The Running Girl (The Kaunovalta Trilogy, Book I)
Published April 22, 2012
Purchase: ebook The Running Girl from Amazon
Ally of Eldisle, sword-thegn and sometime mage, bears twin burdens: a complicated heritage, and a penchant for finding herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Faced with false accusations of treason and murder, she flees to foreign lands, finding enemies all around, friends in unexpected places, and wonders undreamed-of. While struggling to keep an ancient treasure out of unfriendly hands, she is forced to reconcile her preconceptions about the wider world and its myriad inhabitants with her own origins – and to come to terms with the meaning of a bloodline lost in the depths of antiquity, created by ancestors both inhuman and unknown, and with the awful powers they have bequeathed her.
5.0 out of 5 stars “Wonderful Escapism”, May 14, 2012
This review is from: The Running Girl (Kaunovalta) (Kindle Edition)
By Raven “raven” (Cary, NC)
(Amazon Verified Purchase)
I can’t believe that I’m the first person to review this book. It’s a cross between the Hobbit, Harry Potter, and has elements of Star Wars. The main character, a female elf, is likable and believable. Her wonder at the Dwarven world is delightful. The writing is well done and puts you right into their world. I rarely pay more than $1 for a Kindle book but this is worth every penny, including the $6.99 that I just paid for the sequel. If you’re looking to escape into another time and place then you will greatly enjoy this read. It’s appropriate for young adults and adults alike.
5.0 out of 5 stars “Outstanding Debut Novel and a Great New Series”, July 15, 2012
This review is from: The Running Girl (Kaunovalta) (Kindle Edition)
As posted on Amazon.com
The author has created a complex yet highly enjoyable world for the setting of `The Running Girl’, the debut novel, in what I expect to be a great new series for fans of serious fantasy fiction. Creating a fantasy world – with its requisite back story, history, culture, customs, etc. is a very difficult and daunting endeavor and one fraught with danger. Neill has obliviously spent a great amount of time crafting the world in which `The Running Girl’ is set. It is a world that I encourage more and more readers of fine fantasy to embrace and it is one that I cannot wait to enter again and again.
I found a real strength in Neill’s characterization. It’s not too gradual nor is it too abrupt, the pace feels just right. The first chapter, once you get through the introduction, was quick to insight and very intriguing. Neill has a real talent for writing prose; it is a journey in and of itself and he has found just the right balance between complexity and wordiness that is needed for a fantasy novel.
I am really looking forward to reading the rest of Kaunovalta Trilogy, and then starting Neill’s Bjornssaga Trilogy. Neill is a fresh new face and great addition to the fantasy genre.
Excerpt from Chapter 1:
She plummeted like a stone, dropping four stories between one heartbeat and the next. At the last possible instant, she murmured a spell to arrest her fall, stepping lightly to the ground between two plum trees, heavy with blossoms and ripening fruit. Her costly shoes sank into the thick, aromatic loam of the garden. The life-giving scent of flowers filled the air, and she breathed it in gladly; it went a long way towards cleansing her palate of the horrid, coppery tang of magic and blood.
To Hax’s eyes, the gardens lay in a sort of twilight. Although the Lamps had not yet risen, the cloudless sky shone with starlight, bathing the trees and flowerbeds in a soft blanket of argent glory. And the Starhall itself – the heart of the city, the Queen’s residence, where stood Tior’s ancient throne – blazed with arcane splendour, lighting the whole of the palace like a second sun.
Multicoloured shadows lay everywhere. Slipping between the trees, Hax sat on a convenient patch of grass, and became one of them.
Her mind was at war with itself. While one part gibbered What did I do? over and over, like a child who has broken a valued bauble and is awaiting a parent’s judgment, another reflected coldly and dispassionately on the evening’s events. This part asked a different question.
What do I do now?
That, she knew, was simple enough. After all, her mission was not to pay a visit to her aunt; nor was it even to remain in Starmeadow. It was to deliver her father’s missive to the Grand Duke. She touched her bosom briefly, reassuring herself that the letter was still in place. It was.
