Books : reviews

Jennifer Estep.
Kill the Queen.
HarperVoyager. 2018

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 5 August 2019

In a realm where one’s magical power determines one’s worth, Lady Everleigh’s lack of obvious ability relegates her to the shadows of the royal court of Bellona, a kingdom steeped in gladiator tradition. Seventeenth in line for the throne, Evie is nothing more than a ceremonial fixture, overlooked and mostly forgotten.

But dark forces are at work inside the palace. When her cousin Vasilia, the crown princess, assassinates her mother the queen and takes the throne by force, Evie is also attacked, along with the rest of the royal family. Luckily for Evie, her secret immunity to magic helps her escape the massacre.

Forced into hiding to survive, she falls in with a gladiator troupe. Though they use their talents to entertain and amuse the masses, the gladiators are actually highly trained warriors skilled in the art of combat, especially Lucas Sullivan, a powerful magier with secrets of his own. Uncertain of her future—or if she even has one—Evie begins training with the troupe until she can decide her next move.

But as the bloodthirsty Vasilia exerts her power, pushing Bellona to the brink of war, Evie’s fate becomes clear: she must become a fearsome gladiator herself … and kill the queen.

Lady Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair is 17th in line to the throne, but, as an orphan after the assassination of her parents, she is barely tolerated at the royal palace. Then the heir assassinates the entire royal family, in order to become the new Queen, and Evie barely escapes with her life. Now she has to hide with a troupe of gladiators, the only witness to her cousin’s treachery, and the only hope for her country’s future.

This is an engaging first-person fantasy: most people have magic, but Evie is hiding hers until it is needed. We see her move from being a put-upon almost-servant, to a gladiator, to the saviour of her realm. All this done in an interesting way: Evie is a most reluctant but nevertheless dutiful hero. And it’s nice to see how some of her earlier performance of her duties helps when things get tough.

This has a satisfying conclusion, but there are obviously more problems in Evie’s future. I enjoyed this enough that I went and ordered the sequel.

Jennifer Estep.
Protect the Prince.
HarperVoyager. 2019

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 3 October 2019

Everleigh Blair might be the new gladiator queen of Bellona, but her problems are far from over.

First, Evie has to deal with a court full of arrogant, demanding nobles, all of whom want to get their greedy hands on her crown. As if that wasn’t bad enough, an assassin tries to kill Evie in her own throne room.

Despite the dangers, Evie goes ahead with a scheduled trip to the neighboring kingdom of Andvari in order to secure a desperately needed alliance. But complicating matters is the stubborn Andvarian king, who wants to punish Evie for the deaths of his countrymen during the Seven Spire massacre.

Dark forces are also at work inside the Andvarian palace, and Evie soon realizes that no one is safe. Worse, Evie’s immunity to magic starts acting in strange, unexpected ways, which makes Evie wonder whether she is truly strong enough to be a Winter queen.

Evie’s magic, life, and crown aren’t the only things in danger—so is her heart, thanks to Lucas Sullivan, the Andvarian king’s bastard son and Evie’s … well, Evie isn’t quite sure what Sullivan is to her.

Only one thing is certain—protecting a prince might be even harder than killing a queen …

Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair is now Queen of Bellona, but she is having a hard time controlling her nobles, who are all vying for position, and trying to marry her off to their advantage. One thing she desperately needs to do is gain the alliance of neighbouring Andvari, before the both get gobbled up the Mortan kingdom. Unfortunately, in their two countries’ most recent interaction, the then Queen of Bellona massacred several members of the Andvari royal family. This will take some politicking, and some clever sword-play, to resolve.

The book has three parts, titled “The First/Second/Third Assassination Attempt”, which sets the scene. Evie learns more about being a Winter Queen, and playing the Long Game, as she mows down assassins, meets living gargoyles, and tries to bring round the Andavarians. We learn more about her parents’ murders, and more about the Mortan spies. This resolves, somewhat too easily, the Evie/Sullivan dilemma, clearing the way for the final act against the Mordans.

Jennifer Estep.
Crush the King.
HarperVoyager. 2020

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 7 June 2020

Queen Everleigh Blair of Bellona has survived the mass murder of her royal family, become a fearsome warrior trained by an elite gladiator troupe, and unleashed her ability to destroy magic. After surviving yet another assassination attempt orchestrated by the conniving king of Morta, Evie has had enough. It’s time to turn the tables and take the fight to her enemies.

There is no better opportunity to strike than during the Regalia Games, a time when warriors, nobles, and royals from all the kingdoms come together to compete in various sporting events. With the help of her loyal friends, Evie goes on the attack at the Regalia, but things don’t turn out the way she plans. Soon she is facing a terrifying new threat, and she will have to dig deep and learn even more about her growing magic if she is to have any chance of defeating her foes.

Because to secure her throne and ensure her kingdom’s survival, Evie must think like a true Bellonan: she must outsmart and outwit her enemies … and crush the king.

Queen Everleigh Blair has secured some alliances, but the ruthless Mortan King and his sister Maeven will stop at nothing to see her dead, and her kingdom theirs. Fortunately, all the various parties converge on the Regalia Games, where there is ample opportunity for assassination attempts, competitive dancing, gladiatorial displays, and single combat.

This finishes off the trilogy neatly, although there is a loose thread of the story behind the statue with coins for eyes. Everleigh gets to scheme, dance, play high stakes card games, and fight; but fails to learn how to delegate any of this.