The Bridge Kingdom
by Danielle L. Jensen
Published by CLA
Book 1 in the Bridge Kingdom series
A warrior princess trained in isolation, Lara is driven by two certainties.
The first is that King Aren of the Bridge Kingdom is her enemy. And the second is that she’ll be the one to bring him to his knees.
The only route through a storm-ravaged world, the Bridge Kingdom enriches itself and deprives its rivals, including Lara's homeland. So when she’s sent as a bride under the guise of peace, Lara is prepared to do whatever it takes to fracture its impenetrable defenses. And the defenses of its king.
Yet as she infiltrates her new home and gains a deeper understanding of the war to possess the bridge, Lara begins to question whether she’s the hero or the villain. And as her feelings for Aren transform from frosty hostility to fierce passion, Lara must choose which kingdom she’ll save… and which kingdom she’ll destroy.
The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen is the first book in her Bridge Kingdom series, and centers around a Princess, and trained assassin, Lara, and the King of the Bridge Kingdom, and controls all trade between kingdoms through the bridge - Aren. When Lara is sent to the Bridge Kingdom as a symbol of peace between the two kingdoms, Lara is dedicated to bringing down the King that is suppressing her people. But the longer she spends with Aren and his people, the more she begins to question what she was told by her father. Where do her loyalties lie? With her people back in her homeland, or the King who is slowly tearing down her walls? And by choosing one kingdom, will she destroy the other?
Oh my God, I loved this book. Let me tell you, I was starting to lose faith in some of these #booktok recommendations, but everyone who has raved about this book hit the nail on the head. Bloody brilliant. The story suck you in right away, introducing us to a fierce woman - Lara - who seems ruthless in her mission to become the chosen Queen and assassin. Our MC, throughout the book, is a wonderful example of a strong, intelligent woman, despite her upbringing and the things she is told. Does she make mistakes - certainly - but that's what makes her, and the story, so interesting to read. Aren is also a delight to read. A King who truly puts his people first, but is also a dreamer of a better life for his people. It definitely has some ACOMAF vibes, with a kingdom and king portrayed as something it's not, but otherwise, it's original. I loved the world building. Simplistic, with environments we are all familiar with to some extent, it was easy to fully immerse myself into Danielle's world. The people, and culture was relatable as well.
The Bridge Kingdom is often recommended as a wonderful fantasy-romance and steamy read, and I do agree with this as a recommendation for both, for the most part. This is a true enemies to lovers story, with two characters who are both strong willed, and with great chemistry. As for the steam, I have seen it recommended with a lot of sex scenes, but this isn't my view. There is sex, but it's classy while remaining hot. It's not smut for the sake of smut. It furthers the story by bringing our two main characters on the same side, cementing their building relationship and love for one another.
The Bridge Kingdom was a thrilling story I am SO happy I chose to read. It's a love story, yes, but it is SO much more than that. We got political intrigue, and fantastic, original world building, and characters coming into their own. It was an exciting adventure, and I can't wait to jump in and start the next book - The Traitor Queen.
Lara stripping down to "bath block" Aren, and asking for him to leave the soap and towel as well
The card game Aren and Lara played asking each other questions
Taryn teaching Lara how to use the ship breaker
Lara running into the battle and pulling injured people to the healers
Aren taking Lara to see the glowing algae, and them talking about Ithicana and what has changed for Lara
Lara holding Aren when he is getting his shoulder tended to after being shot with an arrow
Lara saving Aren, and revealing she is good with a bow
Lara turning away from her father's castle, and choose Ithicana
Aren saving Lara from drowning
FINALLY consummating their marriage, and Aren telling her he loved her
Aren giving her his mother's necklace
Lara coming back to save Aren
Ahnna: "I misjudged your wit, Lara."
Aren: "You're wasting your breath, Ahnna. Lara believes weapons are the domain of common soldiers and not worthy of her time."
Lara: "I said no such thing. I said I was trained to be a wife and a queen, not a common soldier."
Aren: "And just what did that training entail?"