Well, then, she pondered, what next?
I have to flee, she realized immediately. That was no benign spell she had cast against her aunt; it was lethal, a working of the Ars Anecros. Had she used it against a fellow elf in Eldisle, she would have faced her father’s judgment, and the punishment would have been severe. He had already excused her once, taking the punishment that had rightfully been hers; but she had been a child then, and his responsibility under the Codex. She was an adult now. There would be no more pardons.
Her mother, in her last letter to Hax, had warned her daughter against letting her passion get the better of her. No one would take the blame for her this time. Neither Kaltas nor Lallakentan had any sympathy for necromancers; both had faced the shambling fruits of that dark art in battle too many times. And here, having used the power against the wife of the Heir…
She could not hope for leniency. She had to flee.
My sword, she bethought herself suddenly. My bow. My armour. My…her saddlebags, her bedroll, her clothing; it was all still in the chambers she had been assigned.
The urgency spurred her to action. She had minutes, at most, before Annalyszian raised a hue and cry. She scanned the multitude of high, arched windows, trying to guess which one was hers.
Then her head snapped around. There was a rush of slippered feet; half a dozen people were running, swift and soft, through the shrubbery. Hax heard harsh, whispered orders being given, and though the words were indistinct, the tone was not.
She could not afford to be seen. With a quick gesticulation, she whispered “Näkymättömyys”, and vanished into the shadows.
Cloaked in ethereal dimness, Hax stepped into the lee of a statue depicting some ancient warrior-king. She strained her ears. Who could be so foolish as to make mischief in the Queen’s gardens? she wondered with dry despondency. Apart from me, of course?
It would be folly. She knew that much; the place was positively swarming with armed and armoured members of the High Guard.
The answer to her unspoken question came swiftly, in the form of a steely slither, a low grunt, and the soft clatter of armour on stone.
Gods! She knew those sounds of old. This was no pair of illicit lovers seeking the solitude of the bushes.
She ran her hands over the gilt-embroidered silk of her gown. Nothing. Not so much as a nail file.
No. Not ‘nothing’. After what she had just done to her aunt, certainly not ‘nothing’.
Hax hissed an incantation under her breath, raised her arms to her shoulders, and soared, silent and invisible, into the night sky.
Atop the trees, the breeze was brisk, and the thin material of her gown offered little protection from the chill. She ignored it as best she could, straining to see.
From her new vantage point some fifty paces above the gardens, she could easily make out what was going on. Six…no, seven black-clad forms were slipping noiselessly between tree and flower-bed, navigating expertly the gaps between the patrolling bodies of Guardsmen. She saw the glint of steel, and her lip curled involuntarily, baring her teeth. I need a…
There. She dove noiselessly, landed softly near the cooling corpse of a silver-mailed soldier, presumably the one she’d heard expire a moment before. She laid a finger on his throat, feeling for the lifebeat, and was unsurprised to find nothing.
Her fingers found blood and a small, foul-smelling wound just under the angle of his jaw.
Hax gritted her teeth in a silent snarl. Taking care to avoid making a sound, slid the elf’s sword out of the scabbard slung across his back. A chalybs altus, she was happy to note; the great glaive of the High Guard. So unlike Sylloallen’s gift, her own aulensis. Heavier, more cumbersome. But it would do.
She hefted the weapon in one hand, smiling grimly, and blessing Sylloallen for having trained her in all of the blades. For all its weight, the thing was well-forged, and had a delicate balance. At least the High Guard still gets good kit, she thought.
An instant later, the new sword in hand, she was once more soaring invisibly through the chill night air.
After an instant’s frantic searching, she had located the shadowy infiltrators again. The Voice was screaming cautions at her now. She ignored it. No more planning, she thought. Nor any vacillation.
Audacity. She dove towards the group, gesturing frantically, and whispering incantations in the tongue of wyrms. One after another, they took effect. Her tender flesh hardened against blows and darts, and flickers of arcane force danced over it, shielding her from other harm.
