Book Review: The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of The Queens of Renthia
Publisher: Harper Voyager (July 4, 2017)
Length: 360 pages
The opening volume of the Queens of Renthia series, The Queen of Blood, was one of my most surprising reads of last year, both in how the story turned out as well as how much I enjoyed it. As a book that contained many elements of your average Young Adult fantasy, I confess I hadn’t really expected much from it at all, though ultimately I came out of it very satisfied and impressed. Needless to say, I’m glad I picked up The Reluctant Queen because, like its predecessor, this sequel was a breath of fresh air, surpassing my expectations once again.
Following the shocking events of the previous novel, Daleina has become queen, though in her eyes, the price of her taking the throne was much too high. Still, despite her devastation at all that had happened, the citizens of Aratay are depending on her to keep the volatile spirits of the natural world in line, and Daleina is determined to do all she can to keep her people safe.
But now, the future of her realm is in jeopardy, for Daleina has just received some terrible news: it turns out that the ill effects she has been experiencing lately are the symptoms of a fatal inherited disease, and she may not have long to live. Worse, if she dies without someone to take her place, the land will be left without a protector to control the spirits, leaving them to run wild over the settlements, destroying and killing everything they touch.
And so, in her desperation to find an heir, Daleina sends her champions out into the world to track down the most promising and talented candidates to bring them back for training—even if they have no aspirations to become queen, for not all girls with the affinity to manipulate spirits wind up at the academies to learn how to use their powers. Some manage to stay under the radar, especially if they simply want to live a humble, quiet existence. Naelin is one such person, who has kept her powerful abilities a secret ever since she was a little girl. She’s content with her life in her remote village in the forest, married to a woodsman and raising their son and daughter. However, when Daleina’s champion comes calling, Naelin’s days of hiding may be over. Now that the truth has been revealed, the spirits have marked her as a threat, and despite her strong reluctance to leave her old familiar life behind, becoming the queen’s heir may be the only way she can protect her children.
I love it when a series evolves, and there’s no question about it—this one is maturing in more ways than one. First of all, the story has grown richer with the addition of a new POV character, and I have to say Naelin is one of the best characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in a book. Much like how Daleina was in the previous novel, Naelin is not your typical “Chosen One”; she’s a middle-aged woman and a mother, whose only desire to provide a safe, stable home for her children. She loves the simple yet rewarding life she has built, and is content with the way things are. Furthermore, unlike The Queen of Blood which at times had the feel of a young adult novel because of the age of its protagonist as well as some of its adolescent “magic school” themes, The Reluctant Queen shines the light on topics which are more geared towards adulthood (such as parenting and marital issues), imbuing this series with a certain weightiness that certainly wasn’t there before.
This also makes the novel’s conflicts seem more significant somehow, because Naelin has so much more to lose. Her charming, adorable children are her entire world, and Sarah Beth Durst should be applauded for doing such an excellent job getting readers to engage and sympathize with this little family. They wanted nothing more than to live their lives in obscurity and peace, but instead they are thrust into the limelight, and Naelin is given the most difficult choice of all, which really made me appreciate the author’s exploration into the many different roles of women by featuring a predominantly female cast. On the surface, we have Daleina, whose duty is to provide safety to her people, as well as Naelin, who is a mother fully devoted to her children, but nothing is ever so clear cut or simple. Whether it’s queen, protector, wife, mother, daughter, sister—some characters must bear the burden of a great number of responsibilities and take on multiple roles. The timeless themes of family and sacrifice woven through this story are very powerful and touching, and frankly I wish there were more books like these out there.
Last year, The Queen of Blood made it onto my list of books that I felt were deserving of more attention, and I maintain that more than ever, especially with how good The Reluctant Queen turned out. I really can’t wait to see what happens next. The Queens of Renthia is shaping up to be an excellent series, and I definitely won’t make the mistake of underestimating it again.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Queen of Blood (Book 1)