The Queen of Izmoroz


By Jon Skovron

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In this thrilling epic fantasy, Sonya has won the battle and brought a foreign army to free her country from imperial rule, but now she has to face her allies—who may have other goals. 

The first battle is over, but war yet looms on the horizon. Sonya and her allies–the foreign Uaine and their armies of the undead—have beaten back the imperial soldiers from the capital city. Now they have the rest of the country to free.

Meanwhile, her brother the famed wizard Sebastian has retreated with the imperial forces to regroup and lick his wounds. Betrayed by his sister and his wife, the beautiful noblewoman Galina, he will regain control of his life and his country at any cost.

Galina, his former betrothed, has her own visions for the land, and the political savvy to make them a reality. But a fledgling oligarchy, a foreign army, and the whims of a self-proclaimed servant of death stand in her way—power must be seized, and a queen must rise, before it's too late.

Sonya has brought a foreign army to free her country from imperial rule, but her allies may have other goals in the second book of this thrilling epic fantasy trilogy from Jon Skovron.




“It does not seem fair that we be punished for the sins of our fathers. Yet we cannot ignore the unearned bounties we have reaped as their progeny. What, then, is justice?”

—Fyodor Botkin,
The Izmorozian Dream


Many people thought of winter as cruel, and spring as gentle. But Sonya Turgenev Portinari, Ranger of Marzanna, knew that wasn’t true.

She gazed at the thawing Great Western Tundra that stretched out around her in all its sodden glory. She knew the quiet ferocity it took for those hardy green shoots to reach up toward the sunlight from beneath the slush that now covered much of Izmoroz. And then, once the plants had at last broken through, they risked being eaten by the starving animals that had just woken from hibernation. That was spring. It was not gentle. It was a desperate and voracious thing that defiantly clawed its way up from the darkest depths of winter to thrive once again, no matter the cost or suffering.

Still, Sonya could not deny spring’s ragged beauty. The sun shone down brightly, and purple flowers brazenly poked through the patchy brown snow. Small rivulets of water trickled here and there like tiny impromptu streams, and the air was alive with insects and birdsong.

She wished Jorge could have witnessed the tundra’s transformation from the smooth, barren snows of winter he’d seen before. But he had remained at the Imperial College of Apothecary in Gogoleth so that he could impress his teachers with the knowledge of plants and herbs he had brought back from the distant and mysterious country of Uaine.

She and Jorge had not traveled across the brutal winter tundra for plants, of course. They had traveled to Uaine to enlist the aid of its people, fearsome warriors who commanded an even more frightening army of walking dead. The Uaine had helped her drive out the Aureumian Empire so that Izmoroz could once again be a free and independent nation.

During the occupation, the empire had banned worship of the Lady Marzanna, Goddess of Winter. They had also sought to exterminate her servants, the Rangers of Marzanna, and they nearly succeeded. When Sonya’s mentor had been killed, she had thought herself the last one. But during her journey across the tundra with Jorge, they had encountered three older Rangers who had survived the imperial purge by hiding in this vast wilderness for the last two decades.

Those older Rangers—Andre, Tatiana, and Anatoly—were the reason Sonya now returned to the tundra. She wanted to tell them that she had succeeded in driving out the empire, and they no longer had to hide. They could return to Izmoroz and its people.

Sonya was not making the journey alone, however. This time she had brought her Uaine friend and lover, Blaine Ruairc. The two of them had been trekking northwest across the thawing mud-slick meadows in the direction of the Rangers’ cave for several days now. She estimated they should reach the cave later that day or early the next.

“These other Rangers be Bhuidseach as well?” asked Blaine in his guttural, rolling Uaine accent.

“Like me, you mean?” Sonya asked. “They have similar markings, although each of us looks different, depending on what animal the Lady Marzanna has chosen for us.”

Beneath Sonya’s long black hair, her ears tapered into delicate tips. Her teeth were as sharp as any carnivore’s, and she gazed out at the land with the golden eyes of a fox. Such beast marks were called favors of the Lady, and were an indication that they had been blessed with a boon of some kind. Each piece of humanity the Ranger sacrificed made them more powerful.

