Book Review: Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep
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 1 of Crown of Shards
Publisher: Harper Voyager (October 2, 2018)
Length: 416 pages
I’d never read Jennifer Estep before Kill the Queen, though I’ve often seen her name spoken of highly among readers in urban fantasy and paranormal romance circles. As a result, I’d long been curious about her work, so when I first learned that she was venturing into epic fantasy with a new book described as a royal revenge story about a female gladiator, I was instantly intrigued.
Kill the Queen follows Everleigh (who prefers going by Evie), a minor member of the Bellona royal family. Seventeenth in line for the throne, she mostly passes through the halls of the palace as an afterthought or ignored all together, especially ever since she and her cousin the crown princess Vasilia fell out. People are also dismissive towards Evie because she doesn’t have much in the way of magical power, though secretly, she is glad for the lack of attention—the better to hide her true talent, which is an immunity to magic.
But then one day during a foreign dignitary event, the power-hungry Vasilia finally shows her hand and together with her co-schemers, they unleash a coup on the unsuspecting court. The queen is killed, along with all those in attendance so there would be no living witnesses to Vasilia’s treachery. Thanks to her secret power though, Evie manages to survive her cousin’s magical attack. She flees to a gladiator school, taking refuge with the troupe there after they agree to take her in and train her in the ways of fighting. Not knowing whom to trust, Evie decides to lay low, until it becomes clear she must stop Vasilia from using her stolen crown to plunge the kingdom into war.
While trope-laden and not terribly original, this book nonetheless provided plenty of enjoyment. I think it says a lot about Estep that she was able to carry the story using the strength of her writing skills alone, giving me such a good time that I was willing to overlook all the glaring clichés. Much of it was due to Evie, whose charming personality and voice hooked me right from the start. An unlikely heroine, she’s a forgotten royal orphan with a special hidden talent that just conveniently happens to be the key to saving an entire kingdom—in other words, her character is as stereotypical and formulaic as you could get. And yet, it did not bother me as much as I thought it would. Like I always say though, tropes are popular for a reason and they only become a problem if not written well, and thanks to the author’s natural and flowing prose, her protagonist was immediately granted a high “likeability factor” which kept me reading.
I also thought world-building was on the sparser side, due in part to the lack of fine detail and description one would usually find in an epic fantasy. The book felt very streamlined in that regard, keeping background information to a bare minimum. There’s both a positive and negative to this approach. Of course, I would have delighted in getting more detail about the magic systems or the history behind the setting, but in doing away with lengthy explanations, the story was able to move along at a good clip. There’s also the book’s audience to consider, as Estep was probably aiming for an epic fantasy with enough crossover appeal to her urban fantasy and paranormal romance fans. Subsequently, you have a very readable book told in an easy and sassy style, with just a light touch of romance that did not feel too overbearing.
If Estep’s goal was to write a highly accessible and entertaining high fantasy, I would say she succeeded. At the end of the day, Kill the Queen was a surprisingly good read, despite the story’s overall predictability and heavy reliance on well-worn tropes. While hardcore epic fantasy readers will likely find the plot too simplistic, the world too shallow, and the characters too paint-by-the-numbers for this novel to be truly engaging, for those of us who do not mind something a little lighter and fluffier—or just want to kick back with something fun—this will do the trick nicely. Highly recommended for gladiatorial action and palace intrigue, with potential for the series to grow over time.