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The Nine Realms by Sarah Kozloff – Series Review

The Nine Realms by Sarah Kozloff – Series Review
Book Name: A Queen in Hiding, The Queen of Raiders, A Broken Queen, and The Cerulean Queen
Author: Sarah Kozloff
Publisher(s): Tor
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: January 21, 2020 / February 18, 2020 / March 24, 2020 / April 21, 2020

A Queen in Hiding (cover)Robert Jordan, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Brent Weeks, Samantha Shannon, Haruki Murakami and Robin Hobb. These names go with epic fantasy, or any fantasy story that has multiple characters, amazing worldbuilding, complicated yet believable plots, and over 600 pages of content. Many people, including other readers, are amazed at how their fans are devoted to completing these big books.

For epic fantasy readers, the elements of the story are enough to keep us reading and we don’t let size intimidate us. But, what if instead there were a few smaller books that made up one big one—like The Lord of the Rings? Well, Sarah Kozloff has done this, dividing The Nine Realms into 4 books: A Queen in Hiding, The Queen of Raiders, A Broken Queen, and The Cerulean Queen. This author has turned epic fantasy into a binge reading experience that’s worth our time.

Throughout the series, readers follow three protagonists. First, is Princella Cerúlia, who is eight-years-old at the start of the story, the heir to the Nargis Throne in the Realm of Weirandale. Her main concern is trying to figure out her Talent, or magical ability, which will assist her in ruling the kingdom during any turbulent times as Queen. Both her mother, Queen Cressa the Enchanter, and her late grandmother, Queen Catreena the Strategist, were “defined” at young ages. However, it is unclear what the Princella’s Talent could be.

The Queen of Raiders (cover)At the same time, Queen Cressa worries about the grievances from the Realm of Oromondo—that is in the midst of a famine—and corruption from members of her Council. After an assassination attempt on the royal family, the queen spirits her daughter away to the region of Wyndton. There, the princella is disguised and hidden with a peasant family in order to remain safe from the kingdom’s enemies, who the queen tries and fails to defeat. For the next fifteen years, Cerúlia lives under several aliases, develops her Talent, forms alliances, and fights her enemies all while staying ahead of those who hunt her in order to prevent her from reclaiming the Nargis Throne.

While the heir is “missing,” Weirandale is ruled by Lord Matwyck, Queen Cressa’s Steward and self-appointed Lord Regent. Matwyck comes from humble beginnings who managed to rise up through society to become the Lord Steward. However, when his term comes close to an end, Matwyck plots with other Council members—who are just as corrupt, snobby and selfish as him—to assassinate the queen and imprison the princella. When the royal family escapes, Matwyck names himself Lord Regent, imprisons or kills any denizens who refuse to support him, and hunts for the princella throughout all the other realms so that he can maintain power.

Last, is Thalen, the middle son of a potter and a student at the Scolairíum, a university, in the Free States. While he divides his time between studying the subjects Earth and Water, and History and Diplomacy, an army from Oromondo marches through the other realms in order to obtain food and resources for their survival. Overnight, Thalen goes from college student to Commander of a group of raiders whose goal is to defeat the Oromondos.

A Broken Queen (cover)These protagonists are constant throughout the quartet and through their character development—and, in the case of Cerúlia and Thalen, upbringing and growth from childhood to adulthood—readers gain plot development, worldbuilding, and human behavior through their streams-of-consciousness and their points-of-view (POV).

There are several main characters and even more minor characters who are introduced to the readers in the narrative through the protagonists. Yet, they develop as their own characters throughout the plots and the subplots. First, there is Cerúlia’s foster family: Wilim, Stahlia and their daughter, Percia, who raise and love Cerúlia as their own. Next, is Gustie, Thalen’s friend and classmate from the Scolairíum, who participates in the Resistance against the Oromondo occupation in the Free States. Then, there is Sumroth, an officer who leads an army from Oromondo through the other realms in order to obtain resources to withstand the drought and the famine that has afflicted his native realm. Next, is Marcot, Lord Matwyck’s son, who is disgusted with his father both as Lord Regent and as a human being. Last, are the Spirits, or divine beings who maintain order in the world of Ennea Món through their chosen Agents, or human/mortal servants. These are a handful of several characters whose POVs and streams-of-consciousness not only enriches the narrative, but also develops the worldbuilding further.

The main thing that stands out in The Nine Realms is the balance between themes, subjects and subplots, which are each other’s opposites. For example, elements of magic and religion play as much of a role in the plot as elements of science and knowledge. While it wouldn’t be fantasy without magic, both religion and science are essential for societies and the various people who study and practice either and/or both. The descriptions of life in the bucolic regions and the realities of war and occupation—harvesting crops in extreme temperatures and surviving harsh conditions and injuries during warfare, respectively—gives the readers a sense of realism through this fantasy tale. War and occupation last for years, and the “lost heir” might never return to reclaim the throne. People die. People are tortured and are subjected to other traumatic experiences brought on by other people, and injuries—both physical and mental—need time to recover. The author presents this balance so the readers can enjoy the fantasy while comprehending all of the aspects of reality, which keeps the story grounded.

What I enjoyed most of The Nine Realms was the use of continuing the story from one book to the next one. There is no “recap” of the events from the previous books. When one book ends, the action resumes at the start of the next book. This serves as a reminder to the readers that this is NOT a traditional series, but one book divided into four parts! This makes the story into a 2,000+ page fantasy without readers realizing the total number of pages being consumed!

The Cerulean Queen (cover)Word choice is another thing Sarah Kozloff does very well throughout the series. It is one thing to use clothing, political systems, and cultural practices to distinguish different cultures and socioeconomic statues; but, to focus on slang, jargon and colloquialism to point out the characters who are of various ages, levels of education, location of residence, etc., are other ways people classify themselves. This method of narration embellishes the diversity of this cast of characters, the same ones we tend to overlook amongst ourselves.

The Nine Realms is a fantasy story in which the conflicts emerge from personal desires and harsh realities. If a country is suffering through drought and famine, then what can the leaders do in order to ensure the survival of their citizens? How can a country with no army hope to end war and occupation? What would drive an individual to seize control of a kingdom through usurpation? And, how does “the missing heir” gain allies in order to reclaim the throne and control of a kingdom? These are questions the readers will ask about the characters as the plot thickens. This series follows the characters as they find their way through it. The author made sure the characters drove the story, and not the plot alone. Readers need to know why the characters perform their actions before deciding on whether or not to like them.

The four books that make up The Nine Realms—A Queen in Hiding, The Queen of Raiders, A Broken Queen and The Cerulean Queen—contain familiar fantasy tropes with elements of realism. The series transforms epic fantasy into a binge reading experience. Sarah Kozloff’s debut as a fantasy author gives readers everything they know about fantasy while presenting her take on the genre through her characters, magic and worldbuilding. If you’re looking for a story that has traditional fantasy tropes with a believable plot and an interesting pantheon, then look no further!

My Rating:

  • A Queen in Hiding – 9 out of 10
  • The Queen of Raiders – 10 out of 10 
  • A Broken Queen – 9.5 out of 10
  • The Cerulean Queen – 9 out of 10
    • Overall – 9.5 out of 10

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