In this thrilling Afro-fantasy, the first set in the lush, opulent kingdom of Galla, a girl raised in secret must leave her sheltered rural home for the subtle dangers of the royal court, where she becomes caught up in deadly power struggles and romantic intrigue.
Kalothia has grown up in the shadows of her kingdom, hidden away in the forested East after her parents were outed as enemies of the king. Raised in a woodland idyll by a few kindly adult caretakers, Kalothia can hunt and fish and fend for herself but knows little of the outside world. When assassins attack her home on her sixteenth birthday, she must flee to the king’s court in the West—a beautiful but lethal nest of poison, plots, and danger, overseen by an entrenched patriarchy. Guided by the Goddess herself, can Kalothia navigate this most worldly of places to find her own role? What if she must choose between her country and her heart? Excitement, romance, and a charismatic heroine shine in this first book set in the unforgettable kingdom of Galla.
About the author
Shade Lapite is British-Nigerian and has drawn on her heritage to create the world of her debut novel. She spent a significant slice of her childhood nestled in the library, inhaling books by Diana Wynne Jones, Tamora Pierce, Lois Duncan, and Mildred D. Taylor. Her love for the arts led her to a degree in media arts at Royal Holloway, University of London. She now lives in Toronto and juggles writing with her career in digital marketing. Her blog, Coffee Bookshelves, celebrates writing and promotes titles by authors of color. You can find her fangirling over Korean dramas on Twitter @TheShadyFiles or sharing her favorite books on Instagram @shadelapite.
Excerpt: Goddess Crown (by (author) Shade Lapite)
The sun wouldn’t set for another few hours, but evening came quickly in the forest, and Aunty had made Kalothia promise to be back at a decent time so they could enjoy her age-day meal. This last one and I am done here, she promised silently.
The scent of loamy earth filled her nose and the warm air bathed her skin. It had been a beautiful day. As though the forest knew she would be leaving in a few hours and had put on a show to wish her well.
She braced her feet, sighted her arrow, pulled the rawhide string back, and released. The arrow sliced through the air. The hare keeled over, dead before it knew it had been hit.
Kalothia strode over to the body, whispered a prayer to the Goddess, thanking her for the blessing, then added the hare to a hunting bag that already contained two squirrels and a grouse. Her vervet monkey, Ye-Ye, swung down from a tree branch and landed in his favorite spot on her shoulder. She’d rescued him after his mother was killed by a snake when he was only a few days old. Under her doting care, he’d matured into a mischievous creature who never listened and never left her side.
“Are you done?” Clarit called from her perch on a boulder. She slapped at a mosquito and sighed.
“I am.” It comforted Kalothia to know she’d be leaving Aunty and Teacher with a fully stocked provision room. Though Aunty clicked her tongue and grumbled about the unseemliness of Kalothia hunting, they all knew there’d be little meat on the table if she didn’t. Teacher was unskilled at anything beyond his books, and Aunty’s simple traps only caught the smallest forest animals. Kalothia was glad to use her weapons training to supplement their meals, Goddess knew she’d never had to use the training to fight off intruders. She knew she was worrying unnecessarily; Clarit could also hunt when she was gone. In their practice combat sessions, her bodyguard wielded her cudgel with lethal precision. Kalothia had no doubt the woman could provide game for the table.
Except there’d be no reason for Clarit to remain in the forest once Kalothia was gone, she reminded herself. Clarit would rejoin her army unit wherever they were stationed and probably breathe a sigh of relief that her annual three-month tour of duty protecting a minor royal in the middle of a strange forest was finally over.
“This way!” Kalothia called to Clarit, deciding on a shorter route back to the house.
Clarit grunted unhappily but followed.