The last spell, she shouted: “Palokerä!”
A radiant speck of light shot from her outstretched fingertips, flashing through the sky, striking the ground amid the black-clad stalkers. It blossomed instantly into a roaring, incandescent ball of flame. Two of the figures ignited and collapsed, screaming in agony, to the ground; a third was blasted backwards into a tree trunk.
Hax felt a slight tickle as the illusion of invisibility surrounding her dissolved and disappeared.
The other four seemed unharmed. Two, possibly having heard her incantation, looked up and caught sight of Hax; one raised a crossbow to its shoulder, took aim, and released the bolt. The other dipped a hand to its belt and flung a trio of tiny steel darts in her direction. All four missiles ricocheted harmlessly into the treetops, deflected by the invisible barrier of arcane force that she had erected around her unarmoured flesh.
Without hesitation, Hax swooped lower, aiming for the dart-thrower, snapping “Kärventää raasku!” Coruscating blades of light lanced from her fingertips. The shadowy figure was struck by two of them and fell, thrashing and shrieking. The crossbow-wielder, still struggling with his cocking mechanism, dodged nimbly out of the way.
By this time, a third figure had caught sight of her. It was robed in black, like the others, and had a heavy leather satchel slung over one shoulder. A woman, Hax thought, judging solely on the basis of shape and posture.
As Hax watched from her aerial vantage, this worthy raised a hand, gesturing in the girl’s direction and hissing a series of iron syllables.
Hax recognized immediately the nature and purpose of the gesticulations. She had no time to try to counter the spell, and just enough to mutter “Pestis!” before a cold wave of energy washed over her.
Her flying spell failed, and she fell.
She had one more chance. In the instant before striking the ground, she cried out, “Kynäleta!”
Her tumbling body jerked to a halt just above the greensward, then settled softly to the lawn.
Hax clambered to her feet, hampered by the tight sleeves and long train of her dress. She had retained her grip on the Guardsman’s sword, so now she hefted it, watching her opponents carefully. In the distance, she could hear the thunder of plated boots on the pathways of crushed marble; evidently someone had seen her display of fireworks. Good, she thought. A delay ought to…
The figure that had assailed her a moment ago raised its hand again. Hax focussed carefully on her attacker’s gestures.
Two more darts whined softly through the air, bouncing off her shield.
Hax ignored them, squinting, her mind racing. The woman was…
The elf-girl flung up a hand, shrieking “Keskeyttää Palokerä!”
A glowing ball of intense, shimmering fire streaked towards her. At the very instant it began to blossom into lethal, consuming flame, Hax’s countervocation reached out and quenched it.
The backlash was terrible. A bolt of agony lanced through her mind. She had succeeded in interrupting the caster’s spell, but the power of the casting had nearly knocked her off her feet.
Hax’s own power was not inconsiderable, but this enemy mage was far, far more skilled than she. Time to go, Hax thought bleakly, preparing to flee.
The black-clad crossbowman, mirroring her thoughts, snapped at the caster. “We don’t have time for this!”
It was a man’s voice. And he was speaking the elven tongue.
“Decessio,” the caster snapped. Definitely a woman, Hax thought. The figure extended its arms and began chanting.
The crossbowman and the third figure stepped closer, each grasping one of the caster’s hands.
“No!” Hax leapt forward, lashing out with the guardsman’s glaive. The blade hissed through the air…and then she tripped, stumbling over the hem of her damnable gown. The keen edge missed the caster by a hair’s breadth, slashing through the leather of the woman’s satchel.
One of her assailants cursed foully at the close call. A glint of light, something tumbling; the crossbowman reached down, caught a small object, fist-sized, as it fell…
…ichor-green light flared…
They were gone.
“Damn it!” Hax shrieked. She stabbed the great, curved sword point-first into the sod and fell to her knees, howling in frustration.
Then she saw it. A dim, grey thing, glinting against the grass, exactly where the black-robed caster had been standing. She picked it up, tossing it lightly in one hand.
