Alila is an exile, and a murderer. Tattooed and cut and maimed for her crime, she lives in an isolated valley in the desert. She harvests wild frankincense and her only companions are twin unicorns. It is a lonely, penitential existence. Then, one bright day, Yaehala comes riding into her valley, heavily pregnant and on the run from assassins. Alila wants only to live in peace. What is she willing to risk, what is she willing to give up, to see Yaehala and her unborn prince to safety …?
I discovered Annie Bellet earlier this year when I downloaded the Nine by Night digital box set. It included Justice Calling, the first volume in her Twenty-Sided Sorceress urban fantasy/romance series. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and set about tracking down more of Bellet’s work. Fortunately, she is a prolific author, and her works are not only affordable, but many of them are also free.
After reading the synopsis for Delivering Yaehala, I downloaded it immediately. It took me a few days to get around to reading it, and, once I had, I began recommending it to my friends and coworkers. The world-building is highly detailed; you can feel the hot desert wind blowing across your cheeks, the sand stinging your eyes. The characters are well-rounded and sympathetic; Alila may be a murderer, but she is one who deeply regrets her crime and who has vowed to never kill again. And Yaehala is not a spoiled, pampered princess, but a confused, frightened young woman determined to save her unborn child and — someday — bring justice to those who threaten her. Even better, this is a polytheistic universe; it was the Gods who took mercy on Alila and sent her the unicorns for companionship — animals who should have refused to go anywhere near someone tainted by murder.
My only complaint concerns the number of typographical and grammatical errors. It seems as though the story was given a single pass, as several words are missing; in other instances, the wrong word entirely is used.
Editing issues aside, this is a great short story. And while it is self-contained, it leaves open the possibly for more stories about Alila and Yaehala. I sincerely hope that Bellet tells those stories.
Recommended to fans of Ilona Andrews, Jolene Dawe, Devon Monk, and Juli D Revezzo.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of EHS.]