by Sarah Beth Durst
HarperCollins Publishers, L.L.C. © 2016
Print length 368 pages, $19.99
Renthia’s spirits want to create, according to their nature. Earth spirits wish to make things grow. Wood spirits build. Water spirits flow, and so on. But more than anything else, they long to destroy. Not just each other. Not just the very things they’ve built. Renthia’s spirits want to kill the humans. Every single one.
Humans can—and sometimes do—fight back in self-defense. But they can’t destroy all spirits, for life in Renthia cannot continue without them. No fire spirits means no way to cook or warm oneself. Take away the water spirits and there’ll be no clean water to drink. Without earth spirits, the forests and plants and all manner of growing things on which the humans feed would die.
And yet for centuries, the Queen maintains a delicate balance through her magical ability to sense and control the world’s spirits, and enforce the Queen’s law: Do No Harm. In every generation, girls who can sense the spirits are trained as potential heirs to the throne, for without a powerful queen, all of Renthia would surely perish.
But power can fade with age. And too much power can corrupt. And sometimes, power comes in strange and unexpected packages. Faith and tradition drive Renthian society, where balance between human and spirit teeters on the razor’s edge. One false step, and the whole will collapse.
The character of Daleina, who starts out as a young child and finishes as an adult, is believable and relatable. I enjoyed watching her grow into a strong, sensible young woman. The changes that take place in the heroine make perfect sense, given the experiences that befall her, and I had no trouble buying into the ending Durst writes for her. Ven, Daleina’s champion, works well as a somewhat tragic character who works tirelessly through his exile to serve the Queen, the people, and the land. I liked their pairing—not in a sexual or romantic way, but as a working team. I bought Ven’s sincerity, why he needed a rough style.
The setting was interesting; most of the land of Aratay, one of five regions in Renthia, is set in the boughs of trees. Humans don’t live on the ground; it’s too dangerous. Instead, wood spirits grow houses from the branches, and the people string ladders and bridges between them. Whole villages sit high above the tree roots, sometimes all in a single enormous tree. It took me a few chapters to really grasp that, and a few more to get accustomed to the fact that they didn’t do much of anything on the ground.
I started reading Queen of Blood believing it was written for young adults. It is not. Between ethical dilemmas, moral quandaries, vicious battle scenes and the occasional hint of sex, this is clearly an adult fantasy. Not every problem is resolved happily, and not every character you meet is safe. That said, I think the tale is more believable because of these less-than-ideal details. Life doesn’t always take the high road, and stories that insist it does seem less believable to me. Queen of Blood has a lot of fantasy sparkle, but underneath is a gritty foundation that I found immensely satisfying.
The only drawback I found with this book is that toward the end, I felt like Daleina’s modesty went a little overboard. While she is a humble character throughout the story, she’s also deeply pragmatic. Her overweening humility near the denouement felt false, forced.
Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and can’t wait for book two of the series, The Reluctant Queen to be released this summer. If you’re a fantasy fan, this series should be on your list of must-reads.