Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

The Reluctant Queen is the sequel to The Queen of Blood, which I just reviewed favorably earlier this week.  This second tale doesn't expand our knowledge of the world of Renthia very much - we are still staying in the Country of Aratay although the neighboring country of Semo does play a major role - but does expand our knowledge of the people within Aratay.  As in the first book this is still a world where the Spirits of Nature exist en mass alongside humans and want to kill all of humanity, held back only by a powerful queen of each country who can command them to "Do No Harm." This book however further deals with the other people besides the heirs and Champions in the Country - in this case, a Deadly Poisoner, a Royal Guardsman, and just to some minor extent the other Civil Servants who try to serve the Queen.

It's a tale that is still very good and I tore through this book in 2 days - Durst writes really really well and the story is a bit enthralling....but it loses a little bit of the wonder of the first book as the interactions between spirits and humans becomes a little more cut and dry.

More after the Jump, including major spoilers for The Queen of Blood:

------------------------------Plot Summary---------------------------
The Reluctant Queen picks up a few months seemingly after The Queen of Blood.  Daleina of Greytree is now the Queen of Aratay, the only one who can prevent the Spirits of the Country from going wild and destroying the Country and its people, after the bloody coronation ceremony resulted in the death of all of her friends.  But things are not getting Daleina appears to have contracted a disease known as The False Death - which will eventually kill just a few weeks or months.  Even worse, the disease causes her to have outbreaks which result in her "dying" for short periods of time, which allow the Spirits to destroy and kill wildly.  And there are no heirs ready to take her throne when Daleina dies, due to the events of the first book.

So Daleina is forced to challenge her Champions, some of whom don't feel she deserves to be Queen, to find her a candidate for heir within a few weeks and HER own champion, Champion Ven, finds one such woman in the middle aged mother Naelin.  There's only one problem:  Naelin, a mother to a little boy and girl, knows the path of Queendom is one of misery and wants nothing to do with her power.  But there may not be another choice for succeeding Daleina if she says "no."

Meanwhile, Daleina's lover, the healer Hamon, brings to the palace his mother, a deadly but master poisoner, in order to try to find some way to heal the incurable disease.  And in the distance, Daleina's old friend from the academy, the ambitious Mericot, Queen of Semo, seems to be taking steps to infringe upon the borders of Aratay, as if she was preparing for war.  If Daleina, Ven, Naelin, and the rest of them make the wrong decisions, death could come not just for them, but for all of Aratay.
------------------------------Plot Summary---------------------------

The Queen of Blood was a bit of a cynical book (particularly with every minor character being killed horribly at the end of the book, except for one who was far away off screen) but it also excelled at describing the way the world worked with wonder.  How Daleina used the spirits was incredibly fascinating, since she couldn't make direct commands.  In this book, with Daleina as Queen and the new potential Queen Naelin being naturally powerful, the book doesn't really get a chance to show off any of the creativity inherent in this magical world.

Which is fine - this is again a cynical book, but it was the mix of wonder and cynicism which I think really made me love the first Book.  The new characters in this book are solid and interesting - Hamon's mother the poisoner is certainly interesting, although she is kind of a typical genre trope in this story, while Naelin is a different type of hero than we usually have in these books.  The problem is that with an expanded focus on characters - book 1 focused near entirely on the viewpoints of Ven and Daleina (with occasional POVs of others), but this book has POVs of Daleina, Naelin, Ven, Hamon, Daleina's sister Arin, and occasional other ones, there just isn't enough time to really get to know these characters.  It's a book that really could've used another hundred pages.

I also wasn't sure at first if I really believed in how Mericot, the best side character in Book 1, acted in this book as fitting her previous characterization, but in retrospect it does work I think.  Again, I don't mean to be too negative here, this is the second book in a really different epic fantasy world, and I really look forward to seeing the trilogy conclude next year.  This story does end on a cliffhanger, but it's a cliffhanger solely created by an epilogue chapter, and the actual main story of this book DOES conclude satisfactorily, with some of the twists near the end being of the stunning but spectacular variety (although not as much as in The Queen of Blood).  I was able to predict the final solution to the conflict....but I suspect most readers won't as I only guessed due to its similarity to the solution in one of my favorite fantasy books ever.

Overall, a good read, but a minor step back from Book 1.

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