Last year there was a new novel called The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst, that took me by surprise. The cover caught my eye at the Brooklyn Book Festival , and I was lucky to hear the author, Sarah Durst, speak about it later that day. I decided to give it a whirl, and ended up rating it in my top 15 books from 2016. It was a YA book with an original protagonist, an emphasis on hard work over natural talent, a fascinating world, and a style that was inclusive to both boys and girls. A year later, Sarah Durst is releasing the anticipated sequel, The Reluctant Queen, but does it hold to its predecessor’s greatness?
The Reluctant Queen picks up right where book one left off, our protagonist Daleina having just been crowned queen after a great tragedy. However, not long after the book begins we find out that Daleina is in bad health after her ordeal and the race is on to find her an heir in case she should pass. For in the world of Renthia, everything is made by magical spirits who lust for the blood of humans. Only the strength of will of the queen and her pact with the spirits is what keeps them from tearing people apart. The tragedy at the end of book one has eaten up all the available heirs, so a group of champions set out in search of anyone they might have overlooked in the hopes of finding someone suitable in case Daleina should die.
The quickly transitions into our new protagonist for book two, Naelin. Naelin is a mother of two with a terrible no good husband. She is enormously powerful when it comes to controlling spirits, but has managed to evade detection her entire life – resulting in her having no training at all when it comes to handling them. She is soon discovered by Ven, Daleina’s champion, who attempts to recruit her to be the next heir. As you can probably guess from the book’s title, Naelin is not feeling the idea of being queen. She is worried that focusing on her duties to the crown will result in her children’s death, and that she does not have enough control to be queen.
My biggest problem with The Reluctant Queen is that Sarah Durst spends way too much time restating that Naelin doesn’t want to be queen, and that she just wants to take care of her kids. A large part of the book feels like it could just be cut out if one person told Naelin that if she doesn’t try to be heir, and Daleina dies, everyone (including her kids) will die. There is no other option. Due to this, it is hard to like Naelin for a large portion of the book because it feels like she is being unbelievably selfish. Her personality is otherwise fun and interesting though, and despite her children being the focus of my ire for gumming up the plot progression – they are at least entertaining side characters. When we ended book one there were a lot of interesting plot threads that had been discovered, and The Reluctant Queen picks up woefully few of them. This book almost feels like a side step in the story as opposed to a sequel.
That being said, the ending was very good and made me forgive several of my earlier frustrations. I am still excited for the finale, and I will definitely read it the second I get my hands on it. However, this does not make up for the fact that The Reluctant Queen was definitely a drop in quality compared to The Queen of Blood. I hope that the third book will rise back up to the heights that book one achieved.
Rating: The Reluctant Queen – 6.5/10