The Crimson League
by Victoria Grefer
What would you do if you were seventeen, a woodworker’s daughter, and your kingdom’s sorcerer-dictator was determined to see you dead?
Join Kora Porteg in the kingdom of Herezoth as she aids her homeland’s organized resistance. Opposing the sorcerer who slew the royal family, Kora soon discovers she’s a sorceress herself, as well as the unwitting subject of an old and often mocked legend. Though she accepts she can have no place in Herezoth after civil war should end, she fights alongside the usurper’s sister, a thief, a scholar, two telekinetic brothers, and other members of the group that calls itself the Crimson League. As their prospects deteriorate, the League has no choice but to make a final stand against its foe and the army that supports him.
The Crimson League is the first in a trilogy of novels about Herezoth and its magicked inhabitants, as they struggle to make names for themselves, or simply to survive, against prejudice and evil.
Map of Herezoth
The autumn wind’s whistle died with a choke as Kora Porteg slammed her brother’s window. The tattered curtains fell lifeless against the wall. Kora made no habit of attacking windows, not in the quaint little cottage she’d called home all her seventeen years, but she was alarmed, and bitterly disappointed, at the state of this particular one.
“For the last time, Zacry, you can’t leave your room open to the world.”
“Things aren’t that….”
“Things that bad! You should know. You steal Mother’s paper enough.”
“I understand about half of the paper, they make everything so cryptic. And I haven’t snagged one in two weeks. She’s started torching them.”
Torching them was probably best, Kora thought as she watched Zacry climb, unrepentant, into bed. He spent most days sneaking away to find news of the resistance, though he managed to hide the pastime from most people, his mother among them. He went filling his head with heroics, and him only eleven…. His new hobby frightened Kora, who forced her demeanor and her voice into nonchalance.
“Father would want you to read. To read books.”
“Well, Father’s not here, is he?”
Kora’s normally pale complexion lightened two shades. She jumped at her brother’s statement, and a strand of chestnut curls fell from the bun at the back of her neck. She stared out at a robust harvest moon, which just allowed her to descry the line of the unpaved road to Hogarane, the nearest village. Then she drew the curtains closed.
“I’m sorry,” Zacry murmured to Kora’s back. “I shouldn’t have said….”
“Well, you, you’re right. But still, Zac!”
“Why don’t you tell me a story?”
Kora took a seat on the edge of the bed. “Will you pick up a book tomorrow? the paper?”
“Yes.” The surrender was guilt-won, but Kora accepted it.
“What story, then?”
Their father had told the tale many times when they were younger. Kora began the same way he always had:
“Centuries before you were born, the God-blessed kingdom of Herezoth….”
“God-forsaken’s more like it.”
“The God-blessed kingdom of Herezoth,” Kora continued, “was home to many sorcerers. You could always tell a sorcerer because he was born with a special mark.”
“That’s right. People say the mark was a triangle because to do sorcery, you needed three things: power, will, and knowledge. You had to be born with the power to cast spells, and not everyone was. You had to truly will the spell to be cast; you had to concentrate, to focus your mind on what you wanted. That applies to more than ancient magic, Zac.”
Zacry’s eye roll said Kora needn’t make her agenda more explicit; he’d promised to read a book, hadn’t he? And he went to school each day. Not that he had any other option beneath the new regime, but he worked diligently in lessons. His sister went on:
“Lastly, a sorcerer needed the right incantation. If he didn’t know that, he could want to cast the spell more than anything and possess the world’s strongest magic. It wouldn’t matter a jot. Some sorcerers specialized in writing spells, but that required an understanding of magic’s subtleties that only a few ever mastered.”
“What happened to the sorcerers?”
“At first they lived with the normal folk in peace. They kept to themselves. They had their own court, their own laws to govern magic. The Hall of Sorcery was high in the mountains, and people say only the magicked ever saw it. They say you needed magic to find the path up to the peak where the Hall’s tallest spire broke the clouds. The court’s members were called Councilors, and their most famous leader was Brenthor. He was a wise man, and just. People like us weren’t afraid to go to him, offering money for help or begging for his aid. To this day it’s said Brenthor honored every honest plea. That’s probably an exaggeration, but we know for a fact he used the money from those who paid him to build houses and grow food for the poor. He advised those sorcerers who wrote spells to put them down in books, which he stored in a library next to the Hall. The king himself asked Brenthor for advice, many times. It was Brenthor who led the king’s warriors when they put down the Sorcerers’ Revolt.”
Kora paused, waiting for Zacry to ask about the Revolt. The question came, and Kora pulled her brother’s blankets tight against him; he wiggled them loose as she said, “A sorcerer came before the magic court when Brenthor was off consulting with the king. This man’s name was Hansrelto, and he was cunning, proud, and cruel. He thought magic had dignity, and that Brenthor was wrong to serve the king, to sell incantations. A number of sorcerers thought like Hansrelto, and they rallied behind him, but it was Hansrelto by himself who showed up at the Hall. He knew Brenthor was gone, and that no one at the court could challenge him.