But the more they resembled a beast, the more likely they were to act as one. Sonya had not truly understood what that meant until a month ago, during the final clash with the empire. In the heat of battle, she had succumbed so deeply to animal instinct that she had momentarily blacked out. When she had recovered her senses shortly after, she found that she had torn a man’s throat out with her teeth. And possibly swallowed his flesh. Her memory was hazy on that last point. Or maybe she didn’t want to remember.

Regardless, the memory of that temporary loss of control haunted her, and she was glad. It served as a constant reminder that she must avoid asking any more boons of the Lady unless it was absolutely necessary. There were stories of Rangers who had lost so much of their humanity, they forgot who they were. She worried she might already be nearing that point.

Not that Sonya didn’t appreciate the favors that the Lady had bestowed on her. Her speed, strength, reflexes, and stamina were now much greater than a human’s. Her senses were also enhanced, and on the tundra that could mean the difference between life and death.

“Did you notice we’re being tracked by a pack of wolves?” she asked Blaine as they tromped across the meadow.

He jerked to a halt, his expression unexpectedly alarmed.

“Since when?”

“Since this morning,” she said.

He scanned the rolling hills that surrounded them, his hand on the massive broadsword at his waist. “I don’t see anything.”

“They’re keeping their distance for now,” said Sonya. “But I can definitely smell them.”

“What should we do?” He looked far more worried than she would have expected for such a seasoned warrior.

She shrugged. “Nothing. If they were desperate, they’d have already attacked by now. Soon we’ll be in the Rangers’ hunting territory, and I doubt they’ll follow us there.”

“If you say so.”

They began walking again, but Sonya could tell Blaine remained uneasy. He kept running his hands through his long blond hair and glancing over his shoulder. He rarely showed fear in battle, so she wondered what was bothering him.

“Do you not like wolves?” she asked.

“Does anyone?”

“Oh, wolves are okay,” she said. “They can be ferocious when they need to be, but they also take care of each other, and I like that.”

Blaine grunted but said nothing more.

“My father’s nickname during the Winter War was Giovanni the Wolf,” said Sonya. “I suppose because he had a reputation for being a vicious and crafty commander. But the man I knew was fiercely protective of his family—his pack—above all else. So I guess I also like wolves because they remind me of him.”

Blaine eyed her curiously. “You don’t talk about yer father much.”

“Yeah. We didn’t really get along, especially as I got older. We argued a lot. My mom said it’s because we’re so much alike, but I don’t see it.”

Then a long, chilling howl rose up behind them. It was followed shortly by another howl a short distance in front of them.

“Huh,” said Sonya.

Blaine’s hand went immediately back to his sword. “I thought you said they’d keep their distance.”

“Yeah…” She frowned. “It sounds like they’re surrounding us, but that doesn’t make sense.”

Surrounding us?” Blaine drew his two-handed sword. His eyes darted in different directions.

“But we must be in Andre and Tatiana’s hunting territory by now. I suppose this pack could have migrated here with the thaw and the Rangers haven’t gotten around to clearing them out yet…”

That didn’t seem likely, however. Andre in particular was extremely territorial. But Sonya couldn’t think of any other reason that a pack of wolves would infringe on Ranger hunting grounds.

When the wolves came into view, Sonya saw that it was a surprisingly large pack for spring. Twenty wolves with mud-spattered white fur, who were spread out so that they completely encircled Sonya and Blaine. They slowly tightened the circle, their movements cautious, as if unsure of the strength of their prey. Their lips were curled back to reveal sharp teeth, and the sound of their low, rumbling growls filled the air.

Blaine nervously adjusted his grip on his sword, muttering to himself in the Uaine language. His face had gone ashen, and sweat ran from his forehead into his scruffy beard. The wolves had already smelled his fear, and now they could see it.

