While I wish the first book hadn’t sat in my TBR for so long, I wish I had been able to pick up the second book sooner but life and logistics got in the way. I’m going to attempt a spoiler free review that, when combined with the first review, will hopefully encourage you to pick up the series. The Reluctant Queen picks up about a month after the events of The Queen of Blood. In my last review I wondered if each book in the series would focus on a different queen, and therefore a different demesne besides the forests we had been introduced to. In one aspect I was correct, it is a different queen, however we stay in the forested realm of Aratay.
The death of a Queen in this world can be catastrophic. While a village hedgewitch might have power over one type of elemental spirit, and candidate heirs ability to manipulate a couple elemental types, Queens have control over all the spirit types as well as the ability to command all the spirits in her realm. This is to provide the ultimate protection to the lives of her people. On the death of a Queen there is the potential for the spirits to run wild and maliciously follow their chaotic natures, leading to the death of many humans. Rituals of succession and multiple heirs help prevent this from happening. Trials are held to select heirs with the potential to be candidates to become Queen.
Due to circumstance, this Queen has no heirs in place, and no one far enough along in their training to take the trials. The current Queen of Aratay sits uneasily on her throne. Ordinarily this would be upsetting but not disastrous, however the Queen has recently developed an illness called “the false death”. The false death causes it’s victims to die for a short period of time and then revive. You can see how this would be a problem for a Queen. To add to the already tenuous situation is that the bordering Queendom of Semo has been having training exercises along the border of Semo and Aratay, making members of the Queen’s cabinet very nervous.
The first book introduced us to Daleina this time we meet Naelin. A woodswoman born and raised in the deep forest. With power that could have made her a potential candidate for training to become an heir, due to childhood trauma Naelin instead hides her talent, not wanting to draw the attention of the spirits. Naelin is mostly content with her life having the family and home she always imagined growing up. Her feckless husband being her biggest source of frustration. Her two children are the driving force of her life, so when destiny comes calling, she practically has to be dragged away to answer.
While it didn’t go the direction I had anticipated a sequel going it was still a fantastic read. I continue to be eager to keep learning about this world setting and curious as to what direction the next book will take. Will we get perspectives from Queens outside of Aratay? Events at the end of The Reluctant Queen seem to imply that might be the case. Regardless I look forward to what Sarah Beth Durst has next.