It was a goblet. A simple wine-cup, formed out of some sort of smoked glass, with a stem and base of rough-wrought silver. It felt cold and heavy in her grasp. She examined it as closely as she could in the darkness, but found no markings. Nothing to tell whence it had come, or what it was.
Boots thundered to a halt behind her. “Stand up!” a voice commanded.
Hax stood and turned, still regarding the cup in her hand. She felt dazed, unable to speak.
Then she looked up and saw their faces. A thick, heavy feeling of dread descended upon her heart.
The Voice within her was conspicuously silent.
“Identify yourself.” The words seemed to float down to her, as though she were standing at the bottom of a deep, narrow well.
Hax turned to regard the speaker. Five High Guardsmen, one of them a grizzled veteran bearing the plumed helmet of a Captain, stood before her. Two held their glaives at the ready; a third levelled a razor-tipped pike at her face. A fourth, unarmed, seemed to be winded. He was breathing heavily, as if he had been running.
Hax inspected the Captain’s visage closely, or at least, those parts that were visible beneath his helmet. It was not Yaarin Eliassyn. She sighed; the odds had not been good in any case, but she’d hoped for a friendly face.
The Captain half-turned to the unarmed soldier. “Kessaline? Is this her?”
The soldier had a torn piece of blood-soaked cloth pressed to the side of his neck. “That’s her, Tessarius,” the elf replied. “I saw her evoke the fire. She was flying.”
The captain turned back to Hax. “Your name?” he asked quietly.
She blinked rapidly. “Orkarel Hax.” The cup seemed to weigh a thousand pounds in her hand. For some reason, she was thinking about it, rather than about the weapons pointed at her breast.
Or, her conscience rebuked her, about your sleeping aunty upstairs, whom you just tried to kill.
The Captain shook his head. “Nomen virago est. Your true name,” he insisted.
“That is the only name I use,” she replied stubbornly. A buzzing sensation ran up her arm and settled into her heart. Her throat felt numb.
The officer shrugged. “Very well,” he said. “The diviners can always get the rest, I suppose. I arrest you for theft, murder and high treason, by the name of Orkarel Hax.” He stepped back, sheathing his glaive. “You will please come with me.”
No. The Voice was back. “I…this isn’t…” she stammered helplessly.
The captain’s eyes hardened. “Lady, do not make me use force.” His hand was still on his sword-hilt.
The pikeman leaned in, and Hax felt the razor point, cold and hard, against her ribs. “She’s a magus, captain. Perhaps the shackles…”
“Yes.” The officer fumbled at his belt and produced a pair of glimmering silver manacles. He looked up and said, almost apologetically, “Your hands, lady, please.”
No. The Voice again.
Yes, she thought frantically. You have proof of your innocence. The enemy left bodies behind. Perhaps there are other witnesses. You can…
Kaltas warned you about this, and Sylloallen, too! the Voice within her shrieked. There are unseen forces at work here! Fool, flee!
The Voice was right, Hax realized. Unconsciously, she took a step back.
Nerves strained to the breaking point, the pikeman lunged forward. She felt the point of his weapon slash through the stiff brocade of her gown and skitter across her ribs, leaving a deep gash behind. The cut burned, first hot, and then cold.
Gasping, Hax grabbed at the wound. She hissed a spell, and vanished.
Instantly, she dropped to the ground. The captain roared in anger, drawing his blade again, while the pikeman and the two swordsmen lunged at the spot where she had just been standing. Moving as quietly as possible, Hax rolled between the wielders’ legs, scrambled to her knees, and scuttled off as silently as she could manage. Blood and crushed grass stained the knees of her gown.
Her foot struck a pebble, and it clattered audibly.
“There!” one of the Guardsmen shouted, pointing.
Enough, she thought weakly. With a frantic gesture, she whispered, “Lennähtää mina!” Blood streaming from the wound in her chest, she soared invisibly into the night sky, the grey glass goblet still clenched tightly in her fist, while shouts and bells summoned the High Guard from its barracks to face a threat to the Palace and the Queen.