“Calm down and listen to me a moment.” She kept her eyes on the wolves as she slowly unslung her bow and nocked an arrow. “Wolves aren’t stupid. They won’t go after difficult prey unless they’re desperate, and these wolves do not look like they’re starving. So all we have to do is show them we’re too much trouble, and they’ll give up. Probably.”


Blaine did not look like he was calming down. He wiped the sweat from his face with his sleeve as he watched them tighten their circle.

“Can’t you just shoot them before they get close?” he asked.

“All twenty? When they have us completely surrounded? Not even I’m that fast. But when they go for you—”

“Why would they go for me?”

“Because wolves are attracted to weaker animals, and your fear is a sign of weakness to them.”

“I’m not afraid!” he said sharply.

Sonya gave him a dubious look.

The wolves had gotten as close as they deemed safe, and were now beginning to rotate their circle, paws squelching, yellow eyes all fixed on Blaine. He began muttering in Uaine again.

“What is it with you and wolves, anyway?” she asked.

He was quiet for a moment, and when he finally spoke, it seemed to take a great deal of effort. “When I was a wee boy, I watched me mother get torn apart by a pack of wolves.”

“Oh,” she said. “That would explain it.”

“Aye,” he said grimly.

One of the larger wolves lunged toward Blaine. Fear must have stiffened his muscles because he took a surprisingly clumsy swing with his sword. The wolf had only feinted its attack anyway, and easily avoided it. That opened Blaine up to another wolf, who went for his haunches.

It was a classic wolf pack tactic and Sonya had expected it. She buried an arrow in its eye and the wolf fell into the mud with a splash still several feet from Blaine’s rear.

The wolves went back to circling, no doubt a little more cautious now that one was dead. They continued to growl, and it felt as if they were debating among themselves whether the risk was worth it. Sonya suspected if she immediately shot a few more, they might scatter. But she was reluctant to do so. They were such beautiful animals, and she didn’t want to kill any more of them than necessary. As long as she and Blaine stood their ground, the wolves would eventually go in search of easier prey. They just had to be patient.

Unfortunately, patience had never been one of Blaine’s strong points, and in that moment he was too on edge to even try. He shouted something defiantly in Uaine, raised his sword, and charged the wolf directly in front of him.

“Damn it, Blaine…,” she muttered.

The wolf hopped backward, while the two on either side converged on Blaine’s flanks. Sonya shot one, but the other reached him.

Clearly still muddled by fear, Blaine couldn’t bring his sword around fast enough. The wolf latched on to his forearm and gave a hard pull. His waterlogged boots slipped out from under him and he fell. He hit the ground hard and his sword went flying. The remaining sixteen wolves ignored Sonya completely and went in for the kill.

Blaine kicked desperately at the approaching wolves as he tried to free himself from the one who held his forearm in its jaws. Sonya didn’t want to risk shooting him in the chaos, so she shouldered her bow and leapt into the fray, cursing under her breath at the impatience of Uaine.

Sonya’s knife flashed brightly, throwing splashes of blood into the golden spring sunshine as she carved her way to Blaine. She grabbed his collar, intent on pulling him up. But he was a large man, and the ground was so slick that she nearly fell. With so many wolves surrounding them, that might have meant their deaths. She let go of his collar, and instead fended off the darting wolves as she shouted at him.

“Get up, Blaine! Get the hell up!”

He was now covered in mud, and half-blinded by it. He groped around for his sword for several moments before he finally found it and hauled himself up.

Once they were both back on their feet, the wolves withdrew and began circling again. They had lost several more of their pack, but the smell of blood was now so strong it was like a tether around which they rotated.

“Can you still use your arm?” she asked.

“A little.”

“Enough to swing that big sword of yours?”

“A few times. Maybe.”

“That doesn’t sound encouraging.”

This was not how she’d hoped this would go. If only Blaine had listened to her. Now things had gotten out of hand and the only thing that would fix it was more death. Death that could have been avoided.

She grimly drew her bow again and shot a wolf. Its sharp whimper wrenched at her heart, but she turned and shot another. Then another. One by one they fell. They were still so incensed with bloodlust that she had to slay several before the survivors finally scattered, yelping pitifully to each other as they ran away.

