You know what type of book I have never enjoyed? One aimed at young women. Why? Probably because I am a man in his late 20’s and books of that nature have never been written in a manner that appeals to me… until now. There is nothing wrong with young adult books, especially those aimed at either gender. I have enjoyed the occasional male-oriented YA novel, as coming of age stories are always fun. However, most female oriented YA’s hold absolutely nothing for me. They tend to usually be dystopian futures, and they all seem to be written in the same manner, something that is so beautifully demonstrated by this webcomic. The issues that these novels confront are not relatable to me, and I wonder why there isn’t more overlap between male and female oriented YA. Then there is The Queen of Blood.
As you might have guessed, The Queen of Blood (QoB), by Sarah Beth Durst, is a female oriented YA book that tells the coming of age story of Daleina. The world of QoB, Renthia, is all about nature and spirits. Humans coexist with nature spirits (fire, air, water, ice, earth, and wood) who help build the world around them, creating food, shelter, and livelihoods for everyone. But this is not a peaceful coexistence, and the spirits want nothing more than to disembowel every human on the planet. The only thing keeping them from doing so are a set of magical women, led by a queen with more magical power than anyone else, each of whom have affinities that allow them to enslave the spirits and make them do their bidding. This control is not perfect, and spirits are constantly breaking loose and wreaking havoc, making the lives of people in QoB wonderful dreams punctuated by moments of intense nightmare. Daleina is a girl who lives through one such nightmare when her entire village is killed when spirits break lose. During the event it is discovered that she has the affinity to control spirits, and is shipped off to the regional magic school (YES) to learn how to hone her skill, serve the people, and potentially one day become queen. The thing about Daleina is that she is weak, embarrassingly so. She is not a traditional Mary Sue, blowing away her professors with her prophesied skills and completing everything with ease. Every day in the magic school is a struggle for her to just pass, and the story is about her surviving by her hard work and clever mind as opposed to natural talent; and for that I love it.
As I mentioned before, I have a lot of trouble identifying with most books written for this audience, but QoB is different. The trials and tribulations of Daleina are something EVERYONE can relate to, not just women. Her story is about the benefit of hard work and dealing with the reality in which there are always tons of people better than you (something that I still deal with to this day). There were many passages that reminded me of personal struggles in my own life, such as when I failed a physics test in college and went to the professor for advice, only to have him tell me that his advice was to quit physics because it was not for me. I chose to leave the field after that conversation (probably for the better) but Daleina makes me wonder if maybe I should have tried harder. While the book may be aimed at girls, it never puts them first and never makes men second class citizens in the story. Despite only women having the affinity, men and women are treated as equals in the society in every way, and many men bring just as much, if not more, to the table in terms of skills and usefulness. I also love that while the story is simplistic and clearly aimed at a younger audience, Durst treats her audience as if they were adults. It impressed me that there is sex, violence, tragedy, and philosophy in the story, and it impressed me even more that are all handled with an even hand and an adult tone. All this makes the story an enjoyable read even if you are older.
The character’s are also great, breaking out for the standard tropes of the genre. Only Daleina and one or two support characters are particularly complex, but I still think that the character depth was above average for this kind of novel and that they were all memorable. Friendship is also a major part of this story, and it was wonderful to see a lead actually develop natural camaraderie with her classmates. The plot was fairly straightforward, with some twists that were clearly visible from miles away, and others that caught me happily by surprise. It has a magic school, which these days is enough to sell me a book in an of itself. The school is fantastic, with lovable teachers, unorthodox tests, interesting classes, and an ambiance that makes me wish I could attend despite the high mortality rate.
The Queen of Blood is a unique book in a field of doppelgangers, distinguishing itself from the YA landscape with its universal appeal and its adult tone. With an interesting plot, a well fleshed out world, and characters I want to hear more about, it is one of the better books I have read this year. The Quill to Live recommends The Queen of Blood to all ages and genders, come see the beauty and horror of Renthia.
Rating: The Queen of Blood – 9.0/10