The Risen Queen by Duncan Lay
|Book Name:||The Risen Queen|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
Editor’s Note: This review contains some slight spoilers for The Wounded Guardian. If you have yet to finish book one, please read with caution.
Reluctant as I am to jump into a review with well-worn clichés, I’m afraid that’s exactly what I have to do here. Because from the outset it is clear that The Risen Queen is no difficult second album, rather it adheres to The Empire Strikes Back school of sequels—darker, harder, smarter.
From one of the best openings to a novel I have yet read, to the climactic and highly satisfying gladiatorial showdown, this is a story that grabs you by the fantasticles and doesn’t let up.
In short, I loved it.
Martil, our ‘Wounded Guardian’ from the first book, remains haunted by his past. Specifically, by dreams of a siege upon the capital of Berellia, where he earned his title as the ‘Butcher of Bellic’. Only the relationship with the young girl Karia, now to all intents and purposes his daughter, can save him.
But his time is running out. Once Duke, now King Gello has set the bards to work on the country, rewriting history in order to convince people to follow him. Soon he will have an army to crush Queen Merren’s rebellion, unless Martil, the Queen, and her magician Barrett can figure out a plan to stop them.
Of course, if the Dragon Sword had submitted to Martil then raising an army of their own would be easy. But it seems more stubborn than ever in helping him. The blade will still cut down his foes, but each time it does so it becomes that much more difficult to draw followers to their side. Unless Martil can rid himself of the guilt of Bellic, and prove himself worthy of the sword, they are all finished.
The Bad News
There isn’t much to complain about here. But, if I was being picky, there were certainly a few too many places where women are depicted as little more than objects. It’s all part of the ‘generic’ fantasy world the author has built, of course, with manly warriors visiting gamely prostitutes for a bit of relief. But with twists upon the generic prevalent in the first book, it would have been nice to see a fresh twist here too—a female warrior visiting a male brothel perhaps?
Further, I felt this part of the story lacked a strong, empathetic lead female character. The first novel focussed on Martil and Karia, and she was such a powerful presence, despite being only 6 years old. This story switches focus more to Martil and Queen Merren, and while strong and often trying to do ‘the right thing’, Merren remains somewhat unlikeable—mainly due to her cold sense of duty to the crown and her country (and a ridiculous decision that is thankfully ‘outed’ later).
There are a couple of interesting new female characters in the religious sister Milly and the abused Tiera, but what could have been delightfully complex arcs slip into romantic counterpart territory towards the end. Hopefully they can break this mould in the next book.
The Good News
Any issues I had with the writing style in the first book are eased here. There are still point-of-view slips and telling instead of showing, but it’s all far slicker and clearly with purpose—to give the reader as much information as possible to move the story ahead at pace. And it fairly races along.
The opening is fantastic. I won’t spoil it here, but it perfectly sets up one of the main themes in the story, which is Martil’s fight against the demons of his past. I honestly can’t remember an opening so well structured and executed as this one, and it gives Martil’s desperate need to atone for the things he’s done that much more gravitas.
Aside from this wonderful subplot, however, is the good vs evil struggle between the outcast Queen and the new King Gello who stole her thrown. Early machinations by both parties are fascinating, leading to the inevitable showdown and a fantastic climactic battle that oozes satisfaction in the way it ties up several stories at once. Only… this climax happens far before the end of the book.
At first I thought this might be a mistake. It was such a wonderful build up and resolution, that to follow that with several pages of summary of what happened next, plus the casual announcement of a major twist, seemed (as Sean Bean might say) folly.
Not so. In fact we’re simply being given the facts in order to set up even greater stakes than ever before and a powerful new threat. One that carries us along into the final pages of the book where those dragons and goblins are finally introduced, and Martil faces an old enemy in an oh-so-satisfying old-school gladiatorial smackdown.
All in all The Risen Queen is a rip-roaring, rollicking fantasy adventure in all the best senses. Consider me hooked for the final instalment.