The Queen of Blood (The Queens of Renthia #1) by Sarah Beth Durst

queenofbloodI loved this.  What a great start to a series.  Wonderful world building and a competent but realistic lead character who knows her own limitations all help to raise this book above the norm and shed a unique light on old tropes.

The author has conjured a world full of humans and spirits that co-exist in a precarious way that threatens violence at every turn.  The spirits are essential to this world, they provide the air to breath and the fire to cook and feel warmth, they grow the plants to provide food – basically, without them, survival would not be possible. Naturally, they believe themselves superior to humans who seem to exist purely to use up the resources.  Spirits however are creatures that need to be reined in, without something to control them they would run amok destroying the planet with their own wantonness and lack of moderation.  A tentative agreement exists between the two.  The spirits select a woman who is named their queen.  She wields strong magic that helps to keep the spirits under control.  Every year, young women who have shown an aptitude towards magic and control of the spirits can be put forward to train as a future ‘heir’ to the throne.  It’s a very tentative balance  that requires tight control tempered with an even hand and, as events at the start of the story demonstrate, this control can sometimes slip with disastrous consequences.

So, basically, in terms of plot you could say that this story is the lead up to a selection of a new heir or heirs and this would be true but there’s a lot more going on here.  Manipulation, treachery and a bigger plot underlie the central theme.

The story begins with a small, outlying village suffering a dreadful attack from the spirits.  All the villagers die during the rampage apart from one family whose daughter demonstrates a sudden affinity to control the spirits keeping her own home protected from destruction.  If this was going to follow traditional lines the young girl who saved her family would naturally become the chosen one, gifted beyond any that have come before, etc, etc.  As it is, Daleina barely wields any talent, her abilities are weak and so rather than training to be a heir she takes herself off to train as a hedge witch with the aim of providing charms to protect homes. And so ends Daleina’s tale. But not really, I jest.  Eventually Daleina realises that she will be more useful to her people if she strengthens her abilities and so with no expectations of becoming an heir she takes herself off to undertake the tests required to enter an academy and improve herself.

Along with making Daleina’s acquaintance we’re also introduced to Ven.  A former champion who has been banished from the City following conflict with the Queen.  Ven and the Queen share a history and their relationship is twisted and complicated to say the least.  Ven spends his time on the outskirts of the wilderness protection those villages that come under threat of attack.  I don’t think I’m really spoiling anything by saying that eventually Ven and Daleina’s paths will cross and they will pair up, at first in a mentor/student type relationship that swiftly evolves into the two of them fighting against corruption.  Bigger things are afoot in the land of Renthia and the forests of Aratay are more dangerous than it’s inhabitants suspect.

The world building here is really well done.  The people’s villages and cities are built in the treetops.  A beautiful labyrinth of houses created amongst the canopy, connected with bridges and walkways.  Zipwires run the length of the forests for those brave enough to climb up to the tops and use them – sounds like a lot of good fun to me but then I’m also a bit dippy about heights.  The world really buzzes into life with people in the smaller villages going about the bustle of their daily routines.  It’s easy for them to sometimes forget the danger that overshadows them.  The spirits are not friendly.  They despise humans with a passion and long to cause havoc and bloodshed. Ironically, they themselves choose the Queen that rules them and give to her more power than any other being.  They’re conflicted because they want to destroy and at the same time they want to create they simply don’t have the self control necessary to stop destruction on a massive scale.  It’s a really clever concept, I enjoyed reading about the spirits they’re vicious pieces of work, barely kept in check.