Lara: "Perhaps fate will favor you and one day you'll find out, Your Majesty. Although as it stands, you'll need to content yourself with my flawless needlework."
Lara: "I wanted to see the bridge."
Lara: "I wanted to see the bit of architecture that was worth the rights to my body. My loyalty. My life."
He recoiled as though she'd slapped him.
Aren: "The rights to those things are yours to give, not your father's."
Jor: "Interesting that she doesn't mention you. Me thinks you have a cold bed in your future."
Aren snorted, the blurry remnants of the dream he'd had of Lara in his room, in his bed, in his arms, flashing across his thoughts.
Aren: "She seems to take issue with being a treaty prize."
Jor: "Maybe she was expecting a better looking husband. Some people handle disappointment poorly.:
Aren lifted one eyebrow.
Aren: "That's probably the only thing that hasn't been disappointing for her."
Jor: "Maybe she dislikes cocky little bastards."
Aren: "I've heard there are kingdoms where the people show a little respect for their monarchs."
Jor: "I can respect you and still think your shit stinks just as bad as the next man's."
Aren: "What is -"
he took a mouthful
Aren: "your favorite color?"
Aren: "Excellent. Plenty of that about, so I need not ply your favor with emeralds."
Aren: "Let me make myself abundantly clear, Lara. Ithicana has not held the bridge by spilling its secrets over a bottle of brandy, so if that's your intent, you'll have to get more creative. Better yet, save us all the trouble and forget it even exists."
Lara leaned back in her chair, never breaking eye contact. With both hands, she pulled up the skirt of her dress, higher and higher until her thighs were revealed, seeing the intensity of his gaze shift to a different target. Lifting one leg, she pressed a naked foot against his chest, watching his eyes race from her knee to her thigh to the silken underthings she wore beneath.
Lara: "How about you take your bride, and shove it up your ass."
His eyes widened right as she straightened her leg, shoving him out of her space. Picking up her book, she tugged her skirt back into place.
Lara: "I'll see you at dawn. Goodnight, Your Grace."
A faint chuckle filled her ears, but she refused to look up even as he said
Aren: "Goodnight, Princess."
and disappeared from the room.
Lara: "Checking to see if my father had sent a pox-ridden girl to send you to your grave?"
Aren tripped and dropped his bow, swearing as he reached down to retrieve it from the mud.
Lara: "Not the swiftest form of assassination, but effective, nonetheless. And some might say the repugnance of the victim's final years, hours, days, is worth the wait."
Aren: "If that's how you intend to do me in, you'll want to move quickly. The pustules and skin rashes will reduce your appeal, I'm afraid."
Lara: "Hmm. I'd hoped to wait until the dementia had taken over so as to spare myself the memory. But one must do what one must do."
Healer: "Have you ever seen a battle before, Your Majesty?"
Lara swallowed hard.
Lara: "Not like this."
Healer: "I'd tell you to prepare yourself, but you can't. This moment will change you."
Jor: "Cheers to the Amarid vintners who make the finest drink of the known world, and to their fallen countrymen, may they rot in the depths of the Tempest Seas. And to our own fallen, may the Great Beyond gift them clear skies and smooth seas and endless women with perfect tits."
Lia: "Jor! A goodly number of our fallen were women. I'm sure at least a few of them liked men. At least let them be surrounded by -"
Lara: "Perfect cocks?"
Nine sets of surprised eyes turned to Lara, who shrugged.
Jor: "Where mortal life fails, the Great Beyond delivers."
Jor intoned, and Aren flung his boot at him.
There was, Aren thought, nothing the Great Beyond could offer that would be more perfect than her.
Lara: "We can't pull it out - we have to push it all the way through."
Aren: "Every moment with you is such a delight."
A faint spark returned to Aren's eyes.
Aren: "Sorry I missed dinner."
Lara: "You should be. It smelled very good."
Aren: "Missing the food isn't the part I'm sorry about."
Aren: "What the hell was that?"
Lara: "Me saving your childish ass, that's what it was."
Aren: "I didn't need saving."
