Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Publisher: Hyperion (Disney)
Publication Date: September 2010
Hardcover: 592 pages
You can’t always run from danger… Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, Han Alister journeys south to begin his schooling at Mystwerk House in Oden’s Ford. But leaving the Fells doesn’t mean danger isn’t far behind. Han is hunted every step of the way by the Bayars, a powerful wizarding family set on reclaiming the amulet Han stole from them. And Mystwerk House has dangers of its own. There, Han meets Crow, a mysterious wizard who agrees to tutor Han in the darker parts of sorcery-but the bargain they make is one Han may regret.
Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna runs from a forced marriage in the Fells, accompanied by her friend Amon and his triple of cadets. Now, the safest place for Raisa is Wein House, the military academy at Oden’s Ford. If Raisa can pass as a regular student, Wein House will offer both sanctuary and the education Raisa needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen. The Exiled Queen is an epic tale of uncertain friendships, cut-throat politics, and the irresistible power of attraction.
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Seven Realms Trilogy
How did I get this book: ARC from the publisher
Why did I read this book: Last year, I read and enjoyed the first book in this series, The Demon King. So, when author Cinda Williams Chima wrote us with a request to review her second novel in the trilogy, I was more than happy to oblige her!
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS UNAVOIDABLE SPOILERS FOR THE DEMON KING, THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SEVEN REALMS TRILOGY. If you have not read The Demon King and wish to remain unspoiled, LOOK AWAY. You have been warned.**
Following the failed attempt at a forced marriage to ambitious wizard Micah Bayar in The Demon King, The Exiled Queen opens with Heir Princess Raisa ana’Marianna running from the Fells with her royal guard (and best friend), Corporal Amon Byrne. Under the pretense of a cadet in training, Raisa, Amon and a handful of young soldiers make their way South to Oden’s Ford, to lie low whilst attending the prestigious military academy at Wien House. The journey is treacherous, though, and Raisa and her company must outwit the Wizard clans that aim to capture her and force her back to the kingdom, under the directive of the manipulative and power-hungry High Wizard Bayar. Using the name Rebecca Morley, Raisa eventually does make it to Oden’s Ford and begins her education in earnest, determined to make a stronger Queen than her mother, free of the machinations of wizards – to bring peace, justice and order back to the matriarchal queendom of the Fells.
While Raisa struggles with her own responsibilities and issues, Han “Cuffs” Alister also faces a daunting task. Leaving the Fells and working with the Demonai Clans, Han makes his own way South to Oden’s Ford to begin training at Mystwerk House – the most prestigious wizarding academy in the Seven Realms. With his friend, Clan member Dancer, Han finds his reception at Mystwerk less than warm, especially when he discovers that Micah Bayar, his sister Fiona, and their lackeys – those wizards responsible for the murder of Han’s mother and younger sister – are all attending the same classