Sunday, June 2, 2019

Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep

I have a lot of favorite genres to read, but one I find myself coming back to again and again is fantasy. You could argue that any fictional book is escapist, but fantasy (and science-fiction, to a lesser extent) is the genre that involves literally escaping to another world, and I find it so amazing that we as humans can actually dream up entire alternate universes, populate them with living things, and then put all of that imagination to paper.

KILL THE QUEEN snagged me with its blurb, which says that it's a cross between Gladiator and Game of Thrones. Even though I profess to hate those "X meets Y" blurbs and find them lazy, they still work on me, because I am a trash can. The book is also only $1.99 in the Kindle store at the time of my writing this review, which also helps. I can't say no to cheap or free.

Everleigh is minor nobility in a treacherous kingdom fraught with intrigue and betrayal. She lives in a castle, working as a servant, because in a hierarchy based on magic and might, she, as a lowly "mutt" doesn't have much power. Of course, she's not as powerless as anyone thinks - she has the ability to immunize herself against magic - but her mother swore her to secrecy about this ability, and now her mother is dead by assassination, so clearly she must have known something about treachery, right? Right. So Everleigh allows herself to be treated like crap until the crown princess, Vasilia, decides to pull a Red Wedding on the day of her betrothal, killing her husband-to-be, his entourage, her subjects, and then, last but not least, her own mother.

Everleigh escapes the fray only barely by using her powers against the magical assault. She ends up wandering and lost, still stunned by what she witnessed, until she happens upon a gladiatorial camp in the middle of the woods. It's headed by a woman who I'm not entirely sure isn't Brienne of Tarth (her name is Serilda), and Obligatory Hot Man Candy™, Sullivan. They aren't exactly eager to welcome her into the fold, but Everleigh proves her worth, so they do - only it turns out that at least some of the people at the camp have a ~mysterious~ connection to the castle.

So here's the thing, this is a love-it or hate-it type book. If you're a die-hard fantasy purist who likes everything to be by-the-book and Tolkienesque, you're probably going to hurl this book out the window. I looked at the positive and negative reviews before buying it and they are totally on the ball, in my opinion. Regarding the naysayers - no, KILL THE QUEEN doesn't quite live up to the brutality of Game of Thrones, and I think the main tie-in is the massacre in the beginning of the book (hence why I didn't tag it with a spoiler; it's mentioned in the Goodreads blurb and happens super early on in the story). The Gladiator comparison has more merit, but it's not the focus of the story.

KILL THE QUEEN is also a bit of an odd duck because it doesn't really have a clear setting. It could be, as another reader pointed out, anywhere from early Medieval to 18th century, and the language the characters use in dialogue is very modern-sounding. The end result is something anachronistic and odd, that feels about as cheesy and unrealistic as a small-town Renaissance Faire. There's also a bit of a romance thrown in here, but it feels like a flash in the pan because 1) it's kind of insta, and 2) it doesn't come into fruition at all, so what was the point, even? Hot Man Candy™ aside.

I did like the heroine, though. She had to struggle for what she accomplished, and the author wasn't afraid to make her work for that happy ending. There were a couple scenes in here that reminded me of ELLA ENCHANTED, in how the main character's intelligence and ability to be a quick study ended up saving her ass in a way that might have otherwise seemed like a deus ex machina. I liked the call backs to things that seemed irrelevant in the beginning; I like an author who plans.

KILL THE QUEEN is a wonky book and does some truly odd things, but I enjoyed the story and the characters, and I'm curious to see how the plot will develop with the release of the second book. If you're looking for something that'll keep you turning the pages, and doesn't require too much effort, KILL THE QUEEN is a solid choice, and proof that good can exist from great, and that's OK.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

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