A few weeks ago, I reviewed Sarah Kozloff’s new novel, The Queen of Raiders, and this week, I’m returning to that series where it all begins in book one: A Queen in Hiding. These are the first two books in a four part series, The Nine Realms, engineered for a summer binge read. These Nine Realms are ruled by a set of spirits who may choose to intervene or patronize individuals or nations, making world politics even more of a crapshoot than it is our world. The Water Spirit, Nargis, chooses to bless the queens of Weirandale with magical talents, but when princella (not princess) Cerulia doesn’t seem to show any talent, her mother Queen Cressa worries until an attempted coup interrupts her reign and sparks a civil that forces both her and her daughter into hiding.
Queen Cressa’s path diverges from her daughter, as she leaves the princella in hiding in a rural community where Cerulia adopts the name Wren and discovers that she can talk to animals. That’s right Wren is another name for Skylark. Queen Cressa sails off to find where her commoner admiral husband is deployed and to fight some Nargis-darned pirates. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that every member of her cabinet was behind her coup, but it’s ring leader is undoubtedly Matwyck, who’s been serving as a kind of prime minister heretofore, but is about to reach his term limit. He turns the countryside over looking for the princella, but cannot until he acquires a Truth-Stone from maritime rival Lotherrod. While this lie detector tests usually proves effect, Wren easily escapes it, though it’s never revealed why, but it’s probably Nargis-related.
The careers of Thalen and Sumroth are interspersed throughout these two sagas, creating fourish distinct narratives that overlap, but not in obvious places. Minor characters poke their heads here and there, but mostly it’s ships in the night, per course for a sprawling fantasy series. Unfortunately, this separation makes the novel feel scattered. Not only do Queen Cressa and Wren’s storylines have little in common, especially in timing, but at times Sumroth and Thalen’s make montages out of interesting character moments. Even though the Nine Realms is a series meant to be binged, readers of a four book series would gladly latch onto a fifth, which A Queen in Hiding seems to have swallowed.
Still, the wide-reaching narrative sets the stage for an epic war of succession for Wren and Thalen against their backstabbing predecessors. Even though he’s on the evil team now, I will be expecting and and looking forward to a redemption arc for Sumroth. Come back in a few weeks to see if I’m wrong about that!
Three out of five stars.
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