Series Review: The Hundredth Queen

The Fire QueenThe Fire Queen
The Rogue Queen
The Warrior Queen
by Emily R. King
Young Adult Fantasy / Myth Retelling
~300 pages each
Published 2017 / 2017 / 2018

I reviewed The Hundredth Queen a short time ago, and mentioned it was possibly a little culturally appropriative for a book written by a white woman, but I was invested enough in the characters to finish the series. While the culture resembles some time periods in India, the religion is inspired by ancient Sumeria, and much of the fourth book is reminiscent of the Inanna myth. I’ve only included the description of the second book, below, because the descriptions are full of spoilers for the series, as is often the problem for series reviews!

So I can’t really say how much the series is or is not appropriative; I’m not Indian. I don’t get to make that call. Regardless, it is something to be aware of before you read.

The Rogue QueenThat said, I enjoyed this series more than I expected to! Kalinda and Natesa are both awesome female fighters, and both of their love interests, while capable, are definitely cast in the “supporting character” role, to help show how badass the girls are.

One thing I did not like is how much they emphasize “sisterhood” and “sister warriors” yet turn around and fight each other – to the death! – to win a man or a position. Somehow Kalinda is the only woman to see how contradictory this is?

Kalinda’s nickname is also Kali, and, for a series with a disclaimer right up front basically saying “THIS IS NOT INDIA” maybe she should have picked a different name for the main character?

So I have a lot of questions about this series. There are contradictions, and plot holes, and improbable coincidences. I enjoyed the magic system. At its heart, it’s your basic elemental magic – earth, air, water, fire – but what the bhutas (magic wielders) can actually do with their elements is intriguing. In particular, the four directly-damaging uses – winnowing, leeching, grinding, and parching – are unique. Burners – fire-wielders – can parch people – literally burning their soul, basically. Tremblers – earth – can grind peoples’ bones together. Galers – air – can winnow, pulling oxygen out of the blood, tissues, and lungs of an enemy, and Aquifiers – water – can leech, pulling the liquid out of a person. All four magic wielders can control their element to do various tasks, but it’s the directly offensive uses that seem original.

The Warrior QueenOverall the plot is – fine – but it actually goes to the other end of the extreme that I complained about in Queen of Ruin. Obstacle after obstacle after obstacle. Ridiculous speedbumps, stupid mistakes, people acting out of character in order to throw another wrench in the works. I think the story could have been condensed down to three books and been far better for it.

A Spark of White Fire is a far better book with a similar feel to it, written by an Asian author. Read that instead.

From the cover of The Fire Queen:

WITH THE POWER OF FIRE, SHE WILL SPARK A REVOLUTION.

In the second book of the Hundredth Queen series, Emily R. King once again follows a young warrior queen’s rise to meet her destiny in a richly imagined world of sorcery and forbidden powers.

Though the tyrant rajah she was forced to marry is dead, Kalinda’s troubles are far from over. A warlord has invaded the imperial city, and now she’s in exile. But she isn’t alone. Kalinda has the allegiance of Captain Deven Naik, her guard and beloved, imprisoned for treason and stripped of command. With the empire at war, their best hope is to find Prince Ashwin, the rajah’s son, who has promised Deven’s freedom on one condition: that Kalinda will fight and defeat three formidable opponents.

But as Kalinda’s tournament strengths are once again challenged, so too is her relationship with Deven. While Deven fears her powers, Ashwin reveres them – as well as the courageous woman who wields them. Kalinda comes to regard Ashwin as the only man who can repair a warring world and finds herself torn between her allegiance to Deven and a newly found respect for the young prince.

With both the responsibility to protect her people and the fate of those she loves weighing heavily upon her, Kalinda is forced again to compete. She must test the limits of her fire powers and her hard-won wisdom. But will that be enough to unite the empire without sacrificing all she holds dear?

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Book Review: Queen of Ruin

queen of ruinQueen of Ruin
by Tracy Banghart
Young Adult
325 pages
Published July 2019

This is the sequel to Grace and Fury, a book that surprised me with how much I actually really liked it. Picking up immediately where the first book left off, we’re thrust right back into the oppressive kingdom of Viridia and the women fighting for their freedom. I can’t say a whole lot about the plot in this second book without spoiling things, but the sisters find each other, split up, and find each other again, each collision shaking their beliefs and convictions, as well as those around them. The battles are bloody and visceral without being unnecessarily gory, the action kept the plot moving at a good pace, and the oppression was appropriately infuriating.

