Fantasy is a realm of endless imagination where all it takes is one idea, one small change to our world, to create a brand-new reality unlike anything anyone has seen before. Castles can float in the sky, anyone can learn magic, and the gods walk among humankind. Fantasy is the genre for those who can dream, who can create universes in their heads and put them to paper. Despite its power, fantasy is looked down upon in the literary community. It is not “high art.” It is not literature, it is one of the “genres.” But the fantasy genre wields a power which literary novels do not: it makes you see past the words written on the page and stimulates your own imagination. In direct opposition to literary fiction, the best fantasy novels are the ones that make you forget that you are reading a book.
Similar to the other popular genres, fantasy often works in series. Jennifer Estep, author of Kill the Queen is no stranger to this, having already established several ongoing series. Kill the Queen is her latest novel, out earlier this year, and the first in a brand-new series called the “Crown of Shards”. Looking back at Estep’s other series, it is difficult to tell how large of a tale this will end up becoming. Like the Homerian stories of old, fantasy series are epics, one story told over multiple parts and featuring a revolving cast of mythic characters. Sometimes it takes shape as a trilogy. Other times, the story lasts twenty books or more. All we know at this point is that Kill the Queen is part one of a much larger story, but it is an intriguing beginning.
Kill the Queen takes places in the fictional kingdom of Bellona, on a continent shared with several other kingdoms. There is currently peace in the land though, as with all kingdoms, scheming occurs behind closed doors. The main character is Lady Eveleigh Saffira Winter Blair, or Evie, an orphan and seventeenth in line for the throne of Bellona. As a royal ward, she is often responsible for taking on all tasks deemed not worth the time of the high royals. She attends functions, gives empty speeches, participates in traditional rituals with visiting envoys. All this while the queen’s family enjoys real power at the top. During the party where the queen is expected to announce the engagement of her daughter Vasilia to a prince from an allied kingdom, Vasilia assassinates her mother while her followers slaughter the entire royal family. Vasilia then frames the allied kingdom she was supposed to marry into and prepares to bring war while another nation lends their support from the shadows. Evie survives, if barely, and is forced into hiding until she can gather her own allies and take the throne.
Like a lot of fantasy novels, there is more to the world than just the kingdoms. Estep has brought several types of magic into the world, each with their own rules and properties. A staple of the genre, each author tries to put their own spin on how magic works in their world, often defining the subdivisions and parameters for how magic actually works. Kill the Queen does not go into too much details about the mechanics of magic, but we are treated to examples of the different varieties. Magiers are the more traditional wizards in the story, capable of controlling the elements. They can throw fire and lighting from their fingers or create a storm. Morphs are individuals with the ability to shapeshift into fearsome beasts. Not just mundane animals, but also dragons and ogres. Each morph has a tattoo on their body depicting their creature, which seems to have a mind of its own. Masters are craftsmen, capable of absolute perfection in their field. From cooking to blacksmithing, they are perfect. Last as the mutts, those who do not fall into any of those categories. They could have enhanced strength or speed, or some other ability.
Evie is a mutt. Despite being a member of a royal family famous for their control over the elements, her only ability, at least at the beginning of the novel is an enhanced sense of smell. As the story progresses, we see just how enhanced her sense of smell really is. She can smell the poison in champagne, can accurately read a person’s emotions, or detect if magic is present. This alone proves to be useful in the plot several times, but Evie also possesses another gift, something which is supposed to impossible in Estep’s new world. Evie calls it magic immunity, but it is more like an anti-magic field around her body. She can resist Vasilia’s lightning and snuff the magic out of enchanted objects. While important to the plot, this is also where the series setup comes in. Once her allies discover her power, an air of prophecy enters the tale. There is something in Evie’s future, something which makes the immunity all the more important.
Despite my enjoyment of Kill the Queen, it is far from perfect, falling victim to a lot of the pit traps fantasy novels often fall into. It is a weird thing to say, but when you have read enough fantasy literature, you begin to recognize patterns in the storytelling across authors and series. Kill the Queen can feel a little generic in this way. There are certain plot points and character archetypes present in other books, but they have enough of their own spin so as to be unique enough. The main character also possesses the same traits as a multitude of other fantasy heroes and heroines possess. She is, or becomes, the best at everything she sets her mind to, from cooking to fighting to leading. Characters either love her or despise her, there is no middle ground. She secretly has a power which is greater than the villain’s, but her real superpower is her stubbornness or willpower, her sheer refusal to give up. There is even the required romance subplot with a gruff man who steadily falls for her as well. In that regard, luckily the plot interferes in a very interesting fashion.
These criticisms should not turn off anyone from Kill the Queen. Despite its flaws, fantasy remains one of my favorite genres to read and I enjoyed every page of Estep’s new novel. It is a book that makes you feel good while reading it, something we could all use in this day and age. Fantasy is, simply, the best. No other form of storytelling can do the things that it does. These are stories that can transport us to other worlds without the need to advance aerospace technologies. These are books which let you experience another life, a life you would never have been able to experience otherwise. These are tales written by people with imagination for people with imagination, the ultimate form of escapism. When are you ready to be transported, you know which book to pick up.
Kill the Queen can be found in stone, online, or wherever books are sold
Total Read Time: 7 days
Next on the List: The Seclusion, by Jacqui Castle