When she’d been younger, Kalothia had enjoyed teasing her bodyguards by choosing the most difficult routes whenever she was allowed out of the house. She knew every log, every bush, every beehive, every alcove—it was impossible for her to get lost. The delight of that had waned eventually. She’d grown tired of the forest she’d been forbidden to leave and that she was not allowed to traverse without an escort. She longed to visit the towns and villages she knew were nearby, but they were off-limits. “Only if you’re attacked, and then you run and don’t look back.” Nahir had made her repeat the rule so many times.
Sixteen harvests and they’d never been attacked. Sometimes a brave outsider would venture into the forest, shaking and fearful, braced to encounter the dead souls that were said to live there. Most of the time it was just her, Aunty, Teacher, her bodyguard, and Nahir on his occasional visits.
Thinking of Nahir made her kick mindlessly at a tuft of grass and sigh. Would she see him before she left? He never forgot her age day, but there’d been so much trouble on the eastern border recently, he might be unable to leave. It was better this way.
She kicked at another cluster of grass. If he came, he’d ask probing questions and look at her with those eyes that saw too much. Clarit would tell him about the strange hunters who’d ventured so much deeper into the forest than usual a moon ago, and Nahir would start making paranoid sweeps of the forest and putting her through fighting drills. He took his job as head of her security under his father, Lord Godmayne, painfully seriously. It was actually ridiculous, as she’d told him many times. He was only three harvests older than her. She could still remember the lanky boy of thirteen harvests who’d accompanied the series of stern-faced army men sent to manage her rotation of bodyguards. He’d tried to imitate his unsmiling seniors, but she could see his pleasure when they’d gone fishing and she demonstrated how to spear fish in the lake, or when they’d laid hog traps and caught one of the fat, fierce creatures.
Nahir had changed when he had passed the combat tests and become a captain at seventeen. By the time he was made head of her security, he had become quiet and sober with the weight of responsibility. She found she couldn’t read him the way she once had. His world was so much bigger than hers, his concerns so numerous. She missed the boy he’d been and felt victorious whenever she managed to tease him out. But the last thing she needed on this age day was Nahir sniffing around, seeing far too much.
“You should be happy on your age day.”
Kalothia jumped at the sound of Clarit’s voice. The woman rarely started a conversation. Kalothia looked back at her.
“You’ve been quiet today,” Clarit observed. “I can listen if you want to talk.”
“I’ve reached sixteen harvests. I’m supposed to be reflective at such a milestone.”
Clarit grunted again. Kalothia summoned up a smile. She did not want to trigger Clarit’s concern. Kalothia began prattling about how they were running low on salt and how she hoped Nahir would bring some if he managed to make her age-day celebration so they could preserve the game she’d caught. She kept the steady stream of words flowing until they reached the compound gate.
The story’s well-timed action and tenacious protagonist make for page-turning thrills, and a lovely romance tucked away within its pages will make readers’ hearts flutter. However, the underlying theme of young women building reliable, strategic alliances in addition to friendships while living in patriarchal kingdoms is equally important. . . Lapite’s debut is a strong addition to the genre and a fine introduction to an enchanting world that is worth exploring. A punchy story radiating zeal and filled with suspense.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
An exhilarating, plot-driven romantic Afro-fantasy. . . Lapite brings this Afro-fantasy to life through descriptive, lyrical text. . . . Goddess Crown is a majestic, enlivening adventure that should appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce, Lloyd Alexander, and, yes, even Shakespeare.
—Shelf Awareness (starred review)
Teeming with betrayal, secrets, and power struggles, Lapite’s debut will have readers on the edge of their seats. . . . Kalothia’s determined spirit rings true, and her uphill battle will endear her to readers. . . . Readers looking for an inviting fantasy or who want a grounded experience will love Kalothia and root for her through her plight.
Opulence, beauty, and danger—Goddess Crown sweeps readers into a sumptuous new world that they won’t soon forget and introduces an unstoppable heroine in Kalothia. A magnificent and triumphant debut.
—Dhonielle Clayton, New York Times best-selling author and chief operating officer of We Need Diverse Books