Book Review: The Queen of Blood

The Queen of Blood (The Queens of Renthia #1)
Published By: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Page Count: 368
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher
Young Adult/Adult - Fantasy

I first came across The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst, when I was offered the chance to review its sequel, The Reluctant Queen. I’m not sure how The Queen of Blood did not cross my radar when it first came out, but I’m glad it finally did! It has everything you could want: a truly “unspecial” heroine, an unusual magic system, and political infighting. 

Daleina, the protagonist of The Queen of Blood, is a mostly ordinary girl who survived a horrific ordeal. When she was ten, her tree village was destroyed by malevolent spirits – her family only survived because Daleina was able to use a small amount of magic to fight them off. Although she is later chosen to attend an academy to train in the use of her gift, she only barely makes it into the school and she is always at the bottom of the rankings when it comes to using her power. I love how Durst kept Daleina grounded and believable even as she became the heroine of the story. The transformation is gradual, but magnificent nonetheless. If you want a story where hard work and grit pay off, this is your book! 

And continual hard work is what all magic users in this realm need. Renthia is in a constant state of creation and destruction perpetrated by six kinds of spirits: fire, ice, water, air, earth, and tree. Only the presence of a strong human queen can keep the spirits from attacking the humans who share their lands. Thus, all girls with any affinity for controlling spirits (because only females have this power for some reason) are sent to school to learn as much as they can. Some become village hedgewitches, some candidates, and some heirs (the group from which the next queen will be chosen). The magic itself isn’t all that unusual – it seems to be a fairly typical projection of the user’s will onto one or more spirits. What I find most fascinating about it is how the need to prevent the spirits from destroying humans and their homes organically leads to the peculiar political structure of Aratay, one of the lands of Renthia. 

The odd political structure naturally leads to lots of political maneuvering. How will the Queen deal with increasing spirit attacks in outlying villages? Who gets to choose which students will become candidates? What tests will the Queen set to choose her heirs out of the candidate pool? What happens if Queens (there are five distinct countries in the realm of Renthia) become more ambitious? Durst layers intrigue over intrigue throughout The Queen of Blood, and at least one appears to carry over into the sequel. 

For some reason The Queen of Blood was marketed as an adult fantasy novel which puzzles me a bit. The Queen of Blood makes a strong YA story based on the main characters and plot. Yes, the magic is violent and there is constant danger, but it doesn’t quite have the level of world building and explanation I would expect from an adult novel. Tiny quibbles aside, The Queen of Blood is a fantastic read. The characters are relatable, the world unique, and the political setting compelling. I love that Durst is not afraid to be mean (really mean!) to her characters, and that their victories are hard won. Can’t wait to dig in to the next book in the series!

An idealistic young student and a banished warrior become allies in a battle to save their realm in this first book of a mesmerizing epic fantasy series, filled with political intrigue, violent magic, malevolent spirits, and thrilling adventure

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.