For Ages
14 to 99

Crimson Reign is a part of the Blood Heir collection.

For fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Six of Crows comes the thrilling conclusion to the Blood Heir trilogy. A princess with a dark secret must ally with a con man to liberate her empire from a reign of terror in this epic fantasy retelling of the Anastasia story.

The Red Tigress, Anastacya Mikhailov, has lost the gift she was only beginning to realize defined her. Stolen from her during the battle in Bregon, her blood Affinity rests with Sorsha Farrald, a dangerous Affinite who is on the run, headed straight to Cyrilia and to Ana's aunt . . . the Empress Morganya. 

Thought she is weakened, Ana and her course remain true—yet her return to her homeland reveals a Cyrilia on the brink of collapse. Morganya's tyrannical rule has transformed into a sinister quest for unquestioned authority, and she has set her sights far beyond Cyrilia. Morganya seeks a legendary ancient power, rumored to have once belonged to the Deities themselves. If she can locate it, she can rule the world. 

What's more, Ana's allies, the insurgent Affinite rebels known as the Redcloaks, no longer support her. For their allegiance is with the people—and there can be no equality with a monarchy. 

Ana faces enemies at every turn, and every day without her Affinity brings her closer to death. Yet she is determined to liberate her people and vanquish the legacy of her own imperial bloodline—the inequality sewn into the fabric of her land. Her only hope lies in the navy she recruited in Bregon, the courage of her band of friends, and the cunning crime-lord-turned-captain she's fallen for. 

If Ana loses this fight, it will be her last. And Morganya's reign of darkness with consume the world.

An Excerpt fromCrimson Reign

1

The Cyrilian Empire

The moon was red tonight and the ocean looked like blood, glistening a deep, clear crimson. Anastacya Mikhailov leaned over the railing of her ship and breathed in the sharp, ice-tinted scent of her empire.

Throughout their journey over the past fortnight, she had watched the waters shift from the lovely cobalt blue of Bregon’s coastal shore to the pale, vicious waves of Cyrilia. The humid ocean air of the south had turned stark and dry as they traveled north, the wind whipping at their sails.

The Cyrilian Empire was carved of ice and snow, and she its daughter, born and raised.

“An hour till we make land,” came a voice.

Ana turned. Daya of Kusutri strode toward her. She’d donned a thick fur cloak over her Bregonian tunic and leather shoes as they journeyed north and the weather grew colder. Her captain’s pin flashed, and tonight, even Daya’s easy grin was absent in the place of sobriety as she sidled up and leaned against the railing by Ana’s side.

“Crew’s up and ready for . . . well, whatever we find out there,” Daya finished, tipping her head forward in a grim gesture.

Whatever we find out there. Ana gripped the railing, her jaw tightening as she gazed unflinchingly ahead.

It had been over a moon since she’d been forced to flee her empire, abandoning her people to a scene of slaughter--all in search of a deadly weapon that, if obtained by Morganya, would cause the demise of not only Cyrilia but the entire world. The siphons enabled its bearer to steal powers from Affinites and had been part of a larger, decades-long plan by Alaric Kerlan and the Bregonian government to further exploit Affinites. Morganya, of course, had sought out the siphons to gain power for herself.

“There’s only one person we’re searching for,” Ana said quietly.

“You think she’s out there?” Daya murmured, nodding in the direction of the shores.

Their quarry: Sorsha Farrald, Ramson’s half sister and former Lieutenant of the Blue Fort. The girl who had betrayed her own army and kingdom from the inside on a quest for revenge and destruction.

The girl who had stolen both siphons.

Sorsha had used one siphon to steal Ana’s blood Affinity for herself, storing it and channeling it at will in the searock band that she wore on her wrist. The other, she’d sworn to bring to Morganya before she’d disappeared.

It sickened Ana to know that her power would be used by a girl obsessed with wrath and ruin--and it was only the first example of the devastation the siphons would unleash upon the world. The exploitation of Affinites would continue at the hands of humanity. The wheel of power and powerless, oppressor and oppressed, would continue to spin.

Unless Ana found the siphons and overthrew Morganya’s reign of terror.

Her eyes narrowed a fraction. “I know she’s out there,” Ana replied. “We just have to find her before Morganya--”

A fit of coughs overtook her and she lurched over the railing, feeling, not for the first time, that there was something inside her that was wrong, an emptiness that was scraping her raw.

She felt Daya’s hands on her shoulders, steadying her. “Feeling all right?” A pause, then: “Have you eaten today?”

Over the past two weeks aboard Daya’s Stormbringer, Ana’s appetite had diminished--something she had blamed on seasickness. But the insomnia, the bouts of dizziness, and the coughing fits--it was clear to anybody who paid attention that those were side effects of something much deeper.

The effect of having one’s Affinity torn from them.