They watched the wolves flee for a moment. Then Blaine, still muttering in Uaine, stalked over to one of the dead wolves and kicked it.

“Blaine!” Sonya’s voice cracked like a whip.

His head jerked back to look at her, his expression bewildered.

Sonya pushed him aside, then knelt down beside the dead wolf. Its white fur was stained with both brown earth and red blood. She had killed ten of these magnificent animals today. Far too many to make use of out here on the tundra. A waste of meat and hides. And a waste of life. She didn’t use to be so bothered by such things. A year ago it might not even have occurred to her. But now… well, she wasn’t sure what had changed, but it bothered her a great deal.

She took a moment to calm herself. Then she gently laid her hand on the wolf’s head and spoke the Ranger’s prayer.

“One day I will return as you now return. Until then, I will travel light.”

She stayed there for a time, feeling the warmth leave the wolf’s body.

Finally, she looked up at Blaine. Anger must have still been in her eyes, because he took an unconscious step back. He looked confused, as if he couldn’t understand why she was frustrated with him. She supposed she couldn’t blame him for acting so irrationally. But she couldn’t shrug off so much unnecessary waste, either.

“Let’s get you patched up, then carve as much meat as we can carry. If nothing else, we can have a feast when I tell the other Rangers that they no longer need to hide out here on the tundra.”

“Is wolf meat good eating?” he asked.

“No,” she admitted. “But we’ll eat it all the same.”


Sebastian Turgenev Portinari had been told countless times about the beauty of Aureum, but that hadn’t prepared him for the real thing.

As he traveled on the Advent Road with his mother Lady Irina Turgenev Portinari, Commander Franko Vittorio, General Savitri Zaniolo, and Private Sasha Rykov, his eyes swept almost reverently across the rolling emerald-green meadows that stretched out to the horizon on either side. The trees were covered in fragrant white or pink blossoms, and newly sprouted green wheat fields rippled with the gentle gusts of wind. A bold sun shone overhead, while fluffy white clouds floated placidly through the azure sky. After the relentless monochrome of Izmorozian winter, Aureum’s spring grandeur was almost overwhelming.

He sighed. “So this is my father’s homeland.”

“It’s stunning,” agreed his mother. She looked serene, almost saintly, with the sunlight playing off her long white hair as she rode beside him.

“Is this your first time in Aureum as well, my lady?” asked Zaniolo. “I hadn’t realized.”

She nodded. “Giovanni spoke of it often but said he had no desire to return.”

“I can’t imagine why not,” said Sebastian.

Zaniolo gave him one of those unreadable smiles of his. The sort that always made Sebastian feel as though the general was hiding something. Of course he knew it could just as easily be a habit acquired from many years as an intelligence officer.

“Sometimes the past is best left undisturbed.” Zaniolo glanced toward Commander Vittorio, who rode a little ways ahead of the rest.

Vittorio had gone through drastic changes in temperament since Sebastian had first met him. Initially, the commander had possessed an almost regal bearing, and while he could be a little stiff, he had projected a firm sense of leadership that instilled confidence in everyone under his command. But that decorum had faltered in the face of the unexpected conflict brought about by Sonya and her Uaine allies. Sebastian had been stunned, and at times even horrified, by the shocking displays of violent temper Vittorio had exhibited toward his subordinates on numerous occasions during the conflict.

In the month since they had been routed from Gogoleth and forced to flee Izmoroz, Vittorio had changed yet again. Gone were both the regal bearing and furious outbursts, to be replaced by a deep and pensive brooding. He had spoken little, slept little, and eaten little since crossing the border into Aureum. And yet for all his silence, there was a sense that the wrath he had displayed previously was still there, seething beneath the surface.

Sebastian was concerned for the commander, and had wondered if there was anything he could do to improve his mentor’s mood. But Zaniolo and his mother had both advised him to give Vittorio space so that he could grieve for his losses in Izmoroz, and prepare for whatever punishment might await him in Magna Alto.