Jor's subsequent cough sounded a great deal like "bullshit." Aren glared at Jor once, before turning back to Lara.
Aren: "You never said you could use a bow. Would've been a useful thing for you to mention in recent months."
Lara: "You never asked. And if you ever scare me like that again, don't think I won't hesitate to use one on you."
Aren: "And here I thought you didn't care."
Lara: "I don't! You can walk back onto that beach and bed down with one of those snakes for all the difference it makes to me."
Aren: "Is that so?"
And quick as the serpents on the island, he picked her up and tossed her into the water.
Lara landed on her ass in the sandbar, the water only up to her waist, but her clothing was soaked.
She clambered to her feet, the waves lapping at her knees.
Aren: "Says the woman who's been nothing but a thorn in my -"
He cut off with a yelp as Jor leaned back in the boat and kicked him solidly in the ass.
Are landed on his hands and knees with a splash, nearly knocking Lara over. Regaining his footing faster than she had, Aren shouted,
Aren: "Goddammit, Jor. What the hell was that for?"
But the boat was already sailing away.
Jor: "We'll be back. Once you two work out this little marital spat."
Marisol: "Congratulations. I'm sure she's charming."
Aren: "She has a temper like wildfire and a sharp tongue to go along with it."
Marisol's gaze shifted to Lara, far too many realizations flashing through her eyes. Rather than staring her down like she wanted to, Lara fixed her attention on a crack in the table.
Marisol: "I'm sure she's very beautiful."
Aren was quiet for a moment.
Aren: "As beautiful as clear skies over the Tempest Seas. And equally as elusive."
Marisol: "Well, that explains why you're in love with her, then. You've always been enthralled by challenges."
Marisol: "Then they loaded you onto the ship, and you were gone. Off to Ithicana and off, unbeknownst to me at the time, to steal away my favorite lover."
Lara gave her a sweet smile.
Lara: "Given you hadn't seen him in over a year, I'm not sure you had much claim to him at that point. If ever."
Marisol: "You are quite the little bitch, aren't you?"
Lara plucked the glass Marisol was polishing from her hands, filled it, waited for the other woman to raise it, then clinked hers against it.
Lara: "Cheers to that."
Lara: "She's beautiful. And kind."
Aren: "Yes. But she's not you."
Aren: "Since the moment I set eyes on you in Southwatch, there's been no one but you. Even if I'm a goddamned fool for it, there will never be anyone but you."
You are a fool, she thought as darkness took her.
And that made two of them.
Aren: "God, you're beautiful. Insufferable and venom-tongued and the most incredible woman I've set eyes on."
Lara: "Door. Shut the damn door."
Aren: "Yes, Your Majesty."
Aren: "Look at me."
She did, pressing her cheek against his hand as he reached up to cup the side of her head.
Aren: "I love you. And I will love you, no matter what the future brings. No matter how hard I need to fight, I will always love you."
Aren: "It's past time we stopped allowing our enemies to dictate our lives and start living them for those we love. And for ourselves."
Lara: "A dream."
Aren: "Then make it a reality."
Jor: "How nice to see the two of you finally play nice."
Lara's cheeks warmed, and she took a mouthful of fruit juice, hoping the glass would hide her embarrassment.
Jor: "And all it took to earn your affection was the poor boy jumping into shark-infested waters to save your ass."
He sighed dramatically
Jor: "U'm not sure I'm up for such acts of heroism. I suppose I'll have to put aside the dream of taking you on when Aren gets himself killed with one of his stupid stunts."
Aren: "Piss off, Jor."
Lara only smiled.
Lara: "Fortunately for you, I have a soft spot for elderly men."
Lara: "You need me, because I know our enemy. I was raised by them to be their greatest weapon, and you've seen firsthand what I can do. What they never considered is that their greatest weapon might turn on them. You need me because I'm the Queen of Ithicana."
Twisting, she threw the knife in her hand, watching as it embedded in the map, making Vencia - and Aren - with perfect precision.
Lara: "And it's time my father was brought to his knees."