After The Reckoning, I needed to take a break from Bingo since my upcoming selections were not what I needed after a tragic medieval Welsh history novel. One was too dark, one was another novel set in medieval Britain and I figured I needed something different as a palate cleanser. It also seemed like the perfect excuse to fit in The Reluctant Queen, the second part of the Queens of Renthia trilogy, which I had started shortly before Bingo but then couldn’t’ fit into any categories.
I am happy to say that this was a case of a second novel holding up after a promising first start, and I think at least part of it is that Durst takes a different approach by adding new main characters. I quite like Daleina but the second novel doesn’t purely involve following her rule; instead it takes some of the parts that made the first one interesting, and does those in a new and different way.
After the massacre at the coronation, the kingdom has no heirs so if anything happens to Daleina, the kingdom of Aratay will be in grave danger with no line of succession. While some champions have already started training new candidates, a health scare reminds Daleina of the kingdom’s vulnerability, and leads to accelerated timeline for finding new heirs. The Academy is down to its youngest candidates who still need years of training to be ready, and even these are reduced in number: after the massacre, many reconsidered their desire to be heirs and potentially queen.
Ven, Daleina’s champion, sees it as his duty to find an heir for Daleina, and decides to take a different approach. He will find someone that had previously been overlooked – not someone that had been tested and deemed too weak to train, but someone had never even been tested. He actually finds just such a candidate in Naelin, a mother of two whose husband is a bit of a well-meaning con-artist. His exposure of her powers is the final straw in their marriage, though Ven does eventually persuade Naelin to come to the capital. While she has no interest in becoming heir, she realizes that the amount of power she has is dangerous if untrained so she wants to learn to at least control it enough to prevent doing anything drastic while protecting her children – such as accidentally calling an earth spirit powerful enough to cause an earthquake.
I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected shift in direction, and quite enjoyed the additional characters introduced in this novel. I still prefer Daleina to Naelin but it was interesting to see a very different view of power. Daleina always felt she had a duty to her country so though she was less powerful than many of her peers, she worked incredibly hard to become someone that could help her country. Naelin, on the other hand, has enormous power but was always more focused on living a simple life after a childhood tragedy. Durst already started showing that in many ways the training approach of the academies was too narrow, thus almost missing out on someone like Daleina. In this one, Ven, Daleina and Hanna have to figure out how to train someone older and set in her ways for the good of the kingdom, all while on a clock and dealing with neighboring countries and court intrigues.
The first novel of course has the advantage of setting up the world and the newness and excitement that comes from a reader learning about how things work, but this was a good follow up that kept the narrative going in an interesting direction. I also quite enjoyed the introduction of the new poison master. Daleina and so many of the people around her are good and dutiful, so it was entertaining to see someone so amoral in their midst but still on their side.