An escaped Imperial Princess of Dasnaria learns to live like a regular
person in Jeffe Kennedy's EXILE OF
THE SEAS. This is book 2 in the Chronicles of Dasnaria series, and is a much more
equanimical read than book 1, PRISONER OF THE CROWN. In book 1, Jenna grows up
in the viperous harem of her father the emperor. First abused by her
twisted mother while growing up, Jenna falls from bad to worse once
her father trades her to her husband, a sadistic and abusive monster.
Jenna escapes at the end of book 1, having endured a brutal existence
laid out in painfully descriptive turns. In comparison, EXILE OF THE SEAS shows Jenna
learning to stand up for herself and become a fully actualized person.
This book left me cheering for Jenna's progress.
Jenna escapes from Dasnaria by sea. While shipboard, Jenna meets a
warrior woman who begins to teach Jenna how to defend herself, which
leaves me cheering. The warrior convinces Jenna to commit to
becoming a fighter priestess of the goddess Danu. Jenna then commits
to serving as a bodyguard to a caravan traveling to a distant locale,
which will hopefully keep her one step ahead of the Dasnarian guards
who are certainly searching for her to haul her back into merciless
captivity. These new experiences bring Jenna alive, and it's so lovely to
watch her blossom.
There is an understated love interest, but book 2 is not a romance. It's
a rich fantasy with romantic elements, showing the path of an isolated
princess to becoming a confident woman and integrated community
member. This series is loosely connected to other Twelve Kingdoms
books by Kennedy, but no knowledge of the overall series is needed
before reading EXILE OF THE
SEAS. The reader would be well served to have read Prisoner of
the Crown before embarking on book 2 however. Kennedy's EXILE OF THE SEAS showcases the
fantasy journey of a tormented young woman who is becoming so
much more than her background would suggest.
Around the shifting borders of the Twelve Kingdoms,
and conflict, danger and adventure put every traveler on
guard . . . but some have everything to lose.
Once she was known as Jenna, Imperial Princess of Dasnaria,
schooled in graceful dance and comely submission. Until the
man her parents married her off to almost killed her with
Now, all she knows is that the ship she’s boarded is bound
away from her vicious homeland. The warrior woman aboard
says Jenna’s skill in dancing might translate into a more
lethal ability. Danu’s fighter priestesses will take her
disguise her as one of their own—and allow her to keep her
But it’s only a matter of time until Jenna’s monster of a
husband hunts her down. Her best chance to stay hidden is
hire out as bodyguard to a caravan traveling to a far-off
land, home to beasts and people so unfamiliar they seem
part of a fairy tale. But her supposed prowess in combat is
a fraud. And sooner or later, Jenna’s flight will end in
battle—or betrayal . . .
I crept up to the Valeria’s deck in the predawn dark to
watch the sun rise. Though I felt safer, and smarter,
keeping to the confines of my cabin, this one excursion had
become a sort of habit. I clung to the small rituals, the
basic routine I’d been able to establish. Otherwise, I was
as unmoored and unanchored as the Valeria on her long ocean
journey, sailing over unfathomable depths to unimaginable
Perhaps this was the nature of exile: that all the thrust
was in the escape, the moving away. After that, what did
you have? If I am any example—and I’m the only example I
had—then the answer was not much at all.
I did have my habits, though.
The Valeria was powerful in a way I wasn’t and would likely
never be. Ideally suited to her environment, an extension
of the waves and master of them, she possessed a singular
direction and purpose. The very things I lacked. Thus, I’d
become oddly grateful and attached to the ship, inanimate
though she was. As long as I was aboard the Valeria, she
provided purpose and direction for me. I clung to her the
way an infant burrowed into her mother’s breast, murmuring
fervent prayers of thankfulness that she hadn’t shrugged me
off to drown in the cold, uncaring sea.
