Tag: Jennifer Estep

Crush the King (Crown of Shards #3)

Cover image for Crush the King by Jennifer Estep by Jennifer Estep

ISBN 978-0-06-279769-8

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “I needed help. I needed another Blair, someone I could depend on, and especially someone I could leave my throne to if the worst happened and the Mortans finally managed to kill me.”

In the year since she ascended to the Bellonan throne after the murder of all her relatives in a Mortan plot, Everleigh Winter Blair has secured her crown, and survived multiple assassination attempts. However the threat of Morta still looms large, and with the international Regalia Games coming up, a unique opportunity for her enemies to try to kill her again. Unless, of course, she manages to kill them first. For the first time, Evie will come face to face with King Maximus of Morta, the tyrant behind the Seven Spire Massacre, and she plans to go on the offensive. In order to protect Bellona, she will need to secure alliances with Unger and Ryusama, champion her kingdom in the kronekling tournament, and crush the King of Morta, with a little help from her friends.

In the third installment of the Crown of Shards series, Jennifer Estep continues to use flashbacks to develop Evie’s history, exposing just how far back Mortan meddling in Bellonan affairs goes. After escaping the murder of her parents at Winterwind, young Evie finds herself alone in the forest, at the mercy of the elements and bounty hunters alike. We already know that she will eventually end up in the custody of her cousin, Queen Cordelia, but the flashbacks never quite get that far. In the present, Evie must survive three days of balls, political jockeying, and multiple attempts on her life. Although the Regalia games are set on the nominally neutral Fortuna Island, home of the prosperous DiLucri banking family, Evie strongly suspects that the DiLucris have struck a deal with Morta, placing the Regalia on hostile ground.

Both of the previous volumes in the series have featured significant romance elements. Kill the Queen introduced Everleigh’s slow burn romance with Lucas Sullivan, magier of the Black Swan gladiator troupe, and illegitimate son of the King of Andvari. Protect the Prince centered Lucas even more strongly, with a trip to his home country of Andvari to try to secure an alliance between Bellona and Lucas’ legitimate royal relatives. However, he is relegated to a minor role in Crush the King, and there is no significant development of his character or their relationship in this installment. However, I did appreciate that Estep didn’t try to insert an unnecessary interpersonal conflict between them in order to keep things exciting in the final volume. This book has more than enough on its plate already.

While I enjoyed the action of Crush the King, by the third book in the series, the lack of variety in description is abundantly clear, and I was at times annoyed by the writing. I lost track of how many times Evie executed “the perfect Bellonan curtsy” in the series, yet I still have no idea what that particular type of curtsy looks like as opposed to any other. Evie also has the ability to smell magic and emotions, but each emotion is described identically every single time she senses it, particularly “hot peppery anger” and “hot jalapeno rage,” which come up again and again. Consistency can be a virtue, but in this case it was becoming extremely tedious.

Jennifer Estep had many threads in play going into this final volume, and a challenge to tie them up neatly. Rather than cramming it all in, she has opted for a conclusion that is a bit more open-ended than many trilogies. Future conflict with Morta remains a distinct possibility, and Everleigh has yet to determine if any other Blairs are still alive, or designate a successor to her throne. Cho and Serilda have not come to terms, and the relationship between Xenia and Paloma is also not fully resolved. However, a little bit of open-endedness gives the world a feeling of continuance, beyond the last page.

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Protect the Prince (Crown of Shards #2)

Cover image for Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estepby Jennifer Estep

ISBN 9780062797643

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher

 “I wasn’t the queen everyone had expected and I certainly wasn’t the one they wanted, so draping myself in layers of silk and cascades of jewels seemed silly and pointless. Besides, you couldn’t fight very well in a ball gown. Although in that regard, it didn’t really matter what I wore, since every day at Seven Spire was a battle.”

Having defeated her scheming cousin Vasilia in a royal challenge per the Bellonan gladiatorial tradition, Everleigh Winter Blair is now Queen of Bellona. Unfortunately, her impressive performance in the ring hasn’t stopped Bellona’s scheming nobles from continuing their long game, and taking bets on how long her unexpected reign will last. But Evie has bigger things to worry about, including the coming war with Morta, and Morta’s ongoing interference in her efforts to secure a treaty with the neighbouring kingdom of Andvari. With her closest advisors in tow, Evie sets out for Andvari, determined to personally seal the deal while there is still time. But the Andvarian court is full of its own plots and intrigues, as well as secrets about Lucas Sullivan’s past.

Protect the Prince picks up several months after the events of Kill the Queen, and is organized around a series of assassination attempts. Evie has claimed the crown, but now she must secure it against all those who would try the new queen. Having escaped during the royal challenge, and returned to her native Morta, Maeven and her Bastard Brigade grow increasingly desperate to complete their mission and kill Evie for the King of Morta, leaving Evie besieged from within and without. At the Andvarian court, she is also surrounded by Lucas’ family, his ex-fiancée, and an entire court of nobles who blame her for the deaths of Prince Frederich and Ambassador Hans during the Seven Spire Massacre. Internally, Evie struggles with imposter syndrome, trying to project strength and certainty to the world, despite her secret belief that she was never meant to be queen.

