Today we’re revealing the MUCH anticipated sequel to Amanda Joy’s A River of Royal Blood. Get ready for A Queen of Gilded Horns! (Oh, and did we mention book 1 got a glow-up?)
Scroll down to see the stunning new covers and read an excerpt AND Q&A with the author below!
And take a look at the paperback for A River of Royal Blood!
Firstly, THESE COVERS – what was your initial reaction when you first saw them?
There were tears. I’m lucky to have been involved throughout the entire process of creating these stunning covers. Even so after seeing the final details come together I could only communicate in exclamation points. I’m so grateful to the designer, Samira Iravani, and artist, Alexx Dovelin, for executing this vision far beyond what I imagined.
For fans that are new, what are five words that describe the series?
Just five? Brutal.
Black Girl Magick, family, deadly combat, and Baccha. We can’t forget him!
Okay Eva and Isa – how do these two sisters go forward when one is [SPOILER ALERT] literally in chains and held captive?
Well, Isa and Eva have always been on unequal footing in terms of agency in their relationship. After Eva learned to wield her magick, that balance shifted in her favor. Now they’re forced to get to know each other, while both struggle in different ways to take back power.
Did you always know how the story was going to end and what should readers be MOST nervous about?
Only the final scene remains the same as I first imagined it, and it contains my favorite moment of the entire series (excluding all the kissing scenes LOL). Readers should be worried that there are more people out for Eva’s blood than even she realizes.
Scroll down to read an excerpt of A Queen of Gilded Horns!
Ysai of Ariban
The sky above the sprawling camp at the foot of Mount Ariban was a bruised purple—a sign of the storms to come and the snows that would follow. This far north in the Roune Lands, the lawless territory west of Dracol and north of Myre, a handful of weeks was all it took for high summer to turn to far winter.
The smaller peaks rising around the valley were limned in gold from the sun’s recent descent. The silver light of a hundred thousand stars and a bright sickle moon would have been enough for most in the camp to see by, despite the copper lamps hung in concentric rings around their tents. For most in this camp were khimaer—horns adorned their brows and their bodies were an elegant amalgam of animal and human—and they could see even in darkness. The few who were not khimaer were fey or bloodkin, their vision just as sharp.
The lamps were magicked to keep time and would only be doused when all the day’s work was done.
Seated upon a tree stump carved with snaking vines and budding wild flowers, Ysai eased a narrow blade around a length of buttery noshai wood in a slow spiral.
So used to the feel of a carving knife in her hand, Ysai’s attention was solely focused on her students’ upturned faces and the significantly duller blades in their laps. Until her gaze slid past them to the nearest copper lamp, throwing warm light in a spray of pinpricks, waiting for it to flare and signal the end of her day.
The children of the camp took lessons well into the night after history and weaponry and magick during the day. Blessedly this group of eight-year-olds was Ysai’s last lesson in charm-making for the day.
Instead of the sacred noshai, each clutched a bit of spare wood leftover from the older children’s lessons in their sticky palms. The noshai trees, the tallest and most ancient of all the beings who dwelled in the north, only grew in the A’Nir Mountains north of Myre’s borders. It was a curious thing, how many.
In millennia past, the noble fey who dwelled in these mountains offered noshai saplings to the first Queens who ruled most of Akhimar, both north of the river and south of it. Back when the realm was known by just one name, instead of the three nations it was split into now. Yet the noshai trees rarely thrived in the south, so the tradition became the offering of a charm of protection carved from the trees. In the centuries since, it had been forgotten, until the Tribe fled Myre after the Great War and adopted the tradition, making carvings of their own.
Most created charms in the likeness of the animals they were akin to and hung them from the trees around their tents; the charms were a small magick, prayers and wishes to their goddess Khimaerani bolstered by a simple offering of power. The hundreds upon hundreds around the camp created a strong ward that set off a wave of foreboding for anyone who might venture here.