“Something big coming up the road,” said Rykov.

Although Rykov was Izmorozian, he had decided to remain Sebastian’s aide-de-camp and follow him to Aureum. Sebastian was grateful for the large man’s stoic, unwavering presence. Rykov had been there, in his quiet, unobtrusive way, to guide and support Sebastian from his very first day as an officer of the imperial army. The aide-de-camp’s loyalty was especially precious to Sebastian after the betrayal he’d suffered at the hands of his former betrothed, Galina Odoyevtseva Prozorova. Time and distance had dulled his heartbreak to some degree, but he still tried to think about her as little as possible.

Sebastian squinted in the sunlight to where Rykov pointed. He could see a large cloud of dust along the road, which suggested a group of riders ahead.

“A merchant caravan?” he asked.

“Perhaps,” said Zaniolo, although his tone suggested he thought it was something else.

Commander Vittorio made no comment, and merely continued to plod ahead, so they followed him.

Once the riders finally came into view, Sebastian saw that it was an imperial cavalry unit of twenty strong heading toward them. They moved in perfect formation at a steady canter, their bright steel breastplates and helmets shining in the warm Aureumian sun.

“Well,” Zaniolo said dryly. “Here is our welcome party, although I don’t expect it will be a particularly warm reception, given our recent failure.”

They all looked to Vittorio for what they should do, but again he made no comment. He did, however, rein in his horse, so the rest followed suit. There they sat and waited as the soldiers approached.

“A word of advice, Captain Portinari,” Zaniolo said quietly.

“Yes, General?”

“Our arrival in Magna Alto will undoubtably be complicated and fraught with tension. I will do my best to shield you and your mother from any major repercussions, but for me to succeed, I will need you to only speak when addressed, and even then as reservedly as possible without giving offense. Do you understand?”

Sebastian still didn’t have a sense of how much trouble Vittorio was in, or how that might impact him and his mother. But he had few allies and even fewer options at this point.

“I understand, General. And thank you.”

He gave Sebastian a faint smile. Then they waited in silence until the soldiers reached them.

The captain of the cavalry unit, a clean-shaven man of middle age with close-cropped black hair beneath his round officer’s cap, called for his unit to stop.

“I am Captain Leoni of the Forty-Sixth Imperial Cavalry,” he boomed in a hard, formal tone. “By the authority of Her Imperial Majesty, Empress Caterina Morante the First, I command you to identify yourselves.”

There was an awkward moment while they waited for Vittorio to speak, but the former commander only glared down at the pommel of his saddle and said nothing.

Finally Zaniolo prodded his horse forward and smiled broadly.

“Now, now, Captain Leoni. There’s no need for all this ceremony. Surely it has not been so long that you have forgotten Commander Vittorio or me?”

“I am sorry, General,” Leoni said earnestly. “But I have been given explicit orders to stand upon the strictest formalities.”

Zaniolo looked a little disappointed, but not surprised. “I see, Captain. Then I might as well begin.” He gave the captain a smooth salute. “General Savitri Zaniolo, formerly of the imperial garrison in Gogoleth.”

Leoni returned Zaniolo’s salute, then looked expectantly at Vittorio, but the commander kept his eyes downcast, his jaw flexed with tension.

When it was clear Vittorio still refused to speak, Zaniolo glanced back at Sebastian and nodded.

Sebastian saluted the captain and said, “Captain Sebastian Turgenev Portinari, formerly of the Four Hundred and Fourth Imperial Cavalry.”

Again Leoni returned the salute.

After yet another awkward moment, Sebastian’s mother spoke up. “I am Lady Irina Turgenev Portinari of Izmoroz, mother of Captain Portinari and widow of the late retired commander Giovanni Portinari of Aureum.”

Leoni bowed respectfully in his saddle. “Your Ladyship.”

Rykov saluted. “Private Sasha Rykov from Izmoroz.”

Since Rykov ranked below the captain, Leoni was not required to return the salute, and only nodded. Then he gave the silent Vittorio a hard look.