Mostly I kept to my cabin. The servant boys and girls
brought my meals and fresh water, took away my waste, and
otherwise left me alone. It had been easy to adjust to
being waited on, as I had been my whole life, and I
would’ve been at a loss to put together more than the most
basic meal for myself. I wouldn’t let them come in
otherwise, which was a new freedom and power I enjoyed
flexing. No servants in the walls here, listening to my
every movement. And I felt better with the door barred,
even though it was only one thin, wooden thing against the
world. A world of a sailing ship on a vast, unknowable
I slept a lot. Which was good because my body began to heal
more. And I danced, to relieve the boredom and to encourage
flexibility, so I’d heal strong. Dancing felt familiar,
too. Something I could do alone in the dim cabin, one of
the few things left that remind me of who I’d been.
No matter how much I slept, though, I always awoke early.
Well before they brought my breakfast at the seventh bell.
In the darkness of my cabin, I marked time by the watch’s
bells, practicing the simple count from the longest toll at
midnight to the dawn call. I woke. Listened for the six
bells. Then unbarred my door, made sure the passage
remained empty, and slipped out.
A sort of daily exercise in escape.
Moving silently down the passageway of closed doors, I
allowed myself to exult in that ability, one I’d never
expected to be what saved my life. All those years I
practiced the traditional dances, particularly the ducerse,
which required utmost skill to keep the many bells from
making sound until the precisely timed moment. I’d thought
I was preparing to dazzle my husband and make my emperor
proud. Not teaching myself stealth.
But stealth had turned out to be far more useful. It let me
keep to the shadows, unnoticed. In my brother Harlan’s too-
big clothes, my hair shorn into a short fluff, I looked
nothing like Her Imperial Highness Princess Jenna of
Dasnaria. If anyone on this foreign ship had ever heard of
that doomed girl. Nevertheless, I wrapped myself in the
thick wool cloak, pulling the cowl deep around my face. It
made me feel safer, for no good reason, and I needed it for
the chill. After a lifetime in the cloistered warmth of the
seraglio, it seemed I’d never be warm again.
On deck, the sky shone with incipient day. I hadn’t
understood this before, that the sky lightens in color
before the sun appears. The paintings never show it that
way. They depict night or day, sometimes sunrise or sunset,
but never those moments before or after. But predawn is
different than night, and in its soft in-between-ness, I
could see well enough.
Keeping to the edges like a cat might, I skirted the main
paths the sailors traveled as they did their jobs. It meant
I picked my way through the ropes, barrels, and other
supplies lashed to the deck, but I viewed that as another
way to improve my dexterity, especially in the clunky boots
I couldn’t seem to get used to. In my cabin, I went
barefoot, which felt natural and right, but going on deck,
I put on shoes like I wore the cloak. The more covering,
It had been nearly a week, but I harbored no illusions
about my ignorance of the world outside. I had no idea how
long I would have to run, or how far I’d have to travel to
escape my pursuers. I’d been unforgivably stupid about this
in the past, so it seemed the only wise choice would be to
assume that no amount of time or distance would be enough.
At least that gave me a guideline. Never and nowhere might
be places without finite boundaries, but I could understand
The goats mewed at me from their pen next to the chickens
as I passed, making the sounds so oddly like the newborn
kittens in the seraglio of the Imperial Palace, where I
grew up. I stopped to scratch the little horns on their
heads, their fur soft and scraggly against my fingers. We’d
become friends on this journey. Goats and the Valeria—they
kept me alive and kept my secrets.
I found my spot along the rail behind the goat pen, where I
was out of the way and no one paid me much attention, and
turned my face to where I thought the sun might rise. It
turns out that this is no certain thing, despite the
stories. I knew that the sunrise seemed to change position
because the Valeria pointed in different directions,
depending on the wind and other factors, but I’d begun to
entertain the fancy that the sun liked to surprise me. That
she knew how much I savored her daily reappearance, and
that I played the game of guessing where she might rise. Of
course, after a certain point, the glow gave her position
away, but sometimes clouds or fog obscured it longer. The
trick was to see how well I could predict where that would
be, as the general lightening coalesces into a nimbus of
bright color, and then to a sphere of fire.