She’d heard stories from her friend and ally, Linn, who’d witnessed it firsthand in the Bregonian research dungeons they’d broken into. A girl, Linn had told her, looking more like skin and bones than human. Gold hair thinned and falling out in clumps. Face sunken to the point of being skeletal.

Ana had examined her own reflection in the looking glass Daya kept in her captain’s cabin, imagining her cheeks hollowing out, her thick dark hair that she’d inherited from her mother thinning to strands.

Every day, she told herself that King Darias of Bregon was spearheading research on destroying siphons and reversing their effects. That he would send word to her immediately should he find anything new.

Ana straightened. “It’s nothing,” she said, avoiding Daya’s eyes.

Her friend patted her back. “Probably seasickness. You’ll feel much better once we’re on land.” Daya smiled and gestured. “It’s a Blood Moon tonight. You know what that means?”

Ana followed her gaze. “I believe Cyrilian legends call it the Winter’s Fire,” she said. “But I do rather like ‘Blood Moon.’ ”

“According to my gods, it heralds war and bloodshed,” Daya said, leaning her head to mirror Ana’s pose. She brushed a coil of braided black hair out of her face. Her teeth flashed white in the dark. “With a thousand Bregonian troops behind us, I’d say I rather like our chances.”

At the thought, Ana turned from the prow. Behind her, phantomlike in the moonlight and lunging to the skies like daggers, were the sails of her warfleet, one thousand strong, lent to her as an alliance between her and King Darias. They flew silver sails with the Bregonian seadragon entwined with the Cyrilian roaring tiger insignia--only, instead of stark white, this one was bloodred.

Red Tigress.

It had become the symbol for her party, for her revolution. The symbol for a new Cyrilia: an equal, balanced land free of oppression, where Affinites and non-Affinites walked side by side.

As to what that held for her, for the future she’d once dreamt of as the heir of an empire, she wasn’t certain.

A gust of wind knifed past her, whipping her cloak behind her in a scarlet trail. Not for the first time, Ana wondered what the ghosts of her family would think of her now. She could so clearly see the cold disappointment in her father’s eyes, the muted sorrow on her brother’s face. Yet Papa, Luka, and now, Morganya . . . one by one, the previous rulers of the Cyrilian Empire had proven the dangers of a monarchy unchecked as their failures led Cyrilia further and further down a spiral of darkness, of corruption, of oppression.

She gripped the railing tighter, knuckles whitening. The dead were dead; she had to focus on the living, on what was best for her empire, her people.

“Speaking of,” Daya said, “I should rouse the crew. We’ll be arriving within the hour.”

A cry came from the crow’s nest. “Snowhawk!”

Ana looked up to see a pale shape descending upon them in the night, heading straight for her. She held her arm up and it alighted, its claws digging into the thick fabric of her crimson cloak. In its beak it held a clump of fabric embroidered with small gold flowers.

She recognized it immediately: the sleeve of a kechyan she had worn back at the Salskoff Palace.

Ana gently stroked the bird’s beak, prompting it to release the kechyan. Folded neatly inside was a single piece of parchment. Ana held it between trembling fingers.

Kolst Imperatorya, we await. Yours faithfully,

A. Markov

 

Daya leaned in. “Confirmation?”

Ana nodded, her throat stuck.

Here it was, her plan in motion, her people still loyal to her, waiting to rally to her name.

She’d sent a Bregonian seadove to her trusted confidant at the Palace: Kapitan Markov, the old guard who had watched over her throughout her childhood, and who had helped her escape death at Morganya’s hands two moons ago. She’d asked him to leave the Palace with all troops loyal to her to meet her by the seaside fishing village of Balgorod, two days’ travel south of Salskoff, where she would assemble her forces and begin her march upon the Imperial Court.

He’d replied, each time with a token that only they knew about, to verify his identity.

“Well, then,” Daya said, straightening and clicking her heels together. “I’ve never done this before, but I suppose I’ll be readying a thousand Bregonian troops for battle.”

Ana looked at her captain, her friend, who just weeks before had been a stray sailor looking for business in the southern ports of Cyrilia. “Daya,” she said. “You don’t have to do this. The Bregonian fleets have their own commanders. I . . . I could drop you off in Balgorod, where you’d be safe, and find you once the war is over.”

The truth was, she couldn’t bear it if anyone else that she cared about got hurt fighting for her.

Daya tilted her head. “You know,” she said, and there was a rare sobriety to her tone. “Before all this, I was some cast-out sailor scraping by for a living. Wasn’t sure what I was doing with life, just focusing on getting by day after day. And now . . .” She drew a deep breath, gesturing around them. “Now I’m captain of a ship. I’m allies with the girl who leads an entire army--an entire movement. All this has become much more to me than just coin, Ana.”