“Are you Commander Franko Vittorio, formerly of the imperial garrison in Gogoleth, exiled from Aureum until such time as Her Imperial Majesty ordered your return?”

Vittorio’s lips curled up into a grimace, but he still did not look up. “I suppose I must be.”

Exiled? Sebastian was stunned. Zaniolo had told him that Vittorio had been sent to Izmoroz as punishment for an indiscretion of some kind, and he’d later mentioned that the empress might not be pleased that Vittorio was returning to Aureum after such a defeat. But Sebastian hadn’t realized that Vittorio had been banished from Aureum. Simply crossing the border had been in direct violation of the empress’s orders and therefore a crime against the empire. What had the man been thinking?

“Franko Vittorio,” Leoni continued sternly. “You are commanded by the empress to accompany me to Magna Alto, where you will face judgment. Any attempt to disobey this order or flee my custody will be considered treason. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Captain.” Vittorio’s lips writhed as he spoke, as if the words tasted foul.

“Very well.”

Leoni ordered his unit to form up around Sebastian and his companions, then, as one mass, they continued south toward Magna Alto.

But now the beautiful landscape seemed somehow less inviting to Sebastian. Were they to be criminals, then? He tried to catch Zaniolo’s eye, but the general’s expression was neutral as he rode. Somehow, Sebastian found that even more unnerving than his usual unreadable smile.


In all the time Jorge Elhuyar had studied under his mentor, Anton Velikhov, master apothecary, he had never argued with the man. Until today.

He looked up from his work at the lab table and said, “I’m sorry, Master, but I must refuse.”

Velikhov tugged at his beard while he roamed aimlessly around their apartments. “I don’t mean a lot of blood, of course. Just a small amount to study. Jorge, you understand how significant this would be for the college. Blood that can raise the dead? Who knows what we could learn from such a thing. And if we could somehow duplicate it, the number of applications would be staggering.”

“I do understand, Master, but I’m asking you to also understand that Bhuidseach Rowena and her fellow Urram Le Bàs are considered sacred to their people. Merely to ask for a sample of her blood would be offensive.”

He stopped his wandering to look exasperatedly at Jorge. “You won’t even ask?”

“No, Master.”

Velikhov threw up his hands and stalked back to his bedroom, muttering to himself.

Jorge took no pleasure in refusing his master, but Rowena had taken him into her confidence, and he had sworn to respect the secrecy of the Uaine knowledge of necromancy. Even mentioning offhandedly to Velikhov that it was done by blood transference had been a mistake. That tiny bit of knowledge had sparked a hunger in the old master that Jorge had never seen before.

He sighed and returned to his work on the cold resistance potion he had been forced to put off yet again this past month. Not that he was complaining. It had been a supreme honor to stand in the college’s main lecture hall and present his findings on the Uaine herbs, plants, and fungi he had discovered during his time there.


  • "Furious where it needs to be, deceptively tender where it can get away with it, adventurous all around."—Sam Sykes on Hope and Red
  • "Skovron's eye for characterization and situations is exceptional... A compelling coming-of-age yarn."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Hope and Red
  • "Engaging ... [Skovron's] skillfully developed world, filled with swords and magic, is a perfect foil for his dynamic characters."—Library Journal on Hope and Red
  • "Skovron launches his Slavic-influenced Goddess War series with this intricate, well-told fantasy.... This is epic fantasy done right."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on The Ranger of Marzanna
  • "The worldbuilding is solid, the action is nonstop, and Skovron's overall character development is exceptional.... An undeniable page-turner that will have readers salivating for the next volume of this projected trilogy."—Kirkus on The Ranger of Marzanna

On Sale
Apr 20, 2021
Page Count
480 pages

Jon Skovron

About the Author

Jon Skovron is the author of several young adult novels and his short stories have appeared in publications such as ChiZine and Baen's Universe. He lives just outside Washington, D.C. with his two sons and two cats. The Empire of Storms is his first adult fantasy series.

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