Week 12 (Blaga): The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst

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Reader: Blaga

Task #12: Read a Fantasy Novel

Book: The Queen of Blood (The Queens of Renthia #1), by Sarah Beth Durst (ALA Alex Award (2017))

Publisher: Harper Voyager (2016)

 

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.

In a world where people live in woods populated by blood-thirsty nature spirits that would gladly dispose of us, a human queen is chosen for balance and peace. However, what happens when this balance is disturbed? And what could possibly disturb it? Sarah Beth Durst’s newest adult novel, The Queen of Blood, is the first installment in her upcoming Queens of Renthia series. Daleina is only ten years old when her village of Greytree (within the kingdom of Aratay, one of five kingdoms in Renthia) is attacked by rebel spirits. Nearly everyone is slaughtered, but Daleina and her family survive thanks to her having the ability to control spirits. Having survived this horror, Daleina dedicates her life to training in the hopes of becoming the next queen. Along the way, she forges strong friendships, an alliance with a disgraced former warrior for the queen, and is forced to make questionable choices in order to win the crown and ensure that her family and the people of the kingdom will not have to suffer the fate of Greytree.

I have been a fan of Durst’s writing for years, in large part due to its incredible versatility. Every story, every premise, every protagonist is entirely unique and the universes they inhabit – whether our reality with a touch of the magical or an entirely foreign world – are rich and well conceived. The land of Renthia is no exception, and it certainly is one of my favorite thus far. I love the idea of a whole civilization existing among the trees, everything being connected by bridges and wires. Durst’s narrative is enriched by exquisite detail, beautiful and sometimes haunting descriptions. The relationship that she creates between nature and man is a complex ones. The nature spirits are fearsome, but without them, nothing can exist – fire ceases to burn, the crops cannot grow, the wind doesn’t blow. At the same time, without a human queen to control them, they would create chaos, which would destroy everything.

One of the book’s strengths is how limited Daleina’s gift is. Unlike her peers, in order to pass the many obstacles in her way, she must rely on her quick mind, determination, and uncanny ability to strategize and solve problems in unexpected ways. The way her unyielding determination, prevails over self-doubt, low odds and in the face of tough choices, resonated with me and strengthened her as a character.

Good characters in general are The Queen of Blood’s specialty and one of the novel’s greatest strengths. Durst provides a view into the thought processes of characters major and minor; this proves particularly important in the case of Champion Ven, the Academy’s Headmistress, and Queen Fara, who are three of the most crucial, and most complex, characters in the novel. At the end of the day, they are all imperfect human beings and the things they choose to do, while not always forgivable, are at least understandable. The price for attaining power – and retaining it – is enormous, requiring terrible sacrifice, both personal and global. Thus, even when the ending the reader hopes for does come true, it does not feel like a triumph, but a dark and somber meditation on what has been lost along the way.

At times, the sheer amount of background exposition was too much for the book to be a perfect read. This might be expected for the first novel in a series, but it made the narrative stall out. Furthermore, the narrative felt a bit uneven; the book takes place over a large time-span, but that comes at the cost of the believability of some character relationships. At times, I felt that I simply accepted Daleina’s friendships as facts rather than being able to believe them emotionally. I was also not fully convinced by the romance in the story (that is, how it came about), as it is not given enough time to develop properly.

Despite these problems, I was enthralled by The Queen of Blood and the world of Renthia. I think that there is a lot of potential in this series, and really look forward to reading the next installment.

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