My only complaint would be that the overall plot was too easy – but these are short Young Adult books. You can’t give them too many obstacles to overcome or you’ll exceed your allotted pages, so I can give that a pass here.

Everything is wrapped up nicely by the end of the book; I appreciate that this was a duology and not a trilogy (though a trilogy would have allowed for more obstacles). I do enjoy the recent trend in YA towards duologies, though.

So – if you enjoyed Grace and Fury, this is a satisfactory conclusion. The first book was by far the stronger of the two, though.

From the cover of Queen of Ruin:

RESILIENCE
RESISTANCE
REVOLUTION

When the new, brutal Superior banishes Nomi from Bellaqua, she finds herself powerless and headed toward her all-but-certain death. Her only hope is to find her sister, Serina, on the prison island of Mount Ruin. But when Nomi arrives, it is not the island of conquered, broken women that she expected. It is an island in the grip of revolution, and Serina – polite, submissive Serina – is its leader.

Betrayal, grief, and violence have changed both sisters, and the women of Mount Ruin have their sights set on revenge beyond the confines of their island prison. They plan to sweep across the entire kingdom, issuing in a new ages of freedom for all. But first they’ll have to get rid of the new Superior, and only Nomi knows how.

Separated once again, this time by choice, Nomi and Serina must forge their own paths as they aim to tear down the world they know and build something better in its place. 

The stakes are higher and the battles bolder in Tracy Banghart’s unputdownable sequel to Grace and Fury.

Book Review: The Tiger At Midnight

tiger at midnightThe Tiger At Midnight
by Swati Teerdhala
Young Adult / Fantasy
484 pages
Published April 2019

I’m posting this during AnthroCon; I thought it was fitting given the nature of the royal family’s magic; they can turn into humanoid animals. Or complete animals. I’m not actually completely clear on that point. It’s not explored much in this volume, but I think it will be in the next book.

The Tiger At Midnight as the first in a fantasy trilogy, set in two countries. The two countries were founded by two fraternal twins. They bound themselves to the land, and that blood bond has to be renewed every… year? some period of time – by the rulers of the two countries – a woman from one royal family, and a man from the other. In this manner the countries have been prosperous for centuries, until about fifteen years before this book begins. There was a coup against the queendom. The royal family was slaughtered, and the military has propped up a king since then. In the ensuing years, that country has begun to deteriorate; there have been droughts, animal attacks, forests have gotten darker and more dangerous – the bond is dying with no royal blood to sustain it. The other country can only sustain it so long before it will start affecting them, too.

So this is the setting. There’s rumors of a lost princess, but how much of that is truth and how much is foolish hope is yet to be determined. Into this strife we have Esha, a rebel also known as The Viper. The Viper is a mythical assassin who everyone thinks is a man, mostly because the imposter king disenfranchised his country’s women, so obviously someone so accomplished must be a man. Kunal is a soldier raised by his uncle who can’t remember his father at all, and only knows that his mother was one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting who died in the coup. Kunal, the only one who realizes The Viper is a woman, winds up chasing her across the country, and the cat-and-mouse style of their chase makes up most of the book and is incredibly entertaining. The two are well-matched in skills and wits, and the way they spark off each other is great. Every time he catches up to Esha, she pokes another hole in his belief system, and Kunal begins to see how much the soldiers have been lied to about what is happening out in the country they are fighting for.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding here, and I really hope the glimpse we saw of the royal family’s magic gets expanded on in the rest of the trilogy. It is otherwise a pretty low-magic world; there are no wizards or spells or enchantments or anything. The dichotomy of the two kingdoms is interesting, and I can’t wait to see if they can salvage the bond to the land somehow, or reforge it. But the next book isn’t due out until 2020 and doesn’t even have a title yet!

This is a great action-oriented Young Adult light fantasy book, with a touch of romance, politics, and just a pinch of magic. Highly recommended!

