The Fiery Crown
In The Fiery Crown, the second book of Jeffe Kennedy’s Forgotten Empires series, we rejoin our marriage-of-convenienced monarchs Con and Euthalia as they await the evil emperor Anure’s reaction to their marriage (since, you know, Lia was technically Anure’s fiancee). The first book was one of my top ten reads of 2019, and while this one isn’t quite as good, it’s still great. So rather than mess up that first book by reading the spoilers in this review, go read The Orchid Throne, then come back. You won’t be sorry!
Con, heir to a destroyed kingdom and now known as the Slave King, escaped Anure’s mines chasing a prophecy that told him to marry Lia: “Claim the hand that wears the ring and the empire falls.” Cornered by Anure pushing for the marriage she’s been delaying and by Con’s arrival on her island, Lia agreed to the marriage. This means that Lia, Queen of Calanthe, now has a king, and a vengeful ex-fiancé and his navy en route. With her hand claimed, is it time for the empire to fall?
I continue to enjoy the world-building here, and how it interacts with characters. Con is the product of a bleak childhood in a grim, dusty mine, followed by life on campaign. He is naturally irritated by and dismissive of the rituals of Lia’s court and the luxury of life on Calanthe. However, Lia rightfully points out how limited her options have been, due to both Anure’s power and the nature of the magic which ties her to Calanthe. Her choice to offer sanctuary to artists, scholars, and magicians fleeing Anure pays dividends when she calls them into a council of war. While she and Con grow closer on a personal level, they disagree massively on how best to react to Anure’s approach. I enjoyed watching them find their way as a couple, and I also understood why they would each have their preferences for how to react.
However, there are some plot shortcomings here in the last fourth or fifth of the book. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that in order to save the day, Con has to do something that has been built up as borderline impossible, and it goes so easily that you wonder why the heck this wasn’t plan A. Also, Con and Lia argue over whether or not a secondary character is a traitor, and the character so obviously is that it’s bizarre how Lia defends them, and that the author chooses to focus on this.
Many fantasy trilogies sell their second books by setting up an entirely new couple, but that’s not the case here and the author is very successful at continuing and deepening Con and Lia’s relationship instead. I have no quibbles with the relationship, just with the plot they’re pursuing. I still enjoyed this ride and look forward to the finale of this series.