I picked where I thought she’d rise—no cheating and
adjusting once she gave herself away—and rubbed my fingers
along the rail. The ship’s sails billowed, creaking as they
caught and held the wind that also blew the cloak around
me, the cowl flapping around my chilled face. As I waited,
I talked quietly with the Valeria. The sea spray made my
fingertips skid along her rail, her comforting, ever-moving
bulk beneath my feet.
I thanked her for her protection, her direction, how she
sang with the wind and the waves. My morning litany, as I
no longer prayed to Sól, the one god—as much as I ever did—
nor did I give thoughts to my father, the emperor, divine
or not. Neither of them had taken care of me as the Valeria
did. Don’t mistake me—I might have been foolish and
ignorant, but I understood that the Valeria was a
construction, a human-made vessel, and no goddess. Still,
she listened, and expected nothing of me.
The sunrise glow condensed, the sky growing bluer with it,
so I wound up my self-made version of prayers by sending a
fervent wish into the waves for my brother Harlan, that he
might also escape and live. And to my sisters, Inga and
Helva, that they might find happiness, though I hadn’t
developed the ability to hope well enough to imagine what
form that might take for them, still sequestered in the
It turns out that being able to hope requires exercise and
practice, too. Like a young girl learning her first dances,
I worked on a few simple hopes. Once I felt surefooted with
those, I might try hoping for more.
The sun edged over the horizon, growing larger as she
seemed to emerge from the water, burning my eyes. I always
looked as long as I could, then dropped my eyes to the
surging water, before looking again. I even liked the
shining gold-red bubbles the scorching sun left in my
vision after I looked away. They sometimes lasted for hours
and served as a comfort to me, a reminder that I could see
the sun any time I liked.
I had years of not seeing her to make up for.
A low song impinged on my awareness. A throaty voice
humming something winding and lovely and foreign, just
audible above the waves and the Valeria’s soft chatter
spoken with wood and canvas. I edged away and found myself
blockaded by a crate that had been moved since the previous
morning. Between it, the goats’ pen, and the ocean, I had
only one easy egress.
Occupied by a person. I studied them without looking
A woman, I decided. That helped ease my reflexive panic.
Women are naturally more familiar to me, and they lack the
immense bulk and musculature of men, that they seem to
enjoy employing against the physically slighter. It took me
a moment, however, to determine her gender, as she looked
so terribly odd.
She wore men’s clothing, tightly fitted to her body, which
seemed amazingly muscled for a woman. The closeness of the
fit revealed the curve of hips and the definite rise of
breasts, so I felt sure she must be female, despite the way
she dressed. It looked like the sort of thing one might
wear to fight in, made of leather and with metal pieces at
vulnerable places—but nothing like Dasnarian armor. It
seemed a man in armor with a sword could take out a woman
like this with one swing, so perhaps the outfit meant
something else, something ceremonial, as she seemed to be
engaged in prayer. First bowing, then going to one knee,
then straightening, she drew circles in the air around the
rising sun, singing her song all the while.
I shrank back into my corner, ducking my face away to leave
her to whatever ritual that might be. Perhaps she would
leave without noticing or bothering me. I could escape by
scaling the crate or climbing over the flimsy walls penning
the goats, but that would draw attention.
Better to see if I could get by without extreme measures,
and tomorrow I’d find a different spot to watch the sun
The singing stopped and I waited a circumspect amount of
time, making sure my sleeves covered my hands. I’d once
been given the advice not to let anyone see my hands, and
though I wasn’t sure what it was about them that gave me
away, I hadn’t received so much well-meant advice that I’d
squander it. Hearing nothing beyond the shouts of sailors
and the Valeria’susual noises, I peeked over, sliding it as
a subtle glance. Another of my dubiously useful skills, but
I’d been taught by masters of spying via peripheral vision.
The woman was leaning against the rail, facing me, studying
me with frank curiosity.
