Anyway, The Queen of Blood was completely an impulse buy, and one I let it linger on the shelf, uncertain as to whether or not I'd read it. Sarah Beth Durst is best known for her YA work, and even though it's been promoted as a book for adults, I'd seen enough readers tag it as YA to make me wonder. What eventually swayed me towards a read was Mogsy's review, and I'm pleased to say it was everything she promised, assured, and suggested.
This is very much what I would call a traditional epic fantasy - forest-bound, full of wonder, and populated by elemental spirits. There's a nice suggestion of world-building (with just hints of the wider land and a political conflict) and some interesting pieces of mythology sprinkled throughout, giving us a sense of how and why Renthia came to be. However, that said, it's also a very modern, dark, mature fantasy, marked by dark dealings and moral quandaries. This is not a simple story of good-versus-evil, but a complex tale of people sometimes doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. What sets it apart is the fact that those decisions have consequences, including one that leads to the most exciting, most original climax I've encountered in quite some time.
Yes, there is a coming-of-age element to it, but Daleina is older and wiser than her years, a young woman scarred by her past, and driven by a desire to atone for what she sees as her failure. Some of the scenes with the other students did get a bit tiresome, with petty jealousies and gossiping behind the scenes, but Durst keeps this largely focused on the action. I like that Daleina was never set up as the perfect heroine, the chosen one destined to save the world, but instead portrayed as a young woman with more heart than power, doubted at every turn by herself and those around her. Counterpoint to Daleina's story is that of Ven, the fallen hero, and his character was what kept me reading early on, especially knowing his twisted relationship to the Queen.
The Queen of Blood was a surprisingly dark and violent story, with spirits who aren't necessarily evil, but angry at their fate and chafing against the power of the Queen. There are some fantastic battles, big and small, and the duels between students/heirs are more than just the usual training-montage-fodder. The climax alone pretty much guaranteed I would give The Reluctant Queen a read next, but it's Durst's comments at the end, suggesting that the second came first, with her editor suggesting she step back and tell Daleina's, that has me really excited to get into the midst of the action.
Mass Market Paperback, 388 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by Harper Voyager