Friday, March 7, 2014

"White Hart (White Hart #1)" by Sarah Dalton

White Hart
(White Hart #1)
by Sarah Dalton

White Hart is the first book in the White Hart series. Red Palace, the second book in the series, is due out later in 2014.

This book blitz and giveaway is brought to you by Xpresso Book Tours.

Mae never asked to be craft-born. She never wanted that burden.
The realm needs magic again, and the the King of Aegunlund has been waiting for the first craft-born girl to marry his son, Prince Casimir.
In Mae's town of Halts-Walden, the ambitious miller claims his daughter Ellen is craft-born. Mae knows this is a load of hogwash, but she's glad Ellen will have the unfortunate pleasure of becoming queen instead of her. All she has to do is sit back and wait until Casimir and Ellen are married, then she will finally be free of the threat of her fate. But on that day an event so shocking and terrible occurs that Mae finds herself entering the neighbouring cursed forest on a quest she never thought she'd have to follow.
Join Mae as she rides her white stag through the Waerg Woods with a pampered prince at her heels. She's out for revenge and nothing, no one, will get in her way.

Father and I live on the edge of the gloomy forest; close enough to smell the leaves, hear the rustle of animals, and sense the dangers within. Darkness hangs below the knotted canopy of branches. I stand and watch in awe, following Anta’s hoof-prints. It’s late. The sun sets. The grey of dusk descends over Halts-Walden with the threat of rain in the dark underbelly of clouds. The prince may well be greeted with mud and rain in the morning. The thought makes me feel rather gleeful. I imagine some pampered, puffy prince on the back of a regal horse, riding into the village in search of the red hair of maidens, quaint flowers, and those who bend the knee to him.
“Come in for stew, Mae,” Father says. “You should have a bath, too, if the prince is arriving.”
“I thought the whole point was to make sure the prince wouldn’t want me,” I reply, shooting him a glance.
Father sighs. “That’s true. But this is still a momentous occasion for the village, and you should look the part, or you’ll attract attention. Do you know the last time we had a royal come here?”
I shake my head.
“Well, it was before my time. Your grand-papa talked of it sometimes. King Aldrych the First came when he was still a prince. He thought we were enchanted, because of where we live. I suppose the kings always do.”
We’re under Aldrych the Second’s rule, now, a man I know little about because of how isolated we are. His reputation is one of greed. The only thing I know is that he wants his precious Red Palace to make his gems. Apparently the craft is needed for that. I don’t know how it works. Part of me would love to see the castle, to discover what makes it so special.
“Well, Ellen is craft-born, after all.” I snort. She’s got about as much craft in her as the muck in Farmer Black’s pigpen.
“Are you complaining, Mae? You’ve wanted nothing more than to avoid Ellen’s fate. Ever since…” He trails off.
Ever since I realised I have the magic in me. To finish his sentence, I lift a hand and click with my thumb and index finger. The butterflies that usually hide away between our flowers reveal themselves in the garden. There are dozens of them fluttering through the sky of all colours: red, yellow, blue, patterned with eyes that stare out like rubies. They fly to me and cluster around my hand.
Father shakes his head, but he laughs. “If only your mother could see you.”
A bold butterfly with wings the colour of sapphires lands on my nose, tapping me with its antennae.
“I just wanted to call you,” I say. “There’s no job for now.”
The butterfly leaves my nose sharply, as though in a huff. The others follow, flapping their tiny wings, disappearing back amongst the flowers.
“You shouldn’t call them whenever you feel like it,” Father warns. “Nature doesn’t exist to serve you and your every whim.”
I’ve heard this speech many a time, so I clap my hands together to prevent a long lecture. “Stew it is, then!”
Father puts an arm around my shoulders as we head back to the hut. “Rabbit stew, in fact. With carrots and mint. I need to fatten you up—I can feel your ribs!”
I pat my tunic. “Really?” I am small for my age.
He chuckles as we walk through the doorway. I help him up the stone step. “You’re still growing. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be a few inches taller by your sixteenth birthday.”
I lift his arm from my shoulders, and it drags dark curls in front of my eyes. I push them back behind my ears. “I doubt it.”
“Sit down and eat your meal.” Father points to the table, laid out with a bowl of food. It’s barely enough for the two of us. “Tomorrow will be a big day. We’ll see the prince, and when he takes Ellen away, we’ll never have to worry again about you being sent to the Red Palace.”
I like the sound of that. As I shovel down the rabbit stew, my shoulders lighten. For years we’ve worried about my powers. We know little about craft and the craft-born, except that the magic within me seems to allow me to call on nature. I don’t know why it makes me powerful or how it would benefit the realm, I just know that I don’t want to be a princess and I never have. I can’t think of anything worse than flouncing about in fancy dresses, cooped up in the Red Palace forever, forced into marrying someone I don’t even know. I certainly don’t want to use my powers to help the king become even richer.
But there is something in me that longs to find out more about the powers within me. Sometimes I fantasise about disappearing from Halts-Walden and travelling Aegunlund in search of answers. I want to be in the woods with the birds and the butterflies. I want to climb trees and ride Anta ’til my arse-cheeks are sore. I don’t know why I’m craft-born, and I don’t really care. All I know is whatever the reason, it has to be more than sitting pretty on a throne. There must be more to life. There has to be freedom and adventure in this world. I want to find it.