I ducked my gaze away, kicking myself, wishing I’d climbed
the crate when I could. My heart battered against my ribs,
as if it could effect the escape I’d taken too long to
decide upon. She still shouldn’t have noticed that I’d
looked, so I pretended to ignore her. Climb or brazen past
her as if I hadn’t seen her? The latter could be more
easily explained. Except that doing anything brazenly was
not in my skill set.
Well, not until I’d thumbed my nose at the entire Dasnarian
No such luck. The woman spoke to me, saying something in a
tongue I didn’t understand. I simply shook my head from the
depths of my cowl. None of the servants on the ship seemed
to know Dasnarian. The captain had, when I’d paid my way in
dark of night to slink aboard, but his had been quite
broken. Barely adequate. The woman spoke again, a different
tongue, by the sound of it.
Again, I shook my head. Hopefully she’d soon run out of
languages to try and leave me alone. How many languages did
people know in the greater world? I knew only one, and not
much of that. Dasnarian men used words I’d never heard, and
talked about counting and calculations. And they could read
and write, a mystery to me. I possessed so few tools. A
cold sweat trickled down my spine. I wanted to go back to
The woman said something else, in yet another language,
this one less fluid, spikier-sounding. I shook my head more
emphatically. Then, unable to make myself stay trapped a
moment longer, I decided on brazen. There was enough space.
I could do this. Keeping my head bowed, shaking it still, I
moved to slide past her.
She grabbed my arm through the cloak. With a gasp, terror
ratcheting through me, I wrenched away. Spinning and
leaping, I scrambled up the large crate, clumsy in the
boots. The thick toes clunked uselessly against the wood,
giving me no purchase, and my arms began to weaken.
The woman was talking, saying one word after another, a
hail of arrows at my back. Then, “Peace!”
Hearing the Dasnarian word, I stilled, hanging foolishly on
the crate, kicking at it with my booted toes, like a child
still learning to climb a date palm.
“Speak Dasnarian?” she asked, her accent thick. “I mean no
harm. Be not afraid.”
My hands stung with splinters and my arm muscles screamed.
I should have gone with the goats.
“Please,” she said. “I won’t touch you again.”
She could be lying. I’d learned that the people most intent
on inflicting harm liked to first offer guarantees that
they wouldn’t. But I couldn’t go over the top of the crate.
And, it occurred to me, quite belatedly, she hadn’t held on
to my arm. I’d pulled away easily from a lax grip.
I let myself drop back to the deck, Valeria solid under my
feet, and quickly tucked my hands inside my sleeves. I had
gloves, but they were even more obvious, sewn with pearls
and diamonds. I’d started the task of removing them all,
but in the unlit cabin and without sewing tools I risked
making holes I couldn’t repair.
“I don’t have the words,” the woman said. “I am unhappy I
I nodded, keeping my head bowed. Surely she would grow
tired of this one-sided conversation soon.
“I am Kaja,” she said. Her voice held a note of
expectation. Even in the greater world, which lacked the
precise and elaborate manners I’d grown up with, people
observed certain protocols. Offer a name, get a name in
return. Only, I could not give my true name. So I used the
name Harlan had picked as an alias, the one I’d given the
“I am Brian,” I replied, lowering my voice to sound manly,
at least like a young man. Though Harlan had been only
fourteen, and his voice had already gone to a deep bass.
“Brian?” Kaja repeated. “Are you not Dasnarian? I thought
you came aboard in Sjør.”
“Yes,” I answered, hoping that would serve to answer all
her questions. I might have lied, but the captain and
sailors knew I’d boarded there. All those days in my cabin
that I’d been napping and dancing, I should have been
thinking up a plausible story to explain who I was. The big
problem with that, however, was that I had little idea of
what might be a reasonable tale for a young man—or worse, a
woman!—traveling alone in the greater world. I only knew my
own story and those of the ballads. I did know something
about taking control of curiosity in conversation, though.
