Desert Isle Keeper
The Reluctant Queen
Earlier this year, I fell head over heels in love with The Queen of Blood, book one in Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia series. When I first heard about it, I figured it would be like the many young adult fantasies out there in which a young woman with extraordinary power saves the world from a horrible threat. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed many such novels, but I was over the moon when I realized Ms. Durst was bringing something entirely new to the table. So, when The Reluctant Queen became available for review, I knew I had to have it.
This is a series that definitely needs to be read in order. So, if you haven’t read The Queen of Blood, you’ll want to do so before diving into the second installment. Unfortunately, I can’t adequately review The Reluctant Queen without giving spoilers for the previous novel, so please bear that in mind before deciding to read on.
Sarah Beth Durst has created a fantastical world in which whole cities are constructed high up in the treetops. Very few people descend to the forest floor, and, if they choose to do so, it’s something they do at their own peril. But the cities and villages of Renthia aren’t all that safe either, for everything has a spirit. The trees themselves, the air, the water, and the earth are all controlled by spirits with a deep and abiding hatred of humanity. Only Renthia’s queen can control them, and even she is not always as successful as her people would like to think.
Being queen is obviously a risky business, and it’s necessary for there to be a group of powerful women waiting in the wings, ready and willing to take up the position almost immediately after the reigning queen dies. The spirits choose the queen from a group of women who have spent most of their lives honing their inner ability to communicate with and control the countless spirits that exist in the world. Daleina is one such woman; not the strongest or the most powerful, but the only one left standing after the spirits manage to massacre the rest of the women who try to control them. At the end of The Queen of Blood, she is crowned queen, and book two opens just a few months after her coronation.
Daleina has managed to keep the spirits in check in the months since she took up the mantle of royal responsibility, but it hasn’t always been easy for her. Unlike many of today’s heroines, Daleina is not a special snowflake who saves the day with very little effort – being queen isn’t something she’s always sure she wants to do, but she knows she’s the only one currently equipped for the job. I adored her imperfections, because they make her a more relatable heroine than many I’ve recently encountered. I love that her power isn’t something that overtakes her and that instead, she has to work hard for it, and she isn’t always successful.
Suddenly, Daleina’s body begins giving out on her. It soon becomes apparent to those closest to her that she is dying, but no one knows why. The royal healers decide she must be succumbing to some kind of poison, but exactly what the substance is and who is attempting to kill her are questions no one can answer. Daleina doesn’t want to alarm her subjects with the news, nor does she want the spirits to sense her weakening, so she struggles to keep all of this a secret. The queen’s guardians, a select group of trusted people whose job it is to select possible heirs to the throne, are dispatched on a mission to find someone to take Daleina’s place in the event an antidote can’t be found in time to save her life.
Guardian Ven, the man responsible for Daleina’s training, is determined to be the one to discover the next queen. To this end, he teams up with a member of Daleina’s guard and travels to several remote villages in search of the perfect candidate. He knows a young, virtually untrained girl won’t have time to learn all she needs to know before Daleina’s time runs out, so he concentrates on more mature women who have strong control over spirits.
As soon as Ven lays eyes on Naelin, he knows he’s looking at the next queen of Renthia, but Naelin isn’t nearly so certain. Her life is about as far removed from royalty as it’s possible to be, and that’s just how she likes it. She is a devoted mother to her two young children, and, although her marriage is far from perfect, Naelin isn’t the type of person to walk away when the going gets tough. She’s immune to Ven’s pleas for her to come to the capitol to train until he convinces her that the capitol is the only place her children will be safe from the growing unrest among the spirits of the forest who sense that Daleina’s hold over them is steadily weakening.
We see things in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Daleina, Ven, and Naelin, a style that works well for this kind of story. Daleina’s healers are desperately seeking an antidote for the unknown poison, while Ven and Naelin work together to get Naelin ready for the trails she must face in order to take her place as Renthia’s queen. Eventually, Daleina and Naelin strike up a strong friendship, something I enjoyed immensely. In fact, one of this series’ greatest strengths is its exploration of the bonds between women, be they sisters, friends, or even rivals.
The story hints at romance, but it’s not an element central to the storyline, and, in some ways, I found that refreshing. It was great to encounter a world where women are capable of claiming their own power and standing on their own. Both Daleina and Naelin have men who care deeply for them, but they are supporting characters, rather than romantic heroes. Many readers may find this a drawback, but it really worked well for me.
When I first started The Queen of Blood, I considered it a young adult novel, but as the story progressed, I realized it was so much more than that and The Reluctant Queen only strengthens this belief. Ms. Durst has penned a series that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. The characters are diverse, both in age and life experience, making this a perfect pick for pretty much anyone who enjoys a well-crafted fantasy with strong heroines and a very unique world.