Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep is the first book in the Crown of Shards series, and I found it nothing less than amazing. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in a single day, which is no small feat since it clocked in at 443 pages.
“The day of the royal massacre started out like any other.”
This is the first sentence in the story of Lady Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair, or Evie, as she prefers to be called. She’s a cousin to the crown princess Vasilia, although she’s 17th in line for the throne. Evie lives in the kingdom (queendom?) of Bellona, a world where magic rules and dictates your value, and her magical power is … an enhanced sense of smell. She’s a poor orphan with little value in the court, so she is overlooked and basically in the court to do the dirty work, like baking pies and schmoozing at social events. Vasilia kills her mother (and pretty much everyone else) and assumes the throne in a brutal coup, Everything changes for Evie on that day. She manages to escape and joins a gladiator troupe in a desperate bid for survival, where she learns how to fight for her life. But as Vasilia’s power-hungry nature pushes the Bellona towards war, Evie is forced to face Vasilia in a battle to the death to save her country.
There is absolutely nothing that I don’t love about this book. It is flawlessly edited, and there are no errors that I notice in the writing. The characters are developed well, although as to be expected from any fantasy novel, they are unilateral, with good characters having few flaws, and bad characters having no redeeming traits. But it makes them easier to love or hate. Evie specifically is one of those characters that I adored very early on. She is dealt a bad hand, becoming an orphan young, shuffling between family members who don’t want to keep her, winding up at the palace, and ultimately treated more like staff than a member of the royal family. In spite of this, she chooses to live with dignity and empathy. She is kind, loyal, and best of all, an avid reader. This passage describing her bedroom is what sealed the deal for me:
“Piles of books were stacked up on one of the chairs, the different colors, shapes, and sizes almost making it look like a person was sitting there. More books covered the table itself … Still more books were stacked up three and four dozen high on the floor…”
Sounds like my ideal living quarters!
The writing is simple yet colorfully descriptive, with beautiful alliterative phrases:
“Down below, the Summanus River glittered like a frothy carpet of sapphires and diamonds as it tumbled down from the surrounding Spire Mountains.”
“The gladiators battled each other with a captivating, gruesome mix of magic, weapons, and skills. Vicious slices, punishing punches, and brutal blocks rang out in a violent symphony, and blood spattered everywhere until the dirt glistened like a carpet of dusty rubies.”
“Cynical Sullivan. Suspicious Serilda.”
I especially love the fact that not only is this a female-dominated kingdom, but that women are afforded equal rights. In the gladiator troupe, women seem to rule. Very little attention is paid to males in the gladiator world. Many fantasy novels focus on the male experience, and female-oriented fantasy novels are sadly lacking. Female roles are often relegated to witches or fairies. Evie's character evolves throughout the novel. In the palace, she is obedient and meek on the outside, a role that suits her station. But once she is outside of the palace walls, she is free to become who she really is, and the change is amazing to see. She often recognizes the change as it happens, noting what the old her would have done and realizing that she no longer has to fit into that facade, reveling in the freedom to say and do what she thinks or feels.
If this novel is indicative of what’s in store for this series, I’m all in. A series involving magic, political intrigue, murder, gladiators, sex, unsatisfied lust and romance? I think this is something the literary world definitely needs more of. I give this book a resounding 5 out of 5 stars.
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