In the seraglio, information was power. Seeking out secrets
and preventing others from having them were skills I’d
learned early and employed frequently. This strange woman
would not have any of mine. I went on the attack. “Were you
She dipped her head at the rising sun. Her hair—short for a
woman, but I couldn’t compare silks there—fell in waves to
her shoulders, black as midnight, the sections at her
temples pulled away from her face in braids that glinted
with golden metal that matched the bits on her clothes.
“I was…speaking prayers, yes, to Glorianna, though I follow
Danu. Do you know these names?”
Though the name of the goddess of love, hearth and home had
a strange, singsong twist in the foreigner’s mouth, I did
know of Glorianna. Though what she had to do with the
rising sun, I had no idea. This Danu, however, I’d never
“Tell me of this Glorianna and why you pray to Her at
sunrise. And who is Danu?”
Kaja tilted her head, one braid sliding forward so it
dangled over her breast. That hair must be much longer than
the rest. How odd. Perhaps she’d experienced some accident—
or punishment—that most of her hair had been cut short, and
she now grew it out again.
“My Dasnarian is not so good,” she said. “So next time,
more slowly, please. I think you ask, why Glorianna at
sunrise?” When I nodded, she continued. “Sunrise belongs to
Glorianna. Also sunset.” She held up each hand, from east
to west. “Beginning and end. Birth and death. Mother.”
I chewed my lip, holding back then intense curiosity at
such heresy. A goddess owning the sun? Not possible.
“Danu is the warrior,” Kaja said, when I didn’t reply. She
pointed up. “High noon, bright stars, are Hers.” She pulled
out a sharp dagger and spun it, the blade flashing in the
sunlight, and smiled with a similarly lethal edge. “Also
the blade and…” She frowned, thinking. “Not hlyti,” she
said, using the Dasnarian word for fate, “more my eye for
“Justice,” I offered, drawn in despite myself. “Law.”
“Yes.” Her smile widened. She offered me the hilt of the
I didn’t take it, though my fingers itched to. Harlan had
shown me how to grip a knife in my fist and go for the eye.
And I still had the little eating knife I’d taken from the
inn when I fled Dasnaria. Not much to it, but maybe enough
for an eye. In my full view, even with my head bowed and
shrouded, I could study the blade at leisure. Big, and
shaped like a long leaf, with sharp edges on both sides,
one serrated, the other razor smooth. A deep groove ran
down the middle, from the hilt to the tip.
“A beautiful blade,” I praised, hoping that would satisfy
“Try it,” Kaja prompted, edging closer. I backed up, my
heel hitting the goats’ pen. The caramel-colored one mewed
at me, nudging my hip for pets.
“No, thank you,” I replied, bending at the waist a little
to appease her. “It is a lovely weapon and does your beauty
credit, but I’m afraid I’m unable to accept your generous
Kaja grinned. She spun the blade again and I studied the
motion, fascinated. She slipped it into a sheath on her
belt, then held up her hands again in that gesture of
peace. “I understood a small part, but I hear ‘no’ very
I nodded, then edged toward escape. Thankfully, Kaja
stepped out of the way, sweeping a hand to indicate free
passage. “Talk more at lunch?” she asked.
I shook my head and kept going. To my horror, I glimpsed
her walking beside me, her rolling gait easily
accommodating the Valeria’s little tricks.
“You can teach Dasnarian,” she said, as if I’d agreed. “And
I teach using blade.”
I stopped, tempted and uncertain, studying her boots.
Unlike my clumsy ones, hers fitted to the form of her foot,
with metal tips at the pointed toe.
“A woman on a ship alone needs a blade,” Kaja said in a
lower tone, one that could not be overheard except by
perhaps the most zealous listener hiding in the walls. But
that was in the seraglio, I reminded myself. On the
Valeria’s bosom, there were only sailors and sea to
overhear, and the sailors didn’t understand the words we
spoke. “The world is an unsettled place. Not all bad, but
some are. You need a blade and a friend.”
She was likely right, but that she’d seen my true nature
frightened me. I shook my head yet again, and fled. This
time, she didn’t follow.