Andrua once lived the life of a princess, one with extraordinary powers. She is known as a Syphon and possesses the ability to draw out the emotions of others in order to bring balance to their psyches and thus to her kingdom of D'Land. But following the death of her beloved mother and her father's eventual remarriage to another, everything changed. With her father, King Harrison, away fighting a war in a distant land, Queen Ebbigal has wrought destruction on the kingdom, torturing her subjects, including Andrua, and imposing unreasonable taxes that have plummeted much of the population into poverty. After a particularly brutal experience with the queen, Andrua escaped into the forest, where she disguised herself as a young lad known only as Dru, and joined the Band of Brothers, who still fight for justice, robbing the rich to help the poor. Eventually she was found out as a girl, but by then, she'd earned the respect of her new family, so nothing changed for her except that her best friend Hawkin has begun to look at her differently. Dru isn't certain how she feels about that and she has little time for romantic entanglements even though his presence now brings an unfamiliar excitement.
Then one day, the Brothers rob Prince Edward, who Dru recognizes as her childhood friend, Dodge, someone she also had a girlhood crush on. Rather than ruining everything for her by revealing her identity as she fears he might, Dodge instead offers his assistance in retaking D'Land from the clutches of the evil queen. But their carefully crafted plans are derailed when Dru receives word that her father has finally returned and is gravely ill, and she knows that she must see him one last time. However, her secret foray into the castle turns even more dangerous when she comes face-to-face once more with her stepmother. Can Dru summon the strength of her powers to not only save her friends' lives but also take back her kingdom?
The Reclaimed Kingdom is a YA fantasy romance and the first book in Dana Claire's new Syphon series. It follows the adventures of Andrua aka Dru, a pampered princess turned outlaw in her own kingdom of D'Land, who has supernatural powers. After her mother died, her father remarried to a woman named Ebbigal, who turned out to be the classic evil queen. With Dru's father away fighting a war in a distant land, Queen Ebbigal has been wreaking destruction upon the people of D'Land, and also tortured Dru, eventually leading to Dru running away and joining a group of outlaws known as the Band of Brothers. They're almost certainly patterned after Robin Hood's Merry Men and provide the family Dru has been missing. Together, they rob from the rich and give to the poor of D'Land in an effort to ease the ever-increasing tax burden Queen Ebbigal has imposed upon the common people. They have hopes of one day defeating the Queen, but in the meantime they do the best they can. Then Dru receives word that her father has finally returned and is gravely ill. She cannot allow him to die not knowing that his only daughter is still alive, so with a little help, she sneaks into the castle to see him. However, her daring move brings her face-to-face once again with her nemesis, leading to a battle for her life and the lives of those she loves, as well as a newfound understanding of her own destiny.
Andrua grew up surrounded by the love of her parents. Her doting mother trained her from a young age, both to be a fighter and to use her Syphon powers. Her ability allows her to siphon off the emotions of others in order to restore balance to their psyche, and in doing so, it can also restore balance to their kingdom. However, Dru's mother was murdered when Dru was only thirteen, before she had a chance to learn everything about her powers. After that her father, King Harrison, fell into a depression, but later remarried to Ebbigal. It wasn't until King Harrison went off to war that Dru realized the full extent of her step-mother's treachery. D'Land has never been the same since, and after being tortured, Dru escaped to join the Band of Brothers. At first, she pretended to be a boy, but it wasn't until she'd already earned their trust, that her new family discovered that she was really a girl in disguise. By then they respected her skill enough to allow her to continue on in the role she'd been playing. Dru's best friend is Hawkin, who hasn't quite looked at her the same ever since finding out that she's female, and she isn't entirely certain how she feels about that until he arouses unfamiliar romantic feelings within her. Then she serendipitously reconnects with her childhood friend Prince Edward aka Dodge whose presence threatens her carefully hidden past and who also stirs feelings of love. But eventually the truth comes out anyway, forcing Dru to face her true destiny.
