The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst. ★★★★
The Queen of Blood is a strong start to a new fantasy series. Humanity exists in a careful balance with the bloodthirsty nature spirits, who compelled by their twin desires to create and destroy. Only a human queen gifted with power is able to hold them in balance. Daliena, a young woman with some ability to control the spirits, is determined to do what she can to protect humanity from the devastation periodically unleashed by capricious spirits. Ven is a disgraced champion who has been roaming the wilderness between villages, fighting an increasing number of spirit attacks. With the queen possibly loosing control over the spirits, Daliena and Ven will have to combine forces.
One of The Queen of Blood‘s strongest assets is pacing. The story practically zips along, propelled by a constant and building tension. From an action packed beginning, to slower character moments, The Queen of Blood kept me reading the entire way through.
While The Queen of Blood isn’t being marketed as YA, it has elements that could make it any easy cross over. For most of the story, Daliena is a teenager or young girl. While the narrative contains POVs of a number of different characters (mostly Daliena and Ven), I think she’s the clear protagonist of the story. The book also flirts with some common YA tropes – for instance, Daliena goes to a magical school to learn spirit binding – but it ultimately manages to make its own story out of these familiar elements.
One of the most notable things about The Queen of Blood is that Daliena is not particularly special. She’s not the strongest or smartest student in the room. She’s not any kind of chosen one. She’s merely an extremely hard worker who will keep pushing herself long after everyone else has given up. I also appreciated that while she had a romance subplot, it wasn’t the focus of attention (and Ven wasn’t her love interest, thank goodness).
The Queen of Blood also had friendships between its female characters, and never had Daliena go down the Not Like Other Girls route. Merecot in particular stood out to me. It would have been so easy for her to be Mean Girl stereotype – the backstabbing queen bee concerned about nothing but herself. While Merecot highly driven and sometimes contemptuous of the other students, she had enough ambiguities to prevent her from easily slotting into the character type. I hope to see more of her in the sequels.
I had some worries as to how the nature spirit based world building would come across. It seemed like things could easily be ill thought out or perhaps too twee. But as it turned out, the spirits and the world felt entirely fitting and believable. And the architecture of the cities, towns and villages reflects the ability to command nature spirits – most human settlement is suspended or within trees.
The Queen of Blood was one of the most enjoyable fantasy books I’ve read in a while, and I fully plan on reading the sequels.