War of the Downer King (Scar of the Downers #3)
by Scott Keen
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: July 2019
Now that Crik and the Downers, once-slaves of Ungstah, have arrived safely in the village of Arined, they can breathe freely for the first time in their short lives.
However, unbeknownst to them, the specter of Sulfus the gaunt king and the witch of Ungstah looms over their new home, the last vestige of safety in the Northern Reaches.
Meanwhile, in Ungstah, Durgan, former Captain of the Watch, and those left behind prepare for their final assault against Sulfus, knowing his fall is their only way to freedom. But as each day passes and lives are lost, the uprising begins to falter.
Aniel, a messenger from the Eastern lands, knows that time is running out as she searches through the dark past of an ancient king in the hope of finding a clue to the mysterious origins of Sulfus and the King’s Eyes.
How long can Crik and his companions hide from Sulfus and the King’s Eyes? Will Durgan and the Branded have the strength to topple a throne? What secrets will Aniel find? Will it be enough to overthrow a king and free the Downers once and for all?
It all began with a child. It will only end with a war.
Sulfus’s throne room glowed in the light of the red lamps that burned on the dais. The withered king stared, expressionless, with his hollowed-out eyes in the direction of the closed chamber doors, his long, white beard unfolded out before him along the floor. A brown and blood-red carpet extended from the dais to the doors, and standing motionless alongside it, beside the massive throne room pillars, were Draugers, their orange eyes radiant against their deep blue skin and gray helmets.
The chamber doors opened and in walked a lone, hunch-backed figure, whose body and overlarge shoulder blades were covered by a cloak that dragged along the floor behind her. She was small, ant-like, compared to the massive size of the ceiling and pillars. This was the King’s Eyes, as she called herself, and she watched over her son’s throne, seeing what no one else could see.
“Welcome, Mother,” announced the echoic voice from the throne. “The soldiers have assembled in the square and are awaiting their orders.”
“Have any of the other cities responded?” The old woman’s voice quivered as she spoke, but it wasn’t out of fear or weakness. A cold, strong power weaved through her words.
“Yes,” said Sulfus. The king’s beard snaked down the steps of the dais. His skin was ashen, ghostly, and draped loosely over his bones. His cheeks were sunken and made his hollowed-out eyes appear as two pits opening into an abyss. “Soldiers from Dul Urith and the Fortresses of Koba and Noth have assembled. They are ready to march on our orders. Felastah and The Horn City are gathering soldiers as we speak. When they are ready, they will send soldiers north to reinforce the Last Outpost. The Urgog have also agreed to help our cause. We, however, have not heard from Eluthia, the Island City.”
“Send the messenger birds again,” hissed the King’s Eyes. “Warn them that if they do not respond swiftly, they will be seen as enemies of the throne. We will send the might of the Northern Reaches against them. And for those who have answered our call, tell them that I will bless them.”
“What, may I ask, is your final plan? Our first contingent of soldiers have been wiped out. These Downers are obviously stronger than we first thought.”
“They are not stronger than I thought at all,” snarled the King’s Eyes. “Don’t speak such foolishness. It is only by chance that they stumbled across that old hermit. But like all beings in this land, he will soon slink back into his hole. If he has not stretched out his hand to help the Downers before, he will not do it now. They will not stay there. No, they are on their own once again.”
“But where are they going?” asked Sulfus. “How will you find them?”
“Do you forget that I am your eyes?” Her voice was sickly sweet as if she tried to sound caring. “I see what you cannot, and I have others seeing what I cannot. My eyes are everywhere.”
The old woman lifted her arm into the air. A sudden squawk echoed in the throne room as a horned crow swooped in from the open window and landed on the witch’s arm. The bird’s red, beady eyes were filled with malevolence. It gave another piercing squawk. The King’s Eyes climbed up the stairs of the dais and stood next to the throne of bones, the crow still perched on her arm.
“It seems that our spies have observed the agitators entering the Bleak Hills. That is where they must be hiding. It is one of the overlooked regions of the Northern Reaches.” The old woman jerked her arm upward and sent the bird fluttering to one of the beams in the ceiling where it perched. “But I assure you, it won’t be any longer.”
“A veil hangs across those hills,” said Sulfus. “We cannot see clearly what lies behind it. It is clouded.”
“That is why we will enter into it and hunt them down.”
“I fear that it won’t make it any easier,” said Sulfus. “There is a reason we have overlooked those hills. A magic lies about it that won’t be easily overcome.”
“Don’t doubt, my son.” Her voice sounded amused. “We will find their home and burn it to the ground.” She withdrew the hood of her cloak off her head, revealing her scaly, hairless scalp.
Holy World Building Batman! What an epic story set in a fantastic magical realm. In case you can't tell, this is my first of Scott Keen's books... but it won't be my last. I loved learning about all of the different people, the individuals and their stories. This book read well as a standalone although it is not. Now I need to go back to read what I have missed! If you are a fantasy reader who loves epic stories on a grand scale about freedom and justice and just being inherently good then do not miss this series, especially Scar of the Downers!
I received a copy of this free book as I requested and am voluntarily leaving my review. All opinions are my own.
About the Author
Scott is married and has four daughters. He has an MFA in Script and Screenwriting and is an adjunct assistant professor. He is also the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and, the final installment of the series, War of the Downer King.