The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst

I'll say this much: despite an uneven tone and a bit too much of a reliance on cliches and pithy comebacks, Durst's fantasy novel reeled me in and genuinely surprised me with the ending. There's something about fantasy that keeps me reading long past when I should be asleep, and though I've certainly read better fantasy than The Queen of Blood, I was impressed by its original world-building.

Renthia depends on elemental spirits to keep its forests healthy, its crops growing, its people fed and industrious. But the spirits also hate humans, the only truly destructive force in nature. The queens of Renthia hold the spirits in check, controlling them so they work for the people. When they lose control, the spirits descend with teeth and claw and people die horribly. Only women hold this power, and only a select few have enough to be trained as heirs to the queen.

Our heroine is Daleina, whose diligence and dedication stem from being one of only a few people in a village to survive an inexplicable attack of the spirits. Against all odds (of course), Daleina is chosen to train for the crown. Meanwhile, Queen Fara is doing something very naughty up in her high tower, and people are dying.

Less than stellar writing and a derivative plot aside, the world of Renthia is fantastic and wonderfully imagined. I love the way the spirits are described, each unique and easily imagined. I love the tension that holds this world together, the destructive forces that must keep each other in check for all to prosper. I love the subtle environmental message, that humans depend on the natural world but also depend on controlling it. I love the political message that warns against thinking that harming some for the greater good is an ethical decision, that security is worth the price of freedom. I just wish the writing were a tad bit better...


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