Jennifer Estep utterly enthralled me with her Crown of Shards trilogy. She set up a fascinating kingdom with all sorts of intriguing players. And she’s going back to that world with the Gargoyle Queen trilogy. The first book in the series, Capture the Crown, arrives soon, setting up Gemma Ripley as the protagonist. Set about 15 years after the events of the previous trilogy, Gemma is now the crown princess of Andvari. We have an exclusive excerpt from Capture the Crown that sets the tone.
But first, the synopsis. Gemma is undercover. A powerful magier and talented spy, she’s trying to figure out who is stealing tearstone, a powerful substance, from the Ripley royal mines. However, she runs into her mortal enemy Prince Leonidas Morricone of Morta. That’s right, folks. We have fantasy and an enemies to lovers romance. In other words: a gift.
In the following excerpt Gemma has a run with a strix, friends, and a gargoyle. And also a mostly dead Leonidas.
Pushing a wheelbarrow full of a mostly dead prince through the woods wasn’t as easy as I’d thought it would be.
Given the rocky, hilly terrain, I couldn’t have managed it without my magic. But one good thing about being a mind magier was that I could move much larger objects with my magic than I ever could with my own mortal strength; although, the heavier the object, the more magic, willpower, and concentration were required. So I pushed the wheelbarrow along with my arms and legs, and used my magic to shove it past, around, and over the rocks, dead logs, and other detritus that littered the forest floor.
Leonidas didn’t stir, no matter how bumpy the ride got or how viciously I cursed. Those coldiron shackles were still wrapped around his wrists, and they clank-clank-clanked together as loudly as a bell ringing around a cow’s neck. Between the clanking shackles, the attached rattling chain, and the wheelbarrow’s squeaky wheel, I was making far too much noise, but speed was more important than stealth.
I made it back to the clearing in front of the cottage without running into anyone. Just a little bit farther, and I could stop pushing, roll Leonidas out of the wheelbarrow, and see how badly he was injured—
A presence brushed up against my mind, as soft as a feather tickling my skin, and a shadow fell over me, blotting out the sun. I jerked to a stop, and my sudden, awkward motion almost tipped over the wheelbarrow.
A harsh warning cry rang out. My head snapped up, and I realized why Captain Wexel had kept glancing up at the sky after he had stabbed Leonidas.
Lyra was hovering above me. The strix was pumping her wings hard and fast, and the resulting blasts of wind blew my miner’s helmet clear off my head. With another harsh cry, the strix streaked downward, her talons aimed at my chest, ready to tear me to pieces.
I dropped the wheelbarrow handles, lifted my hands, and reached for my magic. But before I could shove the strix off course, a dark gray blur streaked through the air and slammed into her.
Grimley was here.
Lyra and Grimley both went down hard and tumbled wings over tails across the clearing, their talons raking over the ground and throwing up grass, dirt, and rocks in their chaotic wake. They slammed into the broad trunk of a maple hard enough to make a shower of scarlet leaves cascade down and comically cover their bodies, as though they were children who had deliberately jumped into a pile of raked leaves.
Lyra hopped up and whipped around to face Grimley, who shook off the leaves, leaped up, and pawed at the ground. Strixes and gargoyles were natural competitors for food, and Lyra and Grimley both looked like they wanted to rip each other to shreds. Lyra’s beak, talons, and onyx-tipped wings were some of the few things hard, strong, and sharp enough to penetrate Grimley’s stone skin, while his horns, teeth, talons, and arrow-tipped tail could be used to equally brutal effect on her. It was a fight that could end only one way—with the two of them killing each other.
Even though it was stupid and dangerous, I leaped in between the two creatures just as they started to charge at each other. Grimley immediately halted, and to my surprise, Lyra jerked to the side to keep from running into me, although she whipped right back around.
“Stop!” I hissed, looking first at the gargoyle and then the strix. “Do you two want everyone in Blauberg to know we’re here?”
Grimley shuffled back, chastised by my harsh tone. Lyra bobbed her head, as though she was also sorry, then hopped over to Leonidas, who was still lying in the wheelbarrow.
She bent down and nudged him with her beak, but he didn’t stir. “Leo’s hurt.” She faced me again, her eyes narrowing to slits. “Did you hurt him?”
I held my hands out to my sides, trying to look as nonthreatening as possible. “No. It was a Mortan captain named Wexel.”
Lyra let out an odd, low cry that sounded very similar to one of Grimley’s growls, then raked her talons through the grass, leaving long gouges behind. “Kill him for this. Finally.”
Finally? How long had the strix wanted to kill the captain? And why?
I pushed my questions aside and pointed at Leonidas. “I have some medicine inside that might heal his wound. It’s the only chance he has.”
Lyra quirked her head from side to side, still studying me with narrowed eyes, and I could feel her distrust raking across my heart, the sensation as sharp as her talons tearing through the grass.
“Look at it this way. If you kill me now, then Leonidas will definitely die. But if you let me live, then he might live too.” I paused, an idea popping into my mind. “Besides, you can always kill me later.”
Topacia would have groaned at my pointing out that fact. She was always saying that I needed to be far less flippant and cheerful about things like my own death. She was probably right.
Capture the Crown arrives on July 6, 2021. You can place a pre-order now.