The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: July 2017
Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.
Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.
But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.
The new, young queen is dying, and Renthia is on the brink of war with neighboring queendoms and from within: if the spirits of Renthia are not harnessed and controlled by a healthy, strong queen, they will attack the citizens within. Ven heads out once more to find the right person for the job, and it just so happens to come in the form of a mother, reluctant to leave her family and reluctant to use her power. Naelin just wants to have a quiet and simple life, but the needs of the country are much larger than she could ever know.
I loved The Queen of Blood for having a world in which nature was literally violent against humans. Nature was the enemy. Every element had a spirit (think Celtic fairies) with a thirst for human blood; they are controlled and maintained by a human queen whose powers weaken over time and a new young woman would compete to take over. With the queen, the spirits are docile and live in harmony with humans. This continues that premise, but now instead of a young woman who was trained and schooled in the arts, we have a very reluctant woman who is also a mother. She has no interest in controlling spirits—she just wants them to leave her and her family in peace. But the kingdom needs her, for the queen is dying.
It was so refreshing to read of a hero(ine) who wants nothing to do with the role. Truly, nothing. Naelin’s reluctance and feet-digging was expressed throughout in a very natural and understanding way. She felt so authentic to motherhood, to common life, that when she’s thrust into this new lifestyle and pushed into the role, I felt I could relate to her 100%. Meanwhile, the mystery regarding the queen’s illness, and the subsequent impending battle with the country to the north, fell a little short for me. The battle seemed rushed, the excuse weak, and the mystery not so mysterious, but this book also read like a stepping stone for The Queen of Sorrow. I’m especially intrigued by where this book ended, and I’m hoping the next installment is prepared for the big showdown!
This qualifies as book 4 in my TBR challenge.