From the opening pages, it's obvious that Dru is a strong alpha female character who is a born leader. She's no shrinking violet or damsel in distress. The men around her respect her as one of their leaders and as their equal. She takes part in outlaw raids, rides a horse, and fights in battle every bit as well as a man, wielding both sword and bow with superior skill, and is strong in hand-to-hand combat as well. Although she balks at any man telling her what to do and gives back as good as she gets in any dispute, she does have a softer side when the two men in her life begin to stir those romantic feelings. She's also a compassionate and benevolent ruler who harbors an obvious love for her people and fearlessly faces the Evil Queen with every confidence that she can take back her kingdom. When it comes to her powers, Dru embraces them even though she doesn't yet know all that she's fully capable of. I really liked and admired Dru and think that she's going to make a wonderful ruler for D'Land.
As you might have guessed already, the romance in this book involves a love triangle with two equally appealing heroic male leads. The first is Hawkin who is a member of the Band of Brothers. After his father was killed and his mother beaten and raped by the queen's men for being unable to pay her taxes, Hawkin joined the group to keep his mother and sister safe from further harm and to fight back against the queen's evil. He's known Dru ever since she joined the group as well, and since discovering that she's actually a girl, he's started to develop feelings for her. But he doesn't yet know if they're reciprocated. He'd unquestionably walk through the fires of hell for her and is more than willing to stand by her side in the climactic battle. Hawkin is a little rough around the edges, but a born warrior who is brave and loyal to a fault. I had no trouble sensing his love for Dru and I adored him for being a good friend and steadfast companion.
The other hero is Dodge aka Prince Edward of the neighboring kingdom of D'Wales, who has known Dru since they played together as children in the castle gardens. Dru once used her powers to save Dodge's life, and by the time they were teens, he'd fallen in love with her. But after Dru's mother died, he visited less, and then after Dru ran away, it was said that she'd died. Dru and Dodge meet again in the very first chapter when the Band of Brothers try to rob Dodge. He can't help feeling that he knows this scruffy lad, and when he realizes just how bad things are in D'Land he offers his armies and resources to help the Band of Brothers take back their kingdom. Eventually he sees through Dru's disguise and knows exactly who she is, although he graciously keeps her secret. As a prince, Dodge is more polished although no less of a brave fighter. It's equally obvious how much he loves Dru as well, and the two of them share a special connection that she doesn't have with Hawkin.
Since The Reclaimed Kingdom is categorized as a YA book, I'll briefly discuss the potentially objectionable content. I only spotted a couple of mild bad words, so language isn't much of an issue. However, there is fair bit of medieval style battle violence, including people being run through with blades, spurting blood, and gruesome beheadings. There's also a scene in which the queen's men attack a village of innocent people, mostly women and children, with many being killed. As far as this goes, I've read more graphic descriptions of violence in novels, so I'd probably still only classify it as middle of the road on that count, not really any worse than some PG-13 movies. There is some drinking of wine and ale throughout, with Hawkin seen quite drunk in one scene and then deliberately trying to get intoxicated for a good reason in another. Lastly, while there is no actual sexual content, there is some sexual innuendo, including the implication by a character that Dru, Hawkin, and Dodge are a threesome, as well as some moderate sexual tension between Dru and both her men. I personally still think that the content is generally acceptable for a mature YA audience, but your mileage may vary.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Reclaimed Kingdom. It was a rollicking action/adventure, fantasy story that played out like a movie in my mind's eye, with a healthy helping of romance as the icing on the cake. A word of warning, though, that the love triangle does not get sorted out in this first book, so there is no HEA ending yet. To be quite honest, I don't even know yet whether I want Dru to pick Hawkin or Dodge, since both are equally wonderful. The three main characters are very admirable and relatable, while the supporting characters are plentiful and brought a good balance to the story. The ending was good with most of the plot points being wrapped up pretty well, but with a definite opening for more to come. My only small complaints are that the story perhaps could have been a bit more complex and the plot woven a little more tightly together. Even by the end, I was left with a few questions and uncertainties about a few things such as how Ebbigal seemed to be able to pull the wool over the eyes of so many given how egregious her behavior was, and why, given their connection, Dodge didn't really search for Dru, although I surmised that maybe he simply thought her dead like everyone else. However, these things didn't detract too much from my overall enjoyment of the novel. In fact, the ending has left me eager to find out what happens next for our intrepid heroine and her two heroes, who she might choose, and how they'll ever have a truly happy ending with the newly discovered rules regarding her powers hanging over their heads.
Note: I received an ARC copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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