Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .
But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still just human, and no matter how strong or good, the threat of danger always looms.
With the position so precarious, young women are chosen to train as heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, is under no illusions as to her claim to the throne, but simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Ven, a disgraced champion, has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. Joining forces, these daring partners embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will test their courage and trust, and force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land . . . before it’s bathed in blood.
You can read an excerpt here.
There was a lot about this book to like – and yet much as I enjoyed it, I also found myself held back from unadulterated glee. And so I liked it, very much, but I didn’t completely swoon.
But the world of this story is phenomenal. Nature has always been good at killing us wee humans in general, but in this story Durst takes it a step further, arming the spirits of nature with both spectacular magic and teeth. In this story, nature doesn’t just kill the unwary or unprepared, it actively tries to murder everyone, and happily will at the first opportunity. It’s a vicious, dangerous world, and that alone adds a fun frisson of menace to every step of this story.
As for our leading lady, Daleina, I spectacularly loved that she wasn’t a Chosen One, capitol ‘T’ Talent, or otherwise special snowflake – in fact, Daleina is usually barely able to squeak by when it comes to earning her place, or proving her right to stay. And as a result, Daleina is constantly barraged by doubt in this story – both without and within, as she herself is very aware of her magical shortcomings. But much as she sweats and bleeds and sacrifices, on a certain level, Daleina never overcomes them; instead she learns to work with them. And so Daleina doesn’t ever magically become better or best, or find a way to change what she can do – instead she learns to use her weaknesses as strengths, to become the best version of herself. And there is something so wonderful about a story where everyone tells a girl she’s not good enough, but still she carries on, sticking it out on grit and sheer determination, to build her own sense of worth. And that made me love her.
Now in terms of plot, I did feel like the pacing lagged, at times – I enjoyed very much all of the training and running around in the trees, but at times it felt like the story meandered. There was a lot of wandering, and frankly I’m not entirely sure the love interest was even necessary, plus the vignettes between Ven and the Queen dragged on a bit long, for me. But even when the story felt slow, there was never any danger of me not carrying on, as I always wanted to see how it ended – and the ending was just as bloody and dark and hopeful as I could have wished.
In the end, this story is all about the nature of power – what it means to have it, to seek it, and to bear the responsibility for it. All the characters in this story pay a heavy price for their power, as having magic is as much a blessing as a curse in this world, and that I think is what makes this book special. All too often it seems, in fantasy, we get stories about a character with phenomenal cosmic powers, where it becomes all about people trying to control that character, without ever really looking at the emotional cost of what power does to you as a person; what it turns you into (because power always comes with a price). Whereas this story, as it follows one girl fighting to squeeze every last ounce out of what she can do, and what she can become, really takes a hard look at what having power means. And that, for me, is exactly the kind of story I think we need more of.
And so A Queen of Blood makes for a very good start. It’s not perfect, but I am definitely on board for more adventures in this tantalizingly dangerous world.
Byrt Grade: A-
As Levar Burton likes to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
Durst knows how to move her audience and rattle the earth, and that’s all I can really ask for.
The Queen of Blood is billed as an adult story but it really did feel like a young adult novel. There are some themes that make it a bit edgier, especially the level of violence but I honestly feel it is no edgier than Sarah J. Maas’ novels.