After playing coy in the first volume, Estep does finally deliver some romantic satisfaction in Protect the Prince. Evie and Lucas continue circling one another cautiously for most of this second volume; Lucas continues to stand on his principles, and Evie continues to respect his wishes, leading to a long and frustrating stalemate. However, traveling to Glanzen, and staying at Glitnir where Lucas grew up is a revealing twist that exposes how the son of the Andvarian king’s mistress became so guarded in the first place. A series of flashbacks equally develops Evie’s backstory, unveiling details about her parents’ murders and her own escape from Winterwind. In much the same way that Estep drew out the events of Kill the Queen by having Evie hesitate to trust her identity to Serilda, Lucas, and the other members of the Black Swan troupe, Protect the Prince is drawn out by Lucas’s inability to bend, and Evie’s unwillingness to push him, as well as her desire to protect him from the consequences of her new responsibilities as queen.

With Vasilia dead, Maevan and Morta take center stage as the villains of Protect the Prince. Maeven’s motives are slightly more developed than Vasilia’s, but she still comes across as a bit of monologuer. The Mortan king remains a shadowy, nameless background figure, pulling the strings of his Bastard Brigade, and allowing his illegitimate sister to do his dirty work while he plots to gain an empire. The title of the third volume, Crush the King, suggests that he will take on a more prominent role in the final installment of the Crown of Shards series, due out in 2020.

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Kill the Queen

Cover image for Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estepby Jennifer Estep

ISBN 9780062797629

“Summer queens are fine and fair, with pretty ribbons and flowers in their hair. Winter queens are cold and hard, with frosted crowns made of icy shards.”

Although nearly thirty years old, Lady Everleigh Winter Blair is still a ward of her cousin, Queen Cordelia of Bellona. For more than half her life, ever since her parents were murdered, Evie has lived at the palace, serving as the royal stand-in for whatever luncheons and ceremonies are not deemed important enough for the Queen or her daughters to attend to personally. Apprenticed to the royal jeweler, Evie dreams of using her carefully hoarded savings to return home to Winterwind, her family estate, and live a quiet life far from the intrigues of the court. All she needs is the Queen’s permission, which she hopes to get at a luncheon announcing Crown Princess Vasilia’s engagement to Prince Frederich of Andvari. But Vasilia has plans of her own, and they do not include marriage, or an alliance with Andvari. When Vasilia murders her mother to secure the throne for herself, Evie is driven into hiding, taking refuge with the Black Swan gladiator troupe, owned by the disgraced Serilda Swanson, who was once bodyguard to Queen Cordelia.

Kill the Queen is an adult fantasy with a quasi-medieval, Roman-influenced setting, and a multi-tiered magic system. Evie is a “mutt” with only a hint of magic, despite her royal bloodline, while Cordelia and Vasilia are powerful elemental magiers who wield fire and lightning. Some people are mortals, with no magic at all, but this group is not explored in the book. The world is also populated by morphs, who can transform into other creatures, such as ogres and dragons. However, Evie has also been hiding another special talent for most of her life, an anti-magic, which her mother cautioned her to keep hidden at all costs, lest others seek to exploit her. So while Evie has certain abilities and advantages within this world, she is not a power player, and the arc of this novel is about watching her become one.

 Kill the Queen is not primarily a romance, focusing instead on court intrigues and gladiator adventures. But Evie does have a slow burn going on with Lucas Sullivan, the enforcer and head magier of the Black Swan troupe, from the moment that he finds her sleeping on the floor of his house inside the gladiator complex. But both Evie and Sullivan are prickly, secretive people who do not trust easily. This gives their relationship great banter, and a crackling tension, but though this is an adult fantasy, Estep does not deliver so much as a kiss, at least in this first volume of the planned trilogy.

The book’s main villain is Crown Princess Vasilia. Evie has known her since she arrived at Seven Spire as an orphaned child. By the time the book opens, the two women have nothing to do with one another, but once they were friends, and Vasilia betrayed that friendship. Over the course of the book, Evie slowly reveals the form that betrayal took, and the scars it left. She has very few friends, and trusts almost no one at the court. It is only once she arrives at the Black Swan that she considers friendship again, dangerous though it may be to her secrets. The Black Swan has its own intrigues, and unable to stay out of them, Evie finds the best friend she never had in Paloma, the troupe’s number one gladiator. Unfortunately, Vasilia herself is a bit flat, coming across as a monologuing psychopath. However, this has interesting consequences for Evie’s character, and combined with the fact that she is not set to be the series villain, it is a relatively minor complaint.

I listened Kill the Queen in audio form, narrated by the consistently excellent Lauren Fortgang, who also performed Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, and was part of the cast for the audio version of Six of Crows as well. I’m now all caught up for the recently released Protect the Prince, so check back for that review soon!

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