#WyrdandWonder Book Review: Tear Down the Throne 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 2 of Gargoyle Queen
Publisher: Harper Voyager (May 3, 2022)
Length: 464 pages
I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I’m so glad I discovered Jennifer Estep through her Crown of Shards series. For accessible epic fantasy with a strong dose of magic and just dash of romance, and books that are just plain fun to read, you really can’t ask for more. And with her new series Gargoyle Queen which is set in the same world, Estep continues to bring more of that same goodness.
In Tear Down the Throne, which is the second volume, we once again join protagonist Gemma Ripley of Andvari on her quest to save her kingdom and discover the mystery behind why their rivals are collecting large amounts of tearstone, a material that can be used to make powerful weapons. While Gemma maybe the crown princess, there is also more to her than meets the eye. Being a mind magier, she is able to sense magic and read people’s thoughts, making her the perfect spy. However, all her plans are about to be derailed when Queen Maeven of Morta suddenly declares a challenge during the Summit, when all the leaders of the world are gathered.
Enter the Gauntlet, an old and obscure tradition which would require a contender to overcome a series of difficult and sometimes deadly tasks to win the grand prize. The only problem? Gemma’s hand in marriage is the grand prize. And Queen Maeven has arranged for her own son and Gemma’s sworn nemesis Prince Leonidas to compete in the Gauntlet, no doubt as part of her grand scheme to one day to take Andvari for herself. Furious at this turn of events, Gemma knows she must not let Maeven’s plan come to fruition, yet at the same time, she’s dealing with some very conflicted emotions where the diabolical queen’s youngest son is concerned. The worst part is, Leo seems truly sincere when he vows that he will conquer the Gauntlet and win Gemma’s heart, and in spite of herself, our protagonist can’t deny her growing feelings for him either.
I mean, how do resist such a tantalizing premise? If you’re a fantasy reader who enjoys some romance in your stories but aren’t really a fan of the romance genre itself, the Gargoyle Queen series would be perfect. The hate-turns-to-love romance between Gemma and Leo is a good example of one that strikes a good balance, giving prominent focus to their relationship development yet being careful not to overdo the cloying or cheesy elements. It was also paced exactly right, and the novel was a compelling and addictive read all around, thanks to a solid plotline which acted as a foundation for everything else to be built upon it.
In fact, I feel Tear Down the Throne was a huge improvement over its predecessor, Capture the Crown. Being the second book has its advantages, of course, since the groundwork has already been laid and we’re able to jump right into things without preamble. Capture the Crown was also heavy on the court intrigue, whereas this one had a lot more action, though many highlights from the first book returned as well, including the magical aspects and Grimley the gargoyle. World-building remains a strong point for this series and it’s further developed in this sequel, revealing more details behind the inner workings of Gemma’s abilities.
Speaking of which, Gemma as a protagonist really came into her own in Tear Down the Throne. I felt she didn’t really have much of a personality when we first met her in Capture the Crown, yet here she has a lot more agency and we’re starting to see what she’s capable of. Her voice has also abandoned that younger, “YA tone” which was such a distraction in the first book, as she’s no longer trying to cultivate the “pampered, inexperienced princess” reputation. This gave the book an overall more mature vibe. As a result, I was also able to take her romance with Leonidas a lot more seriously, and so the change is definitely a win any way you look at it.
My takeaway? No middle book syndrome here. For all the reasons discussed above, Tear Down the Throne improved upon the weaknesses from Capture the Crown while taking everything that worked and made them even better. The ending also wrapped up the novel’s main story arc nicely while leaving plenty of look forward to in the next book, which I shall now await with great enthusiasm and impatience!