“Sister Ysai,” Kisin, one of the smallest and thus most outspoken of the group, called. Lamplight caught the gold rings adorning the tips of his pronged horns, and huge sand-fox ears dominated either side of his face. His coppery skin and fur were the exact same hue, and though the spray of white freckles across his face reminded Ysai of a fawn, the boy’s expression was distinctly tricksome. All wide-eyed innocence at odds with his toothy grin. “What will you carve for us today?”
Ysai had been planning on a cunning leopard. The children, having never ventured far enough south to see the great cats of Arym Plain and the Deadened Jungle, were fascinated with the large predators.
Yet Kisin, she knew, would request a fox, like he had the last few lessons.
“I haven’t yet decided. Perhaps Tosin can help us,” Ysai murmured, offering a smile to the fox boy’s twin sister.
Unlike her brother, Tosin never spoke unless prompted. Her big, glossy black eyes were always slightly out of focus, lost in a dreamland. Ysai hoped that meant her imagination would be a bit more well-developed than her brother’s.
The girl blinked a few times, fox ear twitching, before she explained, “Mother Moriya told us about the krakai in the desert.”
Ysai’s heart sank. She had learned the stories of the krakai that crawled up from the sea into the desert, but she had no sense of what the creatures truly looked like, having never been more than fifteen miles beyond the Myrean border, let alone thousands of leagues south to the Kremir Desert. “I think I would require a larger canvas to carve a krakai, Tosin. Maybe another time.” Then she pitched her voice low. “But I do know another story, and its Mother Moriya’s favorite. Has she ever told you about the leopard who was so clever it trapped a snake and tied its tail into a knot?”
The children giggled and inched forward until they were practically atop Ysai’s boots, tugging on her skirt. Mother Moriya was the leader of the Tribe, but Ysai rarely used the honorific, as Moriya was actually her mother.
She’d been in the south for two months on what was meant to be a quick raid across the Myrean border, and yet Ysai tried not to worry. Moriya would be safe; the other Tribesfolk with her on the incursion would die to keep her safe.
Ysai began to tell the story as she carved the body of the pouncing cat. She used magick to shift her throat and mouth until she had the growling voice of the leopard. She snarled and hissed at her students when she could tell she was losing their attention. Until she felt the deep vibration of hoofbeats beneath her feet and relief coursed through her, golden as good Myrean wine. She quickly finished the story and sent them running for the cook fire at the center of camp.
Though darkness had long ago fallen, the camp was in a flurry of motion. Horned, fanged, and pointy-eared folk spilled from their tents, anticipating the return of the raiding party. Only humans were truly unwelcome here. When Moriya became the Mother of the Tribe near sixty years ago, she began seeking out any Myrean exiles who ventured north into the Roune Lands and welcomed them into the Tribe. That had swelled their numbers from less than a hundred to near two hundred and fifty members now.
Ysai considered going to the tent she and her mother shared and sleeping until her mother had finished being welcomed home. But she wanted to hear firsthand what excuse Moriya would offer to her people about the length of the trip.
Would she admit that this journey had been more of a fact-finding mission than a pure raid? Or would she continue to hide her true plan to venture south and take back the throne?
Ysai was betting on more deception. The Tribesfolk and Elderi council were notoriously fearful about any plans to return to Myre; they were exiles for a reason and without a clear plan, they would be facing absolute annihilation from the human Queen’s armies.
But now that Moriya had a vast network of spies in place, she believed the time was more right than ever. Ripe for revolution.
Or so her mother believed. Ysai herself was not so certain.
The human Queens were merciless and powerful. Their entire nobility heartless enough to require fratricide as a stepping stone to the throne.
She did not dare long for the throne, not when seeking it endangered everything she had ever known. The Tribe had remained safely hidden for centuries and yet any attempt to complete their original purpose—to lay in wait until the time was right to take back the throne—might very well mean their destruction.
