Audiobook Review: The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy
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 (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Series: Book 1 of Forgotten Empires
Publisher: Tantor Audio (September 24, 2019)
Length: 10 hrs and 39 mins
Narrator: Elizabeth Brook
I don’t usually read books like The Orchid Throne, so I think that’s why I struggled with some aspects of it. But I had found myself craving a little romance with my SFF, and since I’ve heard such great things about Jeffe Kennedy, I decided I would give the first book of her new fantasy series Forgotten Empires a try.
In a world ruled by a tyrant, only the island nation of Calanthe remains unbowed. But now its ruler, Queen Euthalia, is under pressure to marry the bloodthirsty emperor, and while she is willing to do anything to protect her people, that doesn’t mean she is content to go meekly to that fate. Following the guidance of her magical ring that was gifted to her by her father, Euthalia seeks to play a dangerous political game in order to avoid the marriage.
However, threatening her plans is Conrí, the former Crown Prince of the destroyed kingdom of Oriel who is now known as the Slave King. He is no fan of the brutal emperor either, but instead of scheming in the shadows, Conrí makes his intent to overthrow the empire quite clear by building an army for his rebellion. To succeed though, he will need the help of a powerful artifact known as the Abiding Ring—the very ring Euthalia relies upon to guide her actions and to save her people.
Still, neither of them can deny that their goals are aligned. And when the two rulers eventually meet face-to-face, more than just their passions for rebellion are inflamed. Euthalia and Conrí know that they will need to work together in order to safeguard the future of their kingdoms, even if it means putting duty before emotion.
Told in chapters that alternate between the two protagonists’ perspectives, the plot takes us through multiple stages starting with the initial setup of the world and its history. The first half of the book is admittedly very slow as the narrative meanders back and forth between Euthalia and Conrí’s POVs, taking a very lackadaisical approach to establishing the story. I also had a hard time getting used to the writing style, which was very stark and to-the-point. The opening chapters from Euthalia, where she lays out her plans to outwit the emperor’s emissary, read more like a directive rather than anything coming from the character’s heart. I suspect the reason for this might be the fact she spends so much time scheming and thinking to herself, whereas Conrí’s chapters fared a little better, due in part to the strong, interesting companions he has by his side, like Ambrose and Sondra.
I was also surprised how long it took for two protagonists to finally meet. When it happened though, that was when the story really picked up, which was good, because by then I’d been prepared to write the entire novel off as a total borefest. Euthalia got to be a more engaging character once she had Conrí to play off of, and their personalities meshed well in a way that created opportunities for fascinating conversation, not to mention lots of delicious tension. I also finally got to see why Jeffe Kennedy is so beloved for her romance. She certainly does have a knack for developing a sexy and sensual love story, where character emotions come across as genuine and convincing.
Still, on the whole, I didn’t enjoy The Orchid Throne as much as I expected. I was surprised how dull it was for much of the first half, especially since I’d been anticipating a lighter romantic fantasy, and given the genre, this one took an inordinately long time to get off the ground. Still, the second half went a long way in making up for it once the romance entered the picture, jazzing up the political intrigue and subterfuge. I also liked that the ending hinted at a lot more to come. While I’ll probably adopt a wait-and-see approach when it comes to the sequel, I think if you end up enjoying the characters and world-building, this series will be worth continuing.
Audiobook Comments: Although Elizabeth Brook did a fine job with narrating The Orchid Throne, I couldn’t help but feel this was a missed opportunity to bring in a second narrator for Conrí’s chapters. Not only would this have made the audiobook more immersive, it would have made it less confusing because it wasn’t always clear whose POV we were following after each chapter transition, because they could be quite abrupt. Still, I think Elizabeth Brook managed a great performance in spite of this, delivering fantastic voices and accents.