The Promised Queen
Alas for another series that loses steam. While I loved The Orchid Throne, book one in Jeffe Kennedy’s Forgotten Empires series, and I enjoyed (with some caveats), The Fiery Crown (book two), The Promised Queen disappointed.
Because this is book three of a fantasy series, a LOT has happened before you join our protagonists here. It is not possible for me to review this book without spoilers for those books. Proceed at your own risk.
At the end of The Fiery Crown, Con had retrieved Lia’s exsanguinated dead body from Anure’s wizards, and Con’s support wizard Ambrose resurrected her. We pick up with the understandably-fragile Lia and the understandably-shaken Con returning to Calanthe to restore Lia to health and to plot a necessary return to Anure’s fortress of Yekpehr: during Lia’s capture, they realized that members of the other royal families are held hostage there, including Con’s sister.
The first third of this book feels, I’m sorry to say, like a waste of time, and is also jarringly out of tone. If I wanted to read about heroines drinking the blood of their heroes during sex, I’d have picked up a vampire novel. I also did not expect our formerly-virgin hero to initiate a bondage sequence (which, by the way, fades to black before anything happens). I just kept thinking, ‘Calanthe is under wizard assault and literally collapsing. If you feel healthy enough for a kink sequence, you probably feel healthy enough to, you know, do something about it?’
We have plot gaps. There is the classic fantasy blunder of ‘character has incredible power but for Reasons never used it in previous scenes’, compounded by ‘character did not reveal knowledge because other characters were Not Ready For It Yet’. The prisoners at Yekpehr do not make sense: Anure had Lia for mere days and the wizards bled her to death, but he keeps members of the other royal families in good health and with their own retinues of servants? In a citadel as easily penetrated as the heroine of a menage novel, nobody has ever leaked the information that literally dozens of nobles are kept prisoner there in three separate towers? The authors has Lia bemoan her lack of understanding of her own magic and ascribe it to Lia’s failure to explore her own powers in previous books, but it really comes off more like something the author didn’t figure out until Book Three and then had to retcon why Lia couldn’t use these powers earlier. The final action sequence requires the baddies to wait patiently without trying anything so the good guys can get their distractions and monologues in.
Still, there are things to like. Lia deepening her understanding of her relationship to Calanthe is intriguing, and her worry that she and Con won’t be able to be together because both will have to physically reside in their kingdoms is a valid concern. A sequence which illuminates how certain powers or entities could exist across multiple realities has vivid, almost Tron-like polygonal visual descriptions. I was genuinely surprised by a plot twist (possibly because it’s cool and possibly because it doesn’t make sense; I’m still undecided). And I like Con. I wrote once about how Con’s friendship with fellow former slave Sondra is one of the few instances I’ve read of a hero having a non-sexual friendship with an unrelated female character. I was very happy to see this friendship continue, and also to see more examples of Con having positive relationships with women. A hammer-swinging barbarian who listens respectfully to the women who have the expertise in magic, skulduggery, or navigation necessary to the success of the plan is an unexpected but welcome role model.
Overall, though, The Promised Queen is a disappointment, although in the fantasy and plot elements more than in the romance, as it does finish the series with an HEA. If, like me, you’ve been following the series, that’s really what you wanted to know, so honestly, you can give the book itself a miss.