“Hansrelto wanted sorcerers to rule Herezoth. He asked the court to follow him in an attack on the king and Brenthor’s policies. Brenthor’s second-in-command, a young sorceress named Mayven, was in charge the day Hansrelto came. She debated him, she called his views maniacal, but because Hansrelto thought all magic users had rights, he cast no spell against her. He’d come to marshal the court, and he managed to take a third of its members with him when he left, blowing apart the doors and destroying the front-most pillars. Legend holds a corner of the building collapsed.
“Mayven understood how dangerous Hansrelto was. She wasted no time in uniting her sorcerers against him while Hansrelto terrorized the villages nearby, destroying homes, killing livestock, forcing the people to submit to his new order. Finally, Mayven’s army was put together. Brenthor took command when he returned with five thousand footsoldiers: the king had offered all assistance he could give. The battle took place at the foot of the mountains, and was bloody and long, and most of the magicked died. The ordinary soldiers fared little better. Only eight hundred survived, because Hansrelto cast devastating spells that took out people by the dozens. Brenthor triumphed in the end, but Hansrelto escaped to a nearby cave. Brenthor cast an enchantment on the entrance, a spell that would instantly kill Hansrelto if he walked out.
“Hansrelto died in his prison, but he had already damaged relations between the magicked and the world, damaged them beyond repair. Hansrelto changed how people thought of sorcery. They became scared. They saw what magic could do in evil hands. Brenthor’s bravery meant nothing to them, so they forgot it. Mayven’s body wasn’t found, but no one heard from her again. Most think Hansrelto injured her and she left the battle to die. Perhaps that was best, because anyone who could cast spells was shunned after the revolt. Using magic of any kind was grounds for death. The few sorcerers that were left hid themselves. Magic arts were lost to time, or so it seemed.”
“Until Zalski,” said the boy.
“Until Zalski. He was the son of the king’s chief adviser. He bribed the royal guards, as many as he could, offering positions of power. Some he threatened in secret. However he did it, he had enough support to overthrow the royals. No one stood against him, not when he started casting spells. That was just two years ago.”
“Two years,” mused Zacry. “I was nine. It seems longer than two years.”
“Of course it seems longer. He’s taken three-fourths of what we’ve earned for the past fifty months. It’s his way of keeping us weak, so we can’t rise up. Even down here he’s managed to get Farmer Byjon on his side, and since Farmer Byjon controls everything….”
“But people did rise up,” said Zacry. “You’ve seen the wanted posters: the Crimson League. They stopped that caravan of quartz from reaching Zalski three months ago. They’ve killed as many soldiers as they’ve lost.”
Kora shifted her weight from one side to the other. “They have courage,” she admitted. “The Crimson League is brave, if nothing else. And they deserve better than the deaths that wait for them. But if you don’t think Zalski has fifty men to replace every one they take from him….”
Zacry stared stubbornly at his sister, as he did every time this story devolved into the same argument. “I believe in them.”
“Just don’t believe too loudly, for all our sakes. Now, that’s enough for tonight. It’s late. Sleep well, Zac.”
When deciding to read this book, I chose it completely at random out of a selection of Kindle books I’d been collecting over the past few months and adding to my “to-read” list. Within the first chapter or two, I began to see realize that perhaps this random choice was a very good one. By the fourth chapter, I was thrilled! I really enjoyed this book more than I could have imagined!
The author created an entire world rich with its own landscapes, characters, and histories. This tale comes to life with each and every chapter and takes you, the reader, on a journey that unfolds in time with the characters. It feels like you are taking each step with them, maybe like you are watching them as if the tale is a movie unfolding as you go in perfect unison? The twists and turns will get you each time and right when you think you know what’s going on something will happen (sometimes so suddenly your mouth will almost literally hit the floor) to make you have to rethink what you were thinking in the first place!
All in all, I really enjoyed this book so much more than I had imagined I would when I first downloaded it. I am really looking forward to the next one (and the one after that as well). I would really recommend this book!
About the Author
Victoria is a New Orleans girl, born and raised, with an appreciation for the charm of the Deep South. She has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and English and a master’s degree in Spanish literature, all from the University of Alabama. She started college as a journalism major and worked a year as a staff reporter for the Alabama student newspaper, “The Crimson White.” That experience that helped her realize, once and for all, that her love for writing lay with fiction. She started enrolling in creative writing classes the following semester.
From the age of six, Victoria dreamed of becoming a novelist, and her writing career began in the third grade with a series of stories about herself and her friends solving mysteries. In high school she fell in love with the fantasy genre, and started writing fantasy as an undergraduate student. She currently resides in Chicago, IL, where she spends her free time promoting “The Crimson League.” She is a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, where she teaches Spanish and hopes to write a dissertation that links contemporary fantasy literature with the picaresque novel of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She has studied abroad in Spain, the Madrid region, two times, and can’t wait to get acquainted with Latin America.
Victoria loves cats, classic movies, cribbage, and random, useless trivia.
The Crimson League, the first in The Herezoth Trilogy, was published in April 2012. The second book in the trilogy, The Magic Council, was released in November 2012. Book three, The King’s Sons, is currently being edited.