Book Review: Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

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By Jacob P. Torres

Reluctant Queen

Find my spoiler-free review of The Reluctant Queen, Sarah Beth Durst’s sequel to  her 2016 The Queen of Blood.

Cover Description: “In The Queen of Blood, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive the malevolent nature spirits of Renthia and claim the crown. But now she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. If she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her realm will once again run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.

Naelin has the power necessary to become an heir, but she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen. Her world is her two children, her husband, and her remote village tucked deep in the forest. But when Ven, the Queen’s champion, passes through her village, Naelin’s ambitious husband tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows embracing her power will bring death and separation from those she loves.”

What is the book about?

Quick Recap. IN the Queen of Blood we’re introduced to Daleina, a young woman whose control of spirits makes her eligible to be heir to the Queen of Renthia. In Renthia, spirits are everywhere and they’re universally homicidal. A Queen has to have the ability to control spirits of all types (earth, fire, wind, water) over the span of the whole realm. Daleina discovers that the queen isn’t super engaged with the stopping spirits from murdering her people part of the job they Daleina conspires with her mentor and trainer Ven and her romantic interest and healer Hamon to remove the queen from power and let one of the presumptive heirs take the throne. IN the ceremony that names the heir, tragedy strikes, and when all of the bodies are counted Daleina is the only surviving heir and the new Queen of Renthia.

Book 2 starts less than a year after Daelina is named queen. We promptly find out that Daleina is suffering from a sickness called the “False Death” which produces blackouts that cause her to lose control of the spirits she’s supposed to be protecting her people from. She has to deal with threats from outside her border and quickly find a new candidate for the throne because she doesn’t have a lot of time left. The whole cast is back from book one with some new characters thrown in, notably Naelin. Naelin is a woman who wants a normal life so badly that she has hidden her ability to control spirits from everyone, even the people she loves. But with Renthia in desperate need of an heir to protect it from enemies within and without she is given little choice but to help Daelina and Ven. If there isn’t an heir to the throne by the time Daelina succumbs to her illness the spirits will murder everyone in the realm. Daelina and her allies scramble to prevent disaster and solve the mystery of her illness before time runs out for her and her kingdom.

What Did I Like About the Book?

One of the things that set this book and its predecessor apart from other fantasy novels I’ve read in the last few years was the completely hostile environment that the characters live in. Everyone basically lives at the sufferance of the homicidal spirits that are literally all around them. While people with the ability to control spirits, which are only ever women, can be used to do amazing things, the average person is held hostage both by the spirits themselves and the Queen that controls them.

Durst really sells the malevolence of the spirits in this world. They’re cold, amoral and shockingly violent. They make a great person vs nature conflict that paints the whole world that the story is set in. It’s like living in a world full of evil pokemon and it’s real great. I would like to see more of how the spirits are used for the benefit of the people in this world. In both books we got some examples of spirits being used to build the giant treehouses that the characters all live in, but that’s really it.

The finale of the book sets up an interesting new status quo for the characters and a new conflict for the Queen of Sorrow coming out later this year. So, something to look forward to.

Who was my Favorite Character?

Naelin by a mile. I really enjoyed all of the female characters (Naelin, Daelina, and Alet) but Naelin had the most personality, she definitely had the most growth over the book. Naelin starts as a married mother of two that makes charms that ward away spirits, hiding her powers from everyone. After her husband risks her life and the lives of their children trying to prove that she could control spirits, she leaves him but not quickly enough to avoid getting the attention of Ven and Alet who were looking for a new candidate heir. Naelin also really does not want to be here. She doesn’t want to deal with the queen, or spirits, or literally any of this. But where this trait can feel obtuse or just like complaining in other characters, Naelin has some real good reasons for wanting nothing to do with any of these other people. Ultimately, she recognizes the threat that Daelina’s illness represents and she rises to the challenges in front of her.

What Did I Not Like?

I wasn’t a huge fan of the plot for this book since so many elements are repeated from the previous book. There’s a problem with the Queen that is letting the spirits kill people; an heir to the throne must be found; the heir we follow has some problems controlling the spirits; bad shit happens now there’s a new queen. Fara, the queen from the first novel, was at times too much of a mustache twirling villain, in that sense the intrigue in this novel made for a better background and honestly, this novel feels like a better introduction to the world.

The threat from outside the kingdom never felt very fleshed out in this novel. That could be because they focus needed to be on the more immediate concern of finding a new heir, but it made the climax where the outside threat took center stage feel too sudden.

I’m real meh about all of the romances in this book.

The Verdict!

3.5 out of 5 cups of tea. A solid entry into an engaging fantasy setting that I want to know more about. It’s hampered for me by bland romances and a lack of a full cast of compelling characters to be invested in. The two protagonists of this book Daelina and Naelin are interesting and engaging and are enough to get me to read the next installment, though I’m hoping for a more original plot as the recycled elements were more distracting than engaging.

3.5 of 5
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 cups of tea. A solid entry into an engaging fantasy setting that I want to know more about.
Pros Cons
+ Naelin is a great protagonist with real well-established motivations and wants. – Bland romances that I don’t care about.
+ Spirits are malevolent and creepy and great in this setting. – Plot elements seem recycled to a shocking degree.
+ Setup for the sequel is a good foundation for the next book. – The exterior threat never seemed to be very developed or nuanced.

 

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