The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst
Book One of the Queens of Renthia series
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Rating: 3 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss
Summary (from Goodreads):
An idealistic young student and a banished warrior become allies in a battle to save their realm in this first book of a mesmerizing epic fantasy series, filled with political intrigue, violent magic, malevolent spirits, and thrilling adventure
Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .
But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still just human, and no matter how strong or good, the threat of danger always looms.
With the position so precarious, young women are chosen to train as heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, is under no illusions as to her claim to the throne, but simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Ven, a disgraced champion, has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. Joining forces, these daring partners embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will test their courage and trust, and force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land . . . before it’s bathed in blood.
What I Liked:
Good... but not great. I'm not quite sure how to articulate how I feel about this book. I didn't hate it - no, I enjoyed it, to a point. In the end, the book was predictable and a little cliche, as far as adult fantasy fiction novels go. But, it was okay, enjoyable, not terrible.
This story follows several protagonists, but mainly Daleina. The story starts with her as a ten-year-old, with her four-year-old sister, and parents. One day, as the family is going about their business like any normal day, their tree village is decimated by spirits. Spirits are always everywhere, but the queen controls them, so they don't usually attack humans. Why did they attack? Daleina's family is taken to another village, but Daleina is taken to train at Northeast Academy to hone her power (she discovers, when her family is attacked, that she has some power over the spirits). Nine years pass during this story, from beginning to end. After years at the Academy, Daleina is chosen the disgraced champion to be a candidate to be an heir, one of fifty women in the running to be queen, when Queen Fara dies. But Queen Fara has plans of her own, and they don't always seem to line up with the intentions of a good queen. Daleina must learn her power to take on even greater power than she'd ever encountered.
This book is written in third-person, limited. Most of the story is told from Daleina's POV, but we also have Ven's (the disgraced champion), and sometimes Queen Fara's, and Headmistress Hanna's. At first I wasn't a huge fan of the switches in POV, but I definitely began to appreciate the various POVs as the story grew more complex.
I liked that the story followed Daleina, for about nine years. From a ten-year-old to a nineteen-year-old, we see so much of her life story, and her growth. Durst doesn't skimp on the "backstory" - no, a huge chunk of this book (like, 20%) takes place when Daleina is not even a teenager. Then we see her going through the Academy and learning and struggling. And then Champion Ven comes to the Academy and chooses a candidate (which is like an apprentice) - her.
Champion Ven's story is easily the most important, behind Daleina's. Ven is possibly one of the best Champions to have existed. A Champion trains candidates to (hopefully) becomes heirs, who are able to be future queens. Ven is fairly young, maybe thirties or so. He used to be Queen Fara's lover, until she declared him the "Disgraced Champion" and exiled him. I liked Ven a lot - he's very smart, skilled, well-practiced, and good at what he does. I didn't like how he couldn't ever seem to resist Fara, and was a little blind to her wrongdoing.
One thing I liked seeing in this book was the positive female friendships! Daleina makes a ton of girl friends at the Academy. The Academy encourages competition, for the girls to treat each other like enemies. But Daleina makes friends and the girls help each other and stick together, and not just in the Academy. Each of them are chosen by Champions, and they help each other to the end of the book. Very good!
There is a small aspect of romance in this book. It's very small, involving Daleina and a young Healer. I liked these two together, though you can clearly see the author pushing the Healer to the side and making Daleina seem much more powerful and independent than him. I don't love this, but at the same time, good for Daleina. Ven has his own weird "romance" with Fara.
This book is pure adult fantasy, and the world-building is set up nicely. It doesn't feel particularly unique to me, but that might just be me. The spirits things (spirits of fire, water, air, wood, ice, etc. -- not human spirits from dead people) was interesting, but the vessel queen thing was kind of cliche. I didn't love the progression of the story, and the ending was entirely predictable, but it was okay. I must credit the author with excellent writing and world-building and character development.
What I Did Not Like:
The beginning of this book, and other parts of it, was dreadfully boring. I had a bit of a hard time getting into the story, past the initial 20%. I liked watching Daleina grow, but her pre-teenage and early Academy years were so, so boring. Things really only started to get interesting when Daleina left the Academy with Ven.
I'm not a huge fan of the plot in general - it was very predictable. Maybe it was predictable to me, maybe to everyone, but I could see where things were going pretty much from the start. OF COURSE Queen Fara is doing this or that. OF COURSE Daleina is going to do this in the end. There is a little bit of "the chosen one" syndrome in this book too.
Did I mention the cliche and totally predictable ending? Good grief, I didn't see that one coming. Nope, because the ending was SO original.
I liked Daleina's relationship with Hamon (her Healer boyfriend), but I didn't always like how Daleina didn't consider his opinion on things. I know we're all feminists these days (this is good), but that doesn't mean we should discredit the thoughts of others. Or make fictional male love interests two-dimensional lovesick puppies. This bothers me immensely. I wanted to like Hamon, but I feel like Durst was trying to show that Daleina was her own boss, and by doing so, Durst neglected to really craft Hamon. We meet Hamon waaaaay before Daleina meets Ven, In fact, Hamon is introduced to the story when Ven is exiled (and Daleina is not a teenager at this point).
In general, I just wasn't impressed. This is not something I can pinpoint. I didn't love the story. I have reasons, and they may not seem like enough, but I didn't love the story. I liked it, but not enough to gush about it. It was okay!
Would I Recommend It:
It's not a bad story, but I just wasn't feeling it. It was okay. Good, but not great. Well-written, but I'm not in love with the story. I feel like others might like it? It's adult fiction (not adult romance), very well-written fantasy. Definitely on the predictable and sometimes cliche side, but well-written. Adult though (even though it's something of a coming-of-age story) - there is somewhat mature content.
3.5 stars -> rounded down to 3 stars. I just didn't like it enough to give it 4 stars. Good but not great is what goes through my mind when I think of this book. I'll probably read the next books in the series. I think they follow different female protagonists, if I'm not mistaken. The next book will probably be more about Merecot!
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