Meet the Characters
Mae Waylander
She lives in the village of Halts-Walden, in the fictional world – Aegunlund. It’s an idyllic village, a place where settlers came to escape many wars ravaging the realm, a place to live in peace. Mae lives with her father, Robert Waylander, a poor man who has been hurt felling trees for wood. Mae’s mother died birthing her, but on the day she was born, a white stag appeared at the window of the hut. That white stag has followed her ever since, becoming her faithful friend.
Next to Halts-Walden stretches out the Waerg Woods, a mystical forest of darkness, where remnants of the Ancient magic has twisted the land into a dangerous, monster-infested place. Mae’s mother came from the Waerg Woods. Mae and her father are the only people from the village who are brave enough to enter. But their bravery is construed as wickedness by the other villagers. Mae is shunned, called cursed, and treated badly by those around her.
But she has a powerful secret. Mae is craft-born. The blood of the Ancient Ones runs through her veins. The magic lives inside her, and she is special.

Prince Casimir
The crown prince of Aegunlund comes to Halts-Walden by the order of King Aldrych. He is to marry the craft-born so that the two of them can reignite the magic in the realm.
Casimir is nervous but excited about meeting his future bride. He hopes that she is beautiful and graceful. He hopes that he can impress her with his skills as a hunter and a swordsman. Most of all, he hopes that she will not prefer his brutish younger brother, like his father does.
Casimir finds more than he expected in Halts-Walden. He finds freedom. But that freedom comes with a cost. Casimir will have to grow up very quickly if he is to survive the Waerg Woods.

Ellen Miller
All her life her father has told her that she is meant for greatness. She is the most beautiful girl in Halts-Walden, with snow white skin and black hair. One day she discovers an amulet. It seems like a regular trinket. But soon she discovers that she can perform small magical actions, like darkening the leaves of an ivy plant with her touch.
The miller sees his daughter perform magic and spreads word through Aegunlund that his daughter is the craft-born. Before she knows it, Ellen is being introduced to her future husband – Prince Casimir.
Ellen swallows her doubts about what she has done. But before she has time to come to terms with her new future, she is kidnapped and taken into the Waerg Woods by men the locals call ‘Wanderers’, men who steal from the people at Halts-Walden. Bullies who frighten the children and rough up the tavern goers.
Ellen has to remain where she is, completely helpless, until someone can rescue her. She can’t let the others know the truth. They can’t find out that she is not the craft-born after all.

A beautifully written, well crafted and devised fantasy novel aimed at the 13+ market. The detail is rich, the setting beautifully realised and the characterisation excellent. We are introduced to Mae - a half-wild young woman who lives with her father on the very edges of civilisation. Her past times are climbing trees, riding her stag Anta and basically avoiding the trappings of femininity. But she has a secret - she is Craft-born, having a magical connection with elements and with it, power. Alas, such talent is what the kingdom needs and she finds herself unwittingly caught up in grief and thrown into the horrors of the deadly Waerg wood, where she shall have to face disaster and death at every turn, and something even more dangerous: heartbreak.
The plot takes off early, and never lets go. I loved Mae's personality - so stubborn and single-minded that she was responsible for a number of her own self-injury (physical and emotional) and over-complicated an already complex situation. Several times you wanted to shriek at her "just admit to it!". The character of Cas too was excellent - the pampered prince who, at first glance seemed just that but when one looks deeper, is revealed in his many layers. Likewise, Sasha.
The ending? Well, I would have preferred it without the cliff-hanger, personally. That seemed a little abrupt and sudden as though the author were going "oh, so you think the story is over now. You're WRONG!"
I wish I didn't have to wait to find out what happened next...

About the Author
Sarah grew up in the middle of nowhere in the countryside of Derbyshire and as a result has an over-active imagination. She has been an avid reader for most of her life, taking inspiration from the stories she read as a child, and the novels she devoured as an adult.
She is the author of the popular YA dystopia series Blemished and the gothic novella My Daylight Monsters. She has just released the first book in her new YA Fantasy series titled White Hart.

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