Sarah Beth Durst’s The Reluctant Queen makes for a worthy follow-up to The Queen of Blood, even if the ending seems a little too contrived.
Warning: There’s a major development at the end of The Reluctant Queen. It is alluded to and mentioned in this review because it affects the whole rest of the book. That’s pretty much a spoiler, in other words.
The Reluctant Queen‘s most important character is still probably Daleina, who became the queen of Aratay at the end of The Queen of Blood, in that what happens to her drives the majority of the plot. But that doesn’t mean that she’s the only protagonist. Rather than staying primarily with Daleina, Sarah Beth Durst opens it up to a new protagonist: Naelin.
Now, it’s hard not to see where Naelin basically came about as the exact opposite to Daleina. While the current queen is not the strongest, Naelin is ludicrously skilled at commanding the destructive spirits of Aratay. (This concept remains pretty cool, by the way.) While Daleina’s young, Naelin’s a parent of two kids. Durst still makes a big deal out of Daleina’s hair color, and Naelin’s started to go gray just a bit. The reader gets the point quite quickly — but it’s not until the very end that the reader gets the point of the entire book, which is a good thing.
Predictability would be boring, after all. In that respect, The Reluctant Queen is quite good.
What I did see coming, though, was how the end itself played out, and that’s less good. The solution Durst designs for the central problem of having an immensely powerful queen slowly dying feels too easy somehow. For the sake of not spoiling it too much more, suffice it to say that the clash for the planned third book is set to be explosive, which is appropriate as this is only a Queens of Renthia trilogy, not a full-blown series.
But all things considered, this is a book that’s about magical spirits who choose a woman to be their queen (because who needs a hereditary monarchy, am I right?) because otherwise they’d tear the kingdom apart too much. A little suspension of disbelief is practically the price of entry. But that isn’t license to teeter towards a certain trope. To name it would be to again come too close to spoilers for comfort.
However, the character development and cast makeup don’t strain credibility, thankfully. Naelin isn’t the only one who gets her time to shine. Champion Ven returns, and he continues to be a delight even as his dynamic with his latest chosen student is wildly different than it was with Daleina in the first book.
Even Naelin’s children get in on the story every so often, and they sound pretty much how you’d expect a nine- and a six-year-old to sound without being too grating, but also get to grow and learn. Daleina has her own changes as well, since the book picks up six months after the end of Queen of Blood. Other new characters who make their first appearances don’t waste time in making impressions, either.
One thing that does continue to raise eyebrows, though, is characters’ diction. I don’t expect everyone to sound like they’re in The Lord of the Rings , but something just seems a little too informal here. It does make things a bit more obviously funny, at least. That’s a fair enough tradeoff for some.
For a summer fantasy read, The Reluctant Queen should make it onto your list if you’re here for older-than-normal heroines, interesting concepts, and, above all else, a little magic.