“Don’t let Ramson hear you say that.” The words were out of Ana’s mouth before she could stop herself. Her breath caught, and a sharp pain cracked in her heart--perhaps the worst kind of all. In the darkness of the night he seemed to materialize, sandy hair sparkling and hazel eyes curved in a ghostly smile. Witch.

She’d allowed her thoughts to drift toward Ramson--Ramson Farrald--during the long nights, when spasms of coughs and bouts of sleeplessness kept her awake. He’d remained in Bregon to hunt down the remainders of Alaric Kerlan’s criminal empire and root out whatever information was still hidden beyond the waters of Bregon. She’d recalled that morning, the sky a halcyon blue, when she’d leaned against the railing of this ship and gazed back at Bregon and all that she was leaving behind.

Wondering if she would ever see him again.

Ana blinked and the phantoms of memories swirled away like smoke before she could dwell on them. This was the cost of war, of choosing to fight for an entire empire and an entire people. Yet she would choose the same sacrifices, over and over again, if that meant saving Cyrilia.

“Of course, I’ll still be waiting to dive into your imperial coffers at the end of it all,” Daya was saying. “But I’m a non-Affinite, Ana. What do you think happens to me and people like me under the current regime? I know I could leave--sail away to another kingdom, but . . . I’ve seen what happens if Morganya succeeds. Look at what nearly happened to Bregon.” Across the deck, her eyes found Ana’s, earth-brown and hard. “If the world falls, the last thing I want is to know I could have fought and made a difference and chose not to.”

Daya’s words lingered for a moment in the salt-tinged winds, heavy with meaning and sharp with consequences--the consequences of what the world might become if Ana failed.

A reminder of what she fought for.

Ana nodded. “Thank you, Daya.”

Daya tapped two fingers to her forehead in a mock salute before hopping onto the ratlines and scurrying up several rungs. “Stormbringer crew!” she shouted. “Attention!”

Ana turned to the prow, letting the ocean spray surge against her cheeks, drinking in the cold of her empire. She’d missed it. The southern Bregonian weather had been warm and mild, but she felt a part of herself becoming reinvigorated beneath the snow-tinged skies of the great northern Empire.

But there was something . . . different about her empire tonight. Something sharper, something off, the pine-scented wind and snow bladed with a tang of blood and steel. There was more than ice to the air; there was a sense of hostility from the way the waves lunged at their hull to the way the clouds roiled fast overhead. As though the land itself knew of the war awaiting.

The crew set about their preparations; a sound Affinite, one of the many they had rescued from Bregon’s cruel research dungeons where they had been waiting to be tested on the siphons, carried Daya’s instructions across the rest of the fleet following behind.

Their ships sluiced forward in the night. The glow of the red moon was now covered by snow clouds, and a mist had appeared over the waters. The crew gathered on the decks, watching in tense silence as they approached. Daya’s lips moved as she counted down the seconds, a bronze pocketwatch held in the palm of her hand.

A sailor near the edge of the ship gave a soft exclamation. “Ruselkya,” he said.

Ana leaned over the railing. From here, the waters lapping at the hull of their ship were black tinted with a faint red hue. It resembled blood.

Gliding beneath the surface were long, spectral shapes, threading between waves. It was only when they turned, tails flashing silver, that Ana caught sight of their torsos and long hair streaming behind them.

Daya came to stand next to her. “Are you familiar with the sailors’ myths about ruselkya?”

“They bring misfortune,” Ana said, thinking of the storybooks she’d read of the water spirits in the past. Whereas ice spirits--syvint’sya--ranged from gentle to malicious in nature, ruselkya were believed to be remnants of vicious, darker magic left in this world by the Deities.

Daya nodded. “I’ve heard stories from sailors who went to the farthest corners of the Silent Sea and found themselves in the ruselkya’s grasps. But I’ve never seen them this active, nor so close to land.” She was silent for a moment, a troubled expression crossing her face. Then she shook her head and barked a laugh. “They’re all just stories. What’s real is the thousand-strong Bregonian fleet behind our backs. You still have that charm I gave you?”

Ana reached for the amulet at her neck: a pendant in the shape of a sun, no bigger than the tip of her pinky finger. It was made of garnet from the Kingdom of Kusutri, Daya’s home. Daya had gifted it to Ana as a good-luck charm, saying the bloodred hue of the stone matched her better. For when you get your Affinity back, the sailor had said.

Ana stroked a thumb over the gem’s smooth surface. “I’d never lose it.”

“Good,” Daya said. “Now, come with me--I’m making rounds to check that all is in order. We’re a quarter hour to shore.”

Ana was about to follow when something caught her attention. She blinked, looking over the railing, across the midnight-black expanse of sea, wondering if it had been a trick of the Blood Moon’s light.

But there it was again: a flare of light, piercing the fog, small, but growing larger.

“Daya,” she began, but then the night around them lit up like day.