, Taillefer, tortures Luca with a serum that burns flesh. Taillefer “dragged oozing sap in a line down Luca’s sternum,” and “Luca tensed against his binds, veins popping from his kin, tendons firing . . . His teeth ground shut, his eyes, too, the pain bald and bold, coursing through him as his skin melted and blistered . . . he was opened up. A gaping, raised line cleaving the skin of his chest in two.”
- At their wedding, Amarande stabs Renard, “her blade sliced through the air, plunging into the soft spot under his ribs. His heart and lungs, punctured in one fell swoop.” Renard is killed and his blood stains Amarande’s dress.
- While making their escape, Amarande, Luca, Ula, and their allies fight off Renard’s guards; “Ula dispatched one man and then another, her curved blade making quick work. Amarande batted away a guard who came lunging toward her left, Luca sank [Amarande’s] boot knife into the eye of one who went for his helmet, trying to throw him off-balance. From behind, Urtzi grunted as he shook off man after man.” The friends escape alive.
Drugs and Alcohol
- At a dinner to seal Amarande’s fate, Prince Renard “took a long pull of sagardoa,” a hard cider drink.
- Amarande notices that “the guards stood at attention. They weren’t lolling around, deep in cups of actual sagardoa,”
- Ula searches in Taillefer’s lair for something to help heal Luca’s wounds, while Urtzi finds a bottle of unnamed alcohol and “without caution, he took a swig.”
- It is mentioned that “there were songs at court about Egia and Maite,” a pair of swords Amarande wields, “containing magic welded impenetrably into their depths.” However, “Amarande wasn’t sure about that, but they had kept her father safe until the very end.” If the swords are magic, it is not revealed in this novel.
by Elena Brown