From the cover of The Tiger At Midnight:

A BROKEN BOND. A DYING LAND. A CAT AND MOUSE GAME THAT CAN ONLY END IN BLOODSHED.

ESHA is a legend, but no one knows. It’s only in the shadows that she moonlights as the Viper, the rebels’ highly skilled assassin. She’s devoted her life to avenging what she lost in the royal coup, and now she’s been tasked with her most important mission to date: taking down the ruthless General Hotha.

KUNAL has been a soldier since childhood, training morning and night to uphold the power of King Vardaan. His uncle, the general, has ensured that Kunal never strays from the path – even as a part of Kunal longs to join the outside world, which as been growing only more volatile. 

Then Esha’s and Kunal’s paths cross – and an unimaginable chain of events unfolds. Both the Viper and the soldier think they’re calling the shots, but they’re not the only players moving the pieces. As the  bonds that hold their land in order break down and the sins of the past meet the promise of a new future, both rebel and soldier must make unforgivable choices. 

Drawing inspiration from ancient Indian history and Hindu mythology, the first book in Swati Teerdhala’s debut fantasy trilogy captivates with electric romance, stunning action, and the fierce bonds that hold people together – and drive them apart.

Friday 56 – Empire of Sand

empire of sandThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

This week’s quote is from Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri, a book I’m reading for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge.

“I allowed your mother to keep her customs,” her father acknowledged. “But in raising you as I have, I have kept mine. Make no mistake, Mehr: You are my daughter. You have been raised in my household, fed with my food, clothed from my coffers. You are your mother’s daughter . . .” He faltered. “But you are also mine. And half your blood is Ambhan, noble and strong.”

Book Review: Crown of Feathers

crown of feathersCrown of Feathers
by Nicki Pau Preto
Young Adult/Fantasy
486 pages
Published February 2019

Okay first, just gaze at that cover for a little while. Just – wow. We get dragon riders all the time, but phoenix riders? That is new. AND AWESOME. I have been ridiculously excited about this book, and then I received it just as we were really gearing up to move. I have FINALLY gotten around to it, and man. I need the second one now. And it’s not due out until 2020!

The book tells the story of Veronyka, a war orphan who wants to be a phoenix rider, like her parents and grandmother. It is mostly told from her viewpoint, but we also get a few chapters from the point of view of Sev, an animage hiding in the Empire’s army, Tristan, another phoenix rider, and one or two from Veronyka’s sister, Val.

Animages are, as the name implies, mages whose magical power involves talking to animals and making them do their bidding. All phoenix riders are animages; not all animages are phoenix riders. But the empire has outlawed animages anyway, unless they pay a heavy tax. If you’re found to have evaded the tax, you get enslaved as a bondservant until you pay off your unpaid taxes. Sev hid his magic and enlisted in the army to keep from being sold as a bondservant.

In between chapters of current events, we have letters and snippets from history books detailing the story of Avalkyra Ashfire, who was the last Rider Queen before the empire turned against the Riders.

The villain in this story is villainous indeed, but at the same time, I don’t -want- them to be villainous. I -want- them to be good, and noble, and I can see why they’ve done what they’ve done and – I HAVE FEELINGS. I don’t LIKE the villain. They’re quite unlikable. I kinda feel like Obi Wan here. YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE. We all had so much FAITH in you. So it feels like a betrayal. And I just – I want to be wrong. I want the villain to do the right thing in the second book and no longer be a villain, but I don’t know how exactly that would happen. I’m holding out hope though.

This book is good. I’m not putting it in my best of 2019 because I’m so torn on the villain. But it’s very good. I am eager to see where the story goes from here.

From the cover of Crown of Feathers:

I HAD A SISTER ONCE . . . 

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was build upon the backs of Phoenix Riders – legendary warriors who soared through the sky on wings of fire – until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I PROMISED HER THE THRONE WOULD NOT COME BETWEEN US.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider like the heroes of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders – even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

BUT IT IS A FACT OF LIFE THAT ONE MUST KILL OR BE KILLED. RULE OR BE RULED.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

SOMETIMES THE TITLE OF QUEEN IS GIVE. SOMETIMES IT MUST BE TAKEN.

