Review: The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst (The Queens of Renthia #1)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Harper Voyager on September 20, 2016

Source: Library

An idealistic young student and a banished warrior become allies in a battle to save their realm in this first book of a mesmerizing epic fantasy series, filled with political intrigue, violent magic, malevolent spirits, and thrilling adventure.

 

At first glance, THE QUEEN OF BLOOD is a typical fantasy novel with some strong YA overtones; with its basic storyline of a young woman who must compete with other powerful youngsters to reign supreme, it feels quick cookie-cutter. But beneath this generic plot lies a fascinating world, complex moral questions, and an unusual heroine, all of which kept me reading late into the night.

THE QUEEN OF BLOOD introduces the world of Renthia, a wild land filled with verdant forests and lush landscapes. But the health of these lands is also that which poses the greatest risk: the nature spirits that renew the forests and maliciously hunt and kill all humans. Their foremost desires are to create and to kill, and for hundreds of years they have been kept at bay only by the power and the will of the Queen. Chosen not by lineage but by her affinity for spirit magic, the Queen protects the kingdom of Aratay by using her power to control the nature spirits and bending them to her will. This power is not infallible, however, and when nature spirits begin to ravage the outer villages of Aratay a new generation of potential candidates for the position must be trained at the academy. That’s right y’all, we’ve got ourselves a magic school story!

A girl from the outer forests, Daleina discovers her affinity for magic when her village is attacked and overrun by the creatures the Queen couldn’t control. She saves her family, but does not have the power to save the rest of her people…which means that she’ll never be powerful enough to be crowned Queen. Nevertheless, year after year she scrapes by with her training at the academy, using her intelligence and leadership skills to succeed where her magic cannot aid her. Daleina is an unusual heroine in that she’s not the strongest, or the most powerful, or even the smartest among her peers; she’s filled with self-doubt and plagued by survivor’s guilt, but her determination to protect Aratay and support her stronger classmates on their journey to the throne made me admire her greatly. Champion Ven, one of the realm’s guardians sworn to train potential Queens, also sees these qualities in Daleina and takes it upon himself to train her in the wilds of Aratay.

As much as it pains me to say it, but THE QUEEN OF BLOOD doesn’t hit its stride until Daleina leaves the academy to begin her field training with Champion Ven…which is about halfway through the story. Normally I love a good magic school setting but the academy let me down, not least because I was expecting at least one lady romance to blossom and it never did, much to my frustration. But I persisted with it, because the world building in the story is fascinating enough to make up for a slow first half. Aratay is a kingdom among the trees: homes and public buildings are located in the treetops, with people travelling between them via rope bridges, free climbing, and even wire zip lines in the very tops of the trees. The scenes where Daleina, Ven, and their companions zip through the trees on their way to confront spirits and protect villagers were some of my favourites, and Durst does a good job crafting the atmosphere of a world just this side of wildness.

The real struggles in THE QUEEN OF BLOOD are not those between human and spirit, but rather between those humans who wield their power for their own glory and those who do so in the service of Aratay. Daleina struggles to always do the right thing for the kingdom, even when it goes against what she personally desires. Some readers may find her too cold and remote to be relatable, but personally I felt her fire in the inner tumult caused by all the deception around her. Her slow realization that a system she thought beyond reproach is actually full of rot and corruption was compelling even when I saw the inevitable reveals coming from miles away. While the final outcome of the story was fairly predictable from the beginning, some of the events that occurred along the way were total “WHOA” moments. Despite some of my issues with this one, I look forward to the sequel, which will be set several decades in the future and will follow another round of candidates for Queen.

A slow-to-start but ultimately satisfying story, THE QUEEN OF BLOOD is a solid introduction to a promising new fantasy series. Recommended for fans of leisurely-paced storytelling and feminist twists on classic narratives, but those looking for a thrilling read may want to steer clear.

Have you read THE QUEEN OF BLOOD? Do you prefer novels with a leisurely pace, or do you gravitate towards action-packed reads? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Ooh, I’m a total sucker for any kind of “train to be an awesome person” academy story. It’s shame that that part of the story didn’t seem to live up to the other parts though! I do like that this seems to be a very classic fantasy world though… maybe I’ll have to give it a shot, even if I’m not usually one for leisurely-paced stories.

    • Me too! There’s something about those types of stories that just appeals to me on a visceral level, haha. Unfortunately it was the weakest part of the story this time around, but I did enjoy the rest of it!

  • Karen

    I’ve had this book on my shelf for awhile and Iove Durst so I’m hoping to get to it soon. Happy to hear you ended up enjoying it.

    For What It’s Worth

    • This was my first book by Sarah Beth Durst and I have to say that while it wasn’t a total win for me, I’m definitely a fan! Which of her other books would you recommend, Karen? 🙂

      • Karen

        She writes in so many genres so there’s a lot out there but my first book by her that I enjoyed was Drink, Slay, Love. I didn’t love Vessel but I did like it – it’s really different. And I’ve heard Ice and Enchanted Ivy are very good.

