Series: The Queens of Renthia #1
Published by Harper Voyager on September 20th 2016
Genres: adult, fantasy
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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.
I’ve never made it through a Sarah Beth Durst book. I’ve DNFed a couple because her writing style just didn’t work for me. But I picked up The Queen of Blood at ALA because I really want to read more fantasy, particularly adult fantasy. There are specific things that make The Queen of Blood adult fantasy, but to be frank, other than a couple not that graphic love scenes and the violent nature of this book, it read more young adult fantasy to me, which I read a lot of. The protagonist starts as a child and grows into an adult, so that may be the main reason, but honestly this one has a lot of crossover potential.
Daleina is a child when her village in the treetops is attacked by elemental spirits. The only reason her family survives is because she is able to prevent the spirits from entering their home. Every other part of her village is wiped out, family and friends dead, houses and pathways demolished. She is sent to the Northeast Academy to learn how to control and magnify her powers and possibly one day become an heir. One day the Queen will die, and a new Queen must be immediately ready to take her place on the throne. There are many heirs, and the successor to the throne is chosen by the spirits in a special ceremony.
The world-building in The Queen of Blood was fairly decent. I would give it a B+. I mostly liked it, but there were a couple things that were a little bit lazy for me. The one thing that didn’t really work for me was the magic system–if you can call it that. There are different elemental spirits: air, ice, earth, wood, water, and fire. This part was fine–cool, even. What didn’t work was how the heirs-in-training controlled the spirits. The book told me more than a few times that certain girls were skilled in controlling certain elements over others. But never showed us how. In fact, all of the girls controlled the spirits in pretty much the same way. With their minds, so why would mind control work find on one type of spirit but not another. There just wasn’t enough of a difference between them. I wasn’t given enough details, and to me that part of the world-building came off silly and underdeveloped.
I liked the idea of this world being built in the treetops. Different villages connected by bridges and cables. Even the palace was in a tree. The Queen, once chosen by the spirits had her power magnified so she could control them and keep the balance in order because without it the spirits would kill the humans. Killing and destruction was part of their instinct, and the only way it could be kept under control was by the queen which was why it was so important to keep training girls to become heirs. Humans don’t live forever, not even the queen. But the other thing that didn’t make much sense is WHY the spirits would choose a queen to control them. Why would they want to be under the control of a human when they hated humans and all they wanted to do was kill them? The explanation the author gave was because it’s tradition. Insert my very large eyeroll here.
It’s not all bad though. It can’t be since I gave The Queen of Blood 3.5 stars. I really liked the story itself. And the ending of the novel and the really big scene at the end was a huge shock. It was violent, bloody, memorable, but really caught me by surprise. I couldn’t get it out of my head for dies. The one thing I will say is that Sarah Beth Durst is not afraid to injure and maim her characters. Not everyone that you read about will make it out alive at the end of this book.
People always ask me if there is a lot of romance in the books I read. In this one, no. Romance doesn’t make or break a book for me though. Most of the time I actually prefer there not to be romance. Call me a cynic or whatever you want, but I often feel that romance ends up making a story feel convoluted. Not always, but it has to feel real and it can’t feel inserted into the story just to gain readers who like it. In the case of The Queen of Blood, there was a little romance, but it was very in the background and not at all part of the main story. Daleina has a small thing with a healer, and Ven, Daleina’s Champion has a demented thing with the queen. It’s small though and hardly there.
What was there was violence, complicated relationships, and the beginning of a series I am interested in continuing. The female friendship was super strong, which is always a plus, and actually it’s important to note that this book has a feminist element to it. In Renthia the women are in charge and the men serve them as Champions and healers. Women can be Champions and healers to, but it seemed like the good majority of them were men. It was all handled really well and in a skillful way. So though The Queen of Blood wasn’t a perfect book by any means, it was one I would recommend. It kicks off what looks to be a really interesting series.