Crown of Feathers is an epic fantasy about love’s incredible power to save – or to destroy. Interspersed throughout is the story of Avalkyra Ashfire, the last Rider queen, who would rather see her empire burn than have it fall into her sister’s hands. 

Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree

priory of the orange treeThe Priory of the Orange Tree
by Samantha Shannon
Epic Fantasy
830 pages
Published February 2019

Holy COW, you guys. I keep saying “I haven’t read much epic fantasy lately” and “I don’t have time to read such long books/series” but I made an exception for Priory, and I’m SO glad I did. Just WOW.

So the basic premise of this world is that The Nameless One (some gigantic evil dragon) was locked away a thousand years ago, and all his minions with him. The exact details of how and who did it have been mostly lost to history. It’s said that as long as the House of Berethnet rules Inys, he’ll never rise again, and Berethnet queens always have one child, a daughter. The current queen, however, is unwed, and minions of The Nameless One have begun rising, and in fact have conquered a few neighboring nations. We have three main factions of countries; The East, who have dragon riders, but make a distinction between their dragons, who are aquatic and identify with the stars, and the evil minions of The Nameless One, who are full of fire. Then we have Virtudom, which is headed by Inys, and is a coalition of countries who have made a religion of the Knightly Virtues. This is the West, and they make no distinction between the draconic servants of The Nameless One and the water dragons of the East. This has forced a split between the West and the East, because Virtudom won’t have anything to do with countries that have anything to do with dragons, because most of what they see is the third faction – the Draconic countries. These are countries conquered by minions of the Nameless One, and they are full of chaos, fire, evil, and plague.

This is the world the book opens on. Most of our main characters – Queen Sabran, her handmaiden Ead, the dragonrider Tané – are women, but we also have Doctor Niclays Roos, an alchemist, and Lord Arteloth Beck, a friend of the Queen. In this world, women are just as capable as men, and are treated as such. There are female knights, and same-sex relationships are just as ordinary as opposite-sex ones. There is a bit too much moral emphasis placed on monogamy/sex within the bounds of marriage, but I guess that’s “Knightly Virtue” for you. Skin color is only mentioned a couple of times, but I seem to remember Lord Arteloth being described as very dark-skinned, and Ead as golden-brown. Rather nice to see a fantasy NOT all caught up in racial and gender differences. Not to say there isn’t a fair amount of bigotry, but in this book it’s based pretty much solely on nationality and religion. And when the biggest sticking point is “do you like evil dragons or not” that kind of makes sense!

I think the only thing I didn’t like about this book was its size. It’s unwieldy to read, at over 800 pages! I’m not sure why they didn’t break it into a duology. Regardless, if you have the choice, I’d read it on Kindle. It would be far easier to handle. I’m not complaining about the amount of text, mind you. Just the sheer physical size. I can’t imagine the story being told in less time. There’s So. Much. Here.

This book goes from Queen Sabran’s court to the dragonrider academy in the East, to the draconic kingdom of Yscalin, to the Abyss where the Nameless One sleeps. We see glittering courts, hidden islands, sweltering tunnels through volcanic mountains, and deep valleys with secret magic trees. We battle wyrms and cockatrices, swim through endless seas with dragonriders, sail through storms with pirate crews, and navigate the trickiest of diplomatic matters with courtiers. The Priory of the Orange Tree paints an elaborate, incredibly complex world and I am absolutely here for it.

Okay, so one tiny quibble – while I liked the romance, I feel like it started kind of oddly. I didn’t see any reason for the initial spark. From there, it progressed perfectly, but I just didn’t get the beginning.

This book has multiple queer couples! There’s at least one same-sex couple mentioned as attending a party; Doctor Roos spends a lot of time mourning his dead lover, and there’s the lesbian romance between a couple of main characters. And one character has at least strong affection for a man before falling in love with a woman; I think she was in love with both. No trans or ace rep, but plenty of gay, lesbian, and bi!

This is hands-down the best book I’ve read so far this year. It took me three days – it’s a big book – but it is absolutely fantastic.

From the cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree:

A WORLD DIVIDED.
A QUEENDOM WITHOUT AN HEIR.
AN ANCIENT ENEMY AWAKENS.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.