RogerBW's Blog

Kill the Queen, Jennifer Estep 12 June 2021

2018 fantasy, first of a trilogy. Evie is a very minor member of the royal family, without significant magic or status; even when the Crown Princess carries out a coup against the Queen, she just wants to be ignored. But as the only other survivor of the family, she won't be granted that luxury.

In many ways this book wallows in fantasy cliché. Lots of people have magical talents, and if they all seem to fit more or less into a taxonomy there's clearly plenty of room for people to have extra weird ones. Our heroine's found-family (a hybrid of human-act circus and gladiator school) turns out to be wonderful and warm and accepting. She's a quick study at fighting. The plot holds essentially no surprises for the experienced reader. The technological base is ill-defined; there are railways and paddlewheel riverboats and hot running water available in bedrooms, though presumably it all works by magic rather than engineering. (The overall feeling I got was roughly eighteenth century Europe, though without any equivalent of firearms except for magicians, and there's no connection to our world.)

And yet the book grabbed my attention and kept it. The writing is decent, but more importantly I found myself believing in Evie; she feels like an actual person, and so do her allies and even many of her enemies. Yes, good guys and bad guys are obvious, but even if everyone has their affiliation showing there's still some difference of opinion about the right course of action. Evie may learn quickly, but she knows she has a hell of a long way to go to be good enough. I mean, yes, it's convenient that two key skills needed to help keep things moving are skills she already has, but she's been going to some trouble to learn them. There's a bit of romantic subplot, but also clear reasons for things to move slowly. If Evie had said a certain thing to a certain person earlier much of the book would not have happened, but she had a really good reason not to say it.

This book is blurbed as "Gladiator meets Game of Thrones" but there's not a whole lot of gladiating, and unless unpleasant grasping nobles are now a George Martin patent the Game-of-Thrones-ness is mostly restricted to the scene of the coup. This is sometimes grim, sometimes funny, and really surpringly enjoyable. Sure, this isn't world-shaking fantasy, but I only tried it because of a GoodReads recommendation; so I didn't expect much, and I got rather more.

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