It was a risk their ancestors expected them to take. When all hope of victory in the Great War was lost, the original thirteen Elderi who had served the last khimaer Queen crossed the A’Nir Mountains to preserve their race. All in the hope that they could one day take back their ancestral home. Eight generations had passed—while eight unlawful human Queens sat on the Ivory throne—and they had made no real progress on that goal. The humans had armies numbering in the tens of thousands and they were just five hundred people, hiding in the mountains, longing to return to a country that had forgotten they existed.
Ysai fell into step with the rest of the Tribesfolk making their way to the front of camp. The large, circular clearing in the shadow of Ariban had been reinforced with a wall of trees bound with twine and packed with mud on the slim chance any of the other raiding bands in the Roune Lands made it past their wards and sentries.
By the time the tide of the crowd carried Ysai to the front of the wall, the front gates were swinging open. The sound of thundering hoofbeats rang in the air and Ysai’s stomach clenched as she caught sight of the first rider.
Anosh, her mother’s second, a man of eagle wings and storm cleaving magick in his veins, rode not a horse like most the folks behind him. He sat astride one of the shahana, a rare antelope found only in the far north. Like all shahana, the massive beast was a few hands taller than a horse, with long nimble legs and splayed hooves perfect for navigating the snow and ice of the upper reaches of the mountains. White spiraled horns sprang from either side of her triangular head and her pitch-black fur was flecked with snow-white spots. A crest of equally snowy fur covered her chest.
Ysai knew the beast well, for it was her mother’s mount. She pushed through the crowd gathering at the gate as an uneasy silence spread.
It was shattered a few moments later as two men carrying a stretcher came into view.
Ysai broke into a sprint as the crowd opened before her. Roaring filled her ears and between one blink and the next, she was sliding to her knees in the dirt as the stretcher was laid on the ground.
Only to be greeted by her mother’s smile. The silver hair and antlers Ysai had inherited were bright in the dark night. Ysai scanned her mother’s face—the only sign of pain was faint tightness around her eyes—before turning her attention to the arrow protruding from Moriya’s waist. A deep crimson stain bloomed around the wound.
Before she could say a word, the Mother of the Tribe crooned. “It is not so fearsome as it seems. I was shot as we crossed the border.” Moriya reached up to catch a single fallen tear on Ysai’s cheek. “Do not worry.”
Moriya’s smile slackened to a painful grimace as she reached within the heavy folds of her woolen cloak to pull out a journal. She pressed it into Ysai’s hands.
“Do you understand?” Moriya asked. “I need you to be strong now.”
Fear clanged through Ysai. She knelt there frozen in the dirt until someone, she did not notice who, hauled her to her feet.
She followed the path Moriya’s stretcher cut through the gathering khimaer, barely hearing the explanations from the dismounting warriors.
We were ambushed at the border . . .
Be assured . . . the Mother will be well.
Human scum . . . cowards waited until we . . .
Ysai tuned it all out, numbly trudging after her mother as she held tight to the book.
She knew Moriya wouldn’t have given her this book unless things were truly dire. It was deceptively plain, hand bound in twine with a Godling symbol inscribed on the cover. One of the dozens of journals Moriya kept, but never once before let Ysai study. .
Finally Ysai skidded to a stop before one of the white canvas tents where the Tribe’s healers worked. Sentries waited out front, blocking the entrance. Only patients were allowed within, and it wouldn’t do to disturb their work. Still, fear writhed in her gut like an eel.
She settled on the ground, close enough to the lanterns hanging outside each tent to read. She flipped through the pages until she reached the last entry.
At the top of the page there were notes written in a cypher; not written for Ysai’s eyes, though she would attempt to translate them in time. She ran her fingers over a splotch of blood staining the corner. It had seeped into several pages.
In the center of the page, her mother’s sloping handwriting switched to plain Khimaeran.
