RogerBW's Blog

Crush the King, Jennifer Estep 18 June 2022

2020 fantasy, last of its trilogy. Queen Everleigh Blair decides to take the fight to the enemy: the king of neighbouring Morta, who with his sister orchestrated the massacre that put her on the throne and continues to try to assassinate her.

What an odd conclusion to the trilogy. Some things have been well-foreshadowed for some time (such as the eventual fate of Maeven, evil sister of the Evil King). Others, like the weird pseudo-Venice that serves as the primary setting, have never been mentioned before. And there are plenty of hooks left dangling for potential future books. (A sequel series is set some years later, dealing with a character who's a child here.)

Which I suppose is realistic in its way – not everything gets neatly wrapped up at the same time. But this doesn't feel like a concluding volume: if there were to be an immediate volume four, it wouldn't be superfluous, because there are plenty of things that just haven't been explored yet, and another author might have reserved them for other books or settings where they could be more fully used rather than putting them in here.

Anyway, there's a periodic festival called the Regalia (no regalia are involved), a series of athletic and martial contests. All the rulers go there. So this seems like a great opportunity to assassinate the king of Morta…

Wait, is this a setup of post-Westphalian states? I mean we have railways for goodness' sake. Apparently if the queen just marches up and stabs a neighbouring king that will start a war, but if a mysterious cloaked figure (who is not at all part of the queen's regular retinue honest) murders him with a poisoned crossbow bolt that should cause no trouble at all even though she's known to be the main person with a grudge against him. I never felt I really had any sort of grasp on just what was regarded as an acceptable action and what wasn't, other that what the plot required at the time.

She tries to build alliances, but again it's never really been quite clear what these countries have to offer each other beyond vaguely defined trade agreements. The alliance-building mostly consists of saying "look at that guy, he's an obvious nutter", and the Mortan king obliges by doing everything he can to look like a power-mad idiot. Meanwhile the great romance story that was trying to anchor the first two books has been resolved: they're a couple now, they enjoy sex, and Estep clearly finds this boring because there's really no link between that and the rest of what's going on; and there's a flashback showing Everleigh using magic as a child that contradicts something that was a major point in book 1.

Is it plausible that Everleigh, who's only really been exploring her powers and learning to fight in the last year or so, should be able to beat someone who's been doing these things for a couple of decades? Does it make sense that a faction that's been a major consideration up to this point should be wiped out by a single heroic action? Probably not. But Estep leaves me almost believing it; and it's really the side stories, particularly the plots swirling round Maeven, that make this interesting.

Not up to the standards of the first book, but nor is it the let-down that the second one was in places.

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Previous in series: Protect the Prince | Series: Crown of Shards

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