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    Sometimes a slow start is what compels me to abandon a book, since I have little patience (and even less time… SIGH), but knowing that I would reap some nice rewards if I manage to soldier on means I will give this book a chance, because the premise is indeed a compelling one.
    Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    • I hear you on the “so little time” front, Maddalena! There are just too many books on my TBR these days, hahaha. The premise was let down a bit by the slow beginning, but ultimately I did enjoy this one. The tone of the story was unusual and compelling, hopefully you enjoy it! 🙂

  • I actually just saw this at my library but I was convinced that it was the second in the series. Does sound good though, despite the slow start. Haven’t read anything of this author’s but I might have to put it on my list. Great review!

    • Happens to me literally every day at work! Hahaha. It was definitely a good read, just not quite as good as I was hoping. Sarah Beth Durst is a talented writer, for sure. Thanks, Bonnie!

  • Lynn Williams

    I have this on my wishlist, in fact I have had for some time. And I do fancy reading it – I think No.2 may already be out even (or at least close??) I still fancy this, I don’t think I mind a slow start particularly, I like action packed but I’m equally happy with a slower pace. Great review.
    Lynn 😀

    • It’d been on my TBR for ages too, after I saw Mogsy give it a good review when it first came out. I’m glad I picked it up now, because book 2 is coming out in July I believe! Maybe this is a good one to pick up when you’re craving a slower-moving story. Thanks, Lynn! 🙂

  • Greg Hill

    I started this one in Barnes & Noble one day lol, the cover appealed to me. I like anything set on a forest world. 🙂 Sounds like she really delivers in the world building department, which makes me want to get it and keep going. And the beginning was suitably intense! Sorry the academy segment was a little disappointing though. I usually like those too.

    Nice also that even if it’s predictable there were some surprises along the way. This one’s definitely on my TBR!

    • The cover is great, I love the subtle blood effect on the title! I haven’t read a lot of books set in forest worlds, but I really want to now. Would you recommend any? The academy scenes were a bit of a bummer, but honestly the second half more than made up for it in my opinion.

      Hooray! I’m excited to hear your take on this one when you get around to reading it. 🙂

      • Greg Hill

        I’ve heard that the Raksura books by Martha Wells are good and are set in a forest or jungle setting. I’ve read Wells but not those books. And something older that I liked was Fires of Azeroth by CJ Cherryh. It’s third in a series but could be read standalone I think, without too much trouble, and it’s set in a forest/ grassland world. It’s about having to close space/ time gates and I really loved the world. They’re older but good!

  • Great review! This book looks really good, and I love how you say the heroine is. I think I’d enjoy reading this, especially if it’s got feminist twists 🙂

    Amy @ A Magical World Of Words

    • Thanks Amy! Daleina is an unusual heroine but I loved her. I’m always down for a feminist twist and this one delivers that for sure.

  • I often read slower books than that, but it does seem like a page turner 🙂

    • Personally I like slower books too! But for whatever reason the first half of this story was slow but not in a good way, you know? The second half was awesome though!

  • Sara Letourneau

    I actually just put a hold on this book from my local library. So I’m really glad to hear you liked it despite the quibbles you had with it.

    • Hooray! Hopefully the holds queue isn’t too long. Here’s hoping you enjoy this one too Sara, I had a lot of fun with it despite some issues. 🙂

  • I have this book on my wishlist since I really enjoyed Vessel by Sarah-Beth Durst – however that book was also a little slow to start. Looking forward to giving this one a go – Great, honest Review!

    • Oh, that’s good to know! Maybe a slower start is one of Durst’s stylistic hallmarks then. I’ll have to look into Vessel now. Thanks, Sarah! 🙂

  • Pacing is one of my biggest gripes. If the pacing fits the type of story and plot, a leisurely pace can work like a charm… But I do gravitate to more active pacing lol A lot of what you described here with Daleina and her people reminds me of Spellslinger and Kellen, and I totally understand your glee for this!

    • Oooh, that’s good to know for future recommendations to you, Verushka! I couldn’t agree more, some stories are best served by a leisurely pace, although definitely not all of them. Ahhh, you’re making me want to read Spellsinger even more now! I’ve got to get my hands on that one soon.

  • Half way through is pretty far in but I could survive it

  • I’ve been so curious about this book. It’s too bad the magic school aspect didn’t work out so well, but the setting in the trees sounds fantastic!

    • If you’re in the mood for something set in a forest or a story that deals a lot with nature, then you’ll probably enjoy this one Tammy!

  • I think I prefer books with a lot of action that moves as fast as possible! But leisurely books I thought I wouldn’t like have surprised me in a good way too! sorry it didn’t work out in some aspects but looks like a decent enough read 🙂

    • Totally fair, sometimes I’m in the mood for a page-turner too! It is always great when something you normally wouldn’t go for works out well for you. This was a solid read that kept me busy and entertained, and made me mull over some deeper issues too!

  • Nature spirits that kill humans? That’s different! But yeah, it’s frustrating when a book takes so long to get moving and pull you in. I’ve read books like that. But sometimes the second half is so good that it’s worth the wait to get there!

  • This sounds good, I actually bought this recently because it went on offer and it’s been on my TBR for a long while. It sucks that the time at the academy was slow because I often like that kind of book but I’m still excited to read because the MC isn’t all powerful and saving the world! I like seeing more ordinary folks as well in my fantasy books. I didn’t know the next book would be set in the future but that sounds pretty cool. I’ll have a read and see how it goes.