My mother once told me I would know my death when it came to me. She said all women gifted with Khimaerani’s power do. I didn’t take her warning seriously. But as soon as the bolt struck, I knew I’d been wrong. I could feel my death rushing toward me; I knew I wouldn’t survive the healing required to save my life. Already I feel weakness seeping through me like poison, and every one of my hundred years weighing upon me like stones. There is chaos in the south, chaos that will serve our plans. Learn the cypher, you will see. And call the Hunter home; he will be essential. There is one last thing. Someone else has inherited the gift we share. You must lead our Tribe south, free the khimaer in the Enclosures, and you will find her there. She will be Queen.
The words were rushed and sloppy. Ysai could barely make sense of it. Her eyes were still scanning the page as she climbed to her feet.
She wiped the tears gathering beneath her eyes and approached the guards. “Please, I need to speak with the Mother. It’s urgent.”
One of the guards opened his mouth, likely to deny her entrance, but his voice was cut off by a scream from within. Ysai shouldered past them, the whole of her trembling, as she ducked beneath the tent flaps. She could only assume it was by virtue of being the Tribe Mother’s daughter that the guards didn’t hold her back.
Inside, two healers knelt on either side of Moriya, who lay on a palette of soft furs. Her stomach was exposed, the arrow having already been removed from her side. Yet the dressing on the wound was soaked in bright red blood.
“What is wrong? Why haven’t you healed her?”
“We are trying,” the closest healer, a jackal khimaer with liquid black eyes, explained. “It resists healing. There is no poison in her blood, but the internal damage, it resists our healing.”
At Ysai’s approach, Moriya’s eyes flew wide, almost seeming to glow as they latched on to her daughter, pinning her in place. Her usually rich bronze skin had gone ashen.
“Oh, Ysai, yes, good . . .” she rasped. The hairs around her brow were soaked in sweat. She rose up on her elbows, giving the healers a look that was both stern and full of maternal warmth.. “Thank you for all you’ve done. Know you are not to blame for what is to come, children. Leave us.”
A gust of wind yanked at the scarf around Ysai’s neck as the tent flaps opened and closed upon the healers’ exit. Once they were alone, Ysai sat beside Moriya and began mopping the elder woman’s brow. Her softly curling silver hair was tangled around her horns. “I don’t believe you. Great-mother was wrong. We’ll call for more healers.”
Moriya frowned, pushing Ysai’s fumbling hands away. “Do not worry, child. We have little time now. The King is dead. The human Queen and her daughters may yet destroy each other and that will be our chance. You will be named Mother in the days after I am buried. You must promise me, Ysai. Promise me you will take us south and see a khimaer take the throne.”
When Ysai hesitated, Moriya caught her hand, squeezing painfully. Ysai was surprised her mother still had the strength with that pained, dying light in her eyes. She could tell her mother was using all of her immense will to hold to life just a bit longer. Perhaps if she gave the healers a chance, they could extend the time she had left.
She tried to pull away, but her mother’s grip was tight. “How can I convince them? It will take decades just to gain everyone in the Tribe’s trust, Moriya.”
“I know you will find a way, Ysai. Promise me,” she repeated, eyes fervent.
And so Ysai of Ariban, who had barely left this snow-blasted valley in the twenty years of her life, said yes.
Her mother fought the fever burning through her until finally she went peacefully at dawn. Not one of the many Tribesfolk blessed with healing gifts could root out the fever. They said it was as if her body had simply given up.
In the numb days that followed, Moriya was burned on a pyre. The morning after, when all the Tribe watched as two Elderi placed a headdress of crescent-shaped plates of gold over Ysai’s shoulders and swore their allegiance to her, the new Mother of the Tribe, Ysai thought only of that promise and a stain of blood.
Take the Tribe south. Lead them to slaughter or steal the throne right under the humans’ noses.
She added another task: seek revenge on the soldiers that killed Moriya and obliterate all who stood in their way.