The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: October 2016
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.
Renthia is ruled by a queen who governs the spirits of the land and keeps the humans safe within the vast forest. If she ever loses her control, the spirits wreck havoc and destroy everything in sight. Daleina witnessed this as a child, a survivor of a vicious attack against her small village on the outskirts of the kingdom. She survived because she, too, held power over the spirits. Several girls who show an affinity, like her, are sent to the academy to train to become heirs, to take over the throne when the current queen dies. When Daleina is chosen by Champion Ven to train in the forest, several more attacks on villages take the kingdom by storm, and it’s up to them to save the land against its true enemy.
Don’t trust the fire, for it will burn you.
Don’t trust the ice, for it will freeze you.
Don’t trust the water, for it will drown you.
Don’t trust the air, for it will choke you.
Don’t trust the earth, for it will bury you.
Don’t trust the trees, for they will rip you,
rend you, tear you, kill you dead.
I can’t help but think this book is the equivalent of The Hobbit as the future books in this series is to Lord of the Rings. A novel of adventure and magic and epic world-building, a novel hinting at so many wonderful things to come, shedding light on what is going to be — without a doubt — a fantastic, atmospheric series.
This contained so many elements I love about fantasy. There’s a school to teach young girls how to control their magic (or affinity, the ability to call upon and command nature’s spirits), the enemies of the novel are of the natural world (wood spirits, air spirits, earth spirits, water spirits, much like the woods in Uprooted was terrifying), there’s a quest without it being one entirely drenched in violence*, and the atmosphere is full of mythological, fairytale qualities. It feels like a real place, like something I’ve known of since childhood but never fully grasped, much like Hogwarts or Middle Earth or Narnia. And with Durst’s writing, I can believe it is real.
*The spirits are quite violent in this novel. Six in particular encase heirs in wooden spheres, crushing them to dust. Being in the mind of one particular heir when this happened really made me cringe. But what I mean by “without it being entirely drenched in violence” is that this is more of an adventure, it takes on a more emotional quality to it without a thirst for bloodshed. Daleina’s focus is on unity and understanding. She knows the spirits are malevolent, but she knows they like to destroy and build, and she commands them to create more often than she demands violence. She redirects their energies into something positive, and her efforts are explored throughout the novel. Swordplay, armies, and mindless warfare are not found here!
One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the matriarchal monarchy. A human queen rules the land but, primarily, controls the spirits. She is chosen from a pool of heirs by the spirits themselves. She can be married or single, she can have children or none, she can be of any age as long as she is a recognized heir with the affinity. Such a beautiful concept! A lineage entirely based on magical strength rather than blood-lines or warfare.
There are moments of humor dispersed throughout, along with friendships, camaraderie, familial love, adventure, terror, wonder, and awe. So much was packed into this one novel, no doubt a prologue to the stepping stones of The Queens of Renthia series. I am eager to read the upcoming installments!
This qualifies as book 13 of 10 library books in 2016.