Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There is a reason I don't read much epic fantasy, besides the fact that a great deal of it has books that are thick as a brick. I don't own many concrete-block-sized doorstoppers, but I don't mind them if I can get into the story. The thing that puts me off about most epic fantasy is that I really don't like trying to navigate through a convoluted tale with a cast of characters in the triple digits.
Thankfully, that isn't the case with this book. Kill the Queen has a laser focus on one character, the Lady Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair, seventeenth in line to the throne of Bellona, and her quest to reclaim her throne and save her country after her cousin Vasilia Victoria Summer Blair massacres everyone else in line for the throne and most of Bellona's nobles as well. Only Everleigh, with her secret immunity to magic, manages to escape.
In some ways, this is a generic bland fantasy world, although the author does deserve kudos for trying to make it not so overwhelmingly white and male. There are quite a few competent, fierce women in these pages, including Serilda Swanson, the leader of the gladiator troupe Evie falls in with after her escape from the palace. Evie herself is a well-developed character who goes through a nice character arc, changing from a cast-off royal who just puts her head down and tries to survive to a strong woman who steps forward to do her duty for her country and people. Along the way she finds true friends in Serilda and others in the gladiator troupe, and her newfound family helps her with her final showdown with Vasilia.
Unfortunately, the character of Vasilia is the reason I haven't rated this book more highly. Vasilia is, to put it bluntly, a scheming cardboard over-the-top psycho with little nuance or even a credible motivation beyond being a sociopathic nutcase. The antagonist left standing after Vasilia is defeated (at least until she magically whisks herself off to her own country), Maeven, is far more interesting, and I hope Maeven is the villain of the second book.
This series shows a great deal of promise, but it could stand some improvement. Fortunately, this book has intrigued me enough to carry on with the second.
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