Our review of Sarah Kozloff’s new series, The Nine Realms, continues with A Broken Queen, book three in a four-part series released in rapid succession for summer reading. While I needed a break after the first two books, book three waits for no one, picking up right where the last book ended. Wren, also known as Skylark, real name Cerulia, was hit by a fireball at the end of book two after she burned down the capital city of Oromondo with the help of Thalen and the last remnants of his Raiders. Now she finds herself literally at sea and at the mercy of the Spirits who watch over each of the nations that make up the Nine Realms.
The pace picks up right at the cliffhanger, and similarly, it continues the frequent battles as the citizens of the Free States and Alpetar create a resistance movement against Oromondo occupation. Blood and guts are pretty much a staple of high fantasy, as are otherworldly powers, which come into play as we see Cerulia’s uncle Mikil become the acolyte of the sea spirit, Lautan. Meanwhile, Thalen returns from Oromondo and takes over an army founded by his old schoolmate Gustie – more on her in a minute. Sumroth, apparently the main villain and definitely the most interesting character, meanwhile swears revenge against Weirandale through convoluted Spirit-logic for a crime that happened centuries before the series takes place.
The alleged transgression that the Weirs made against Oromondo comes as news to me, which is disappointing because that would have been an effective flashback. In this volume especially, characters seem to be disappearing in between chapters. While it carried a degree of randomness in the last book where war could claim any victim, it’s downright frustrating to spend time with Mother Reilla and Rooks and then learn in later dialogue that they died in their sleep after they aren’t needed for the plot anymore. However fast they breeze through the war, our heroes don’t win every fight, but they do take a narrow bridge held by a bunch of pikemen with a cavalry charge, which should leave anyone familiar with the thirteenth-century Battle of Stirling Bridge scratching their heads.
Forward plot motion has taken a front seat to worldbuilding as well. The Nine Realms features characters with vibrant blue and green hair and largely does a good job of creating a thoroughly original world. Cerulia’s bodyguard, Ciello, is a dandy obsessed with honor, he cuts hair, he has cool clothes, and so many other tired swashbuckling fencer stereotypes. Cerulia’s one stand with him seems like a different kind of fantasy, which can be great, but heretofore hasn’t exactly been a tentpole of this series. Other aspects of the worldbuilding come a little too close to breaking down all subtlety because it feels just too literal. The Spirit of Healing is named “Restaura.” Compared to her colleagues named Nargis the Water Spirit, Pozhar the Fire Spirit, and Lautan the Sea Spirit, Restaura belongs to a different pantheon.
Coming off of The Queen of Raiders, A Broken Queen expands further into the world of the Nine Realms as Cerulia sails closer and closer to her rightful place on the Nargis Throne. It’s been a long journey, but there’s still another 400-page volume to cover and plenty of unresolved threads. Will Thalen and Cerulia reunite? What will become of Ciello? Can the spirits ever make amends with one another? Find out in our next review!