Sorcery Of A Queen – Brilliance Of An Author

9781250309679The excellence of Sorcery of a Queen is honestly flabbergasting. Queen is the second book in The Dragons of Terra trilogy by Brian Naslund, and it’s a crime that as of writing this review there are only 10 ratings on goodreads. This book does so many things right that it straight up blew my mind. It has incredible characters, exciting action, deep and original worldbuilding, a gripping plot, a compelling antagonist, great themes, excellent pacing, strong character growth, and a level of polish and inclusivity that made me positively vibrate with happiness. Sorcery of a Queen is easily one of my top books of 2020; Naslund positively killed it with his second novel.

If you are just hearing about this series for the first time and wondering why I am raving like a lunatic, may I kindly redirect you to my review of book one in the series: Blood of an Exile. Naslund’s first book was a 2019 gem that I missed and didn’t get to until January of this year. I refused to make the same mistake with his second installment. I can’t really go into many plot details without spoiling things, something I absolutely refuse to do. If you have read Blood of an Exile, Queen’s story picks up immediately after the end of book one and revolves primarily around the escalation in stakes, technology, and conflict caused by the first book finale. If you haven’t read Blood of an Exile, you have made a mistake, and I again recommend you check out my review of book one. However, before you realize your error and dive into Exile, let me shout at you about its excellence.

The series follows a quartet of characters: A queen, an exile, a bodyguard, and a young alchemist. Each character has their own rich backstory, and Naslund does a wonderful job giving each of them agency and distinction, while cleverly interweaving their stories. Sorcery of a Queen is an extremely powerful character story and has so much delicious character growth. The alchemist gets pulled into a conflict by chance, but ends up learning about himself and the world while working as a field medic. The queen, a master of politics and leadership, finds that she is actually a woman of action and there is a powerful joy in physically pushing humanity towards a better future. The bodyguard is a woman of honor and conviction, but her chosen path in life forces her to closely examine the value and worth of bonds and where she will draw the line. The exile is a man condemned to death, who learns he cannot die, who then learns he cannot escape death. The amount of change this rollercoaster of events unleashes on his personality and life outlook is a work of art and a truly original observation of the human condition. These are excellent characters.

In general, the overall quality of Queen has also improved from Exile. The prose is better, the action is punchier, and the humor is funnier. The pacing in Exile was good, but Queen’s is perfect. I absolutely flew through this book, reading it in just two weekdays. The POVs all strike this great balance that constantly compels you to read more. The worldbuilding is also just bigger. The stakes of Exile were fairly small, with each of the characters having fairly simple and straightforward goals: stay alive, find a girl, get a job, research dragons. Towards the end of Exile, things began to escalate and it paved the way for Queen to grab a perfect narrative baton-pass and expand into a fully fleshed out world with bigger stakes. In particular, one thing I was enamored with was the evolution of themes. In Exile there was really one major theme, this idea of naturalism and that dragons were an important part of the ecosystem (and hunting them was destroying it). In Queen, this theme is still very present, but a number of additional themes like the cost of war, the nature of friendship, and the dangers of unchecked science all join it to build a much more luscious and juicy story. This enhancement of an already good story builds to something wonderful.

Sorcery of a Queen is fantastic, breaking every single one of my high expectations to tell a story that was nothing short of wonderful. Blood of an Exile had some good ideas and great characters, but Queen has it all. Usually, when I review a book I like to talk about if its best for readers who focus on characters, plot, worlds, or ideas. It is very rare that I come across a book that I can unilaterally recommend to all of those people, and this is one such occasion. I loved Sorcery of a Queen and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

Rating: Sorcery of a Queen – 10/10
-Andrew

Blood Of An Exile – Missed Gems Of 2019

512bnk8esoglAlright, I am going to be honest here; I did Brian Naslund a disservice when I judged his debut book, Blood of an Exile, by its name and cover and shelved it for later. Although I hated both title and art, after finishing the novel I have to admit that they suit the book perfectly, and I am just being a judgmental ass. Released back in August of last year, the book is the start of the Dragons of Terra series and definitely would have been a contender for my top of 2019 list had I actually got to it in a timely manner. I apologize, Brian Naslund, and hopefully this review will slightly make it up to you.

Blood of an Exile is a book with powerful characters, a rich world, and a fairly inventive plot. Ostensibly, the story follows our protagonist Silas Bershad the Flawless, a man who was sentenced to exile as a dragonslayer for crimes that are revealed throughout the narrative. To be a dragonslayer is a death sentence, and they are forced to roam the land helping towns and cities kill dragons until they die (usually very quickly). However, Bershad refuses to go down and has managed to make a name for himself as the most famous and successful dragonslayer in the world. Very soon after we meet Bershad, he receives a task from the man who exiled him with the promise of freedom should he complete it. Using his status as a famous dragonslayer, Bershad is to sneak into a neighboring country that is gearing up for war, kill a king and save an innocent child in captivity, and then make it back alive with the child in hand. To fail would mean dying an exile, to succeed would mean saving the country that hates him and his freedom.

Initially, this book was looking a bit trope-y and I was concerned I was going to read something I had already experienced hundreds of times before. However, Naslund rapidly disabused me of this notion by showing Blood of an Exile is more than meets the eye. First off, while Bershad is our main protagonist, the story is actually told by four major POVs, an alchemist, an assassin, a princess, and Bershad himself – each of which holds a key piece of the narrative that slot nicely together. The major themes of the book are nature, ecosystems, and how destroying key pieces of any environment can greatly upset the balance. Multiple of the POV’s (including Bershad) are dragon lovers. While they recognize that they are dangerous animals that can cause great harm, dragons are common in this world and are a key piece of every ecosystem they are a part of. While Blood of an Exile is very much an action-packed adventure fantasy, it is also a story about amateur scientists desperately trying to keep humanity from destroying the Earth for fiscal gain – an angle I was not expecting and loved in equal parts. There is a huge focus on the study of dragons and the understanding of their nature. This does a very powerful job of painting them as real living and breathing creatures.

The world-building is phenomenal, with the various political entities feeling like they have clear and memorable identities that aren’t just cut and pasted real-world countries. The cast are all fantastic, even down to the side characters. Even the villains aren’t motivated by the simple goals and are engaging to read and think about. The book does an incredible job exploring how the quest for the betterment of civilization can cause horrible unforeseen problems if you aren’t very careful. Naslund does a very good job using a magical fantasy setting to get you to think about your own waste and usage in the modern world, so expect to be a little uncomfortable.

As for negatives, there are only a few. Although I found the book to be an exciting and compelling read, I felt as though there was a small mismatch in the narrative style and strengths of the book. The characters in Blood of an Exile are treated as tools to move the story along. They are picked up and put down as needed only when their POV makes sense to further the narrative. What this means is that it can sometimes feel like certain characters were getting uneven page time. This felt a bit odd, given that the characters of this book are so strong that I would have been happy to just spend time in their head. The aforementioned princess POV is one of my favorite protagonists, and she shows up as a POV only in the back half of the book with little to no warning. I would have liked a little more even pacing with my time with each character. The book is also fairly crass; which isn’t a problem for me, but it’s something others might take issue with.

In the end, Blood of an Exile was a surprising gem of a book that went unnoticed by many in 2019. It brilliantly combines exciting action, sympathetic characters, smart themes, and a deep world to create a coherent and unique story. It is always rare when you find a book that is both smart and fun at the same time, and Blood of an Exile has both in spades. Brian Naslund should be very proud of his debut book, and I can’t wait for the sequel, Sorcery of a Queen, which comes out this year.

Rating: Blood of an Exile – 8.5/10
-Andrew