As the story moves on we find ourselves at one of the training academies.  The old magic school trope.  I actually enjoyed this section, it doesn’t overdo things. We watch Daleina take part in the induction trials which are surprisingly harsh.  Daleina manages to scrape through but as suspected she certainly isn’t the most impressive of the bunch and this is a pretty good indication of the rest of the time she spends there.  It’s no secret that I enjoy the school setting and I think this is done well.  Daleina finds friends, friends that in actual fact defy expectations by not only helping her to fudge through things and not reveal just how weak her magic is but by also overcoming the need to play off the good looking, high powered girl against the main protagonist and instead making them befriend each other.  Did not see that one coming.  Fortunately we don’t spend too long at the school but jump forward to the final year, I do like magic schools but I seem to be reading a glut of them at the moment so I was relieved when Daleina got her chance and was chosen by Ven for training.  Oddly enough one of the weaker students was chosen by a disgraced champion – he clearly saw in her a determination and stubborness that could be used.  From here the pace really picks up.  I won’t go into details but there is one particularly motivated spirit that seems to enjoy making bargains.

The last third of the book really upped the ante.  The storyline was packed with tension, fear, fighting and blood.  I would say that this book is touted as a YA and the age of the protagonists would seem to confirm that but I think somebody forgot to tell the spirits.  They mean business, they are out for blood and they’re not taking prisoners.  The ending is painted with all the shades of red.

In terms of criticisms.  Nothing that really spoiled my enjoyment reading.  There is a romance involved.  Thankfully it’s not between the two obvious characters *breathes sigh of relief*.  And, I didn’t really buy the romance at all.  Perhaps it will grow on me but at the moment it feels very thin and lacks chemistry – almost like it happened just because it could.  I need to become a little bit more attached to Ven.  He’s a good character but I think he needs to develop a bit more.

I like Daleina, she falls outside expectations.  She’s realistic but more than simply knowing her own limitations she’s prepared to work hard to make herself the best possible version.  She was undoubtedly scarred by the attack on her village but instead of wallowing in self pity she’s doing something about it and also she’s different in the way she wields her magic, it’s not as strong as it should be and so she has to be a bit more cunning rather than simply relying on power.  It bodes well.

I thoroughly enjoyed Queen of Blood.  I went in with high expectations for this one and the book delivered.  I’ll be picking up No.2 very soon.

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15 Responses to “The Queen of Blood (The Queens of Renthia #1) by Sarah Beth Durst”

  1. Tammy

    I keep seeing great reviews for this book which makes me want to go back and read it some time. I love the idea of living in the trees!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I know – I love the villages and all the bridges and zip wire. Such great world building.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Nadine - todaysechoes

    Great review!
    This sounds awesome. I’m going to have to add it to my TBR.

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    It’s refreshing to learn that, given the premise, we don’t get the “chosen one” trope, and instead the main character faces many struggles to get along on her journey of discovery. I have seen this book mentioned often, but it’s thanks to your review that I’m finally convinced to add it to my “wanted” list so… thank you! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Thanks – I hope you like it. I found this initially through Bibliosanctum. I really enjoyed it. It manages to bring something new to old tropes and the world building is excellent.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    I missed reading this when it was released, but am thinking I should find some time for it. Definitely sounds great!

  5. sjhigbee

    I really like the sound of this one, Lynn – many thanks for the excellent review.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I think I’m going to love this series. Starting No.2 next week.
      Lynn 😀

  6. Zezee

    Glad you like it. I have a copy and want to read it too. I got interested in it because of how the world is described (I read an article about it that the author wrote), so I’m glad the world building is great. And I love the magic school trope.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I think the world building is probably the best aspect to the book tbh – which isn’t to say the other aspects are not good, just that I love the world that the author has created. I hope you enjoy it, I’m hoping to read No.2 next week.
      Lynn 😀

  7. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I remember this one was such a surprise for me, when I started I expected just another run of the mill YA fantasy, but the story got good (and got dark) really quickly. I loved the way it ended, did not expect things to go that way at all! I enjoyed the sequel even more, and I can see the story maturing with each volume. Can’t wait for the third book soon.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I couldn’t leave the ending. My jaw literally dropped. I’m starting No.2 next week so that I can read the final before release date. REally looking forward to the next one. And, also, I have your gold self to thank for picking these books up 😀

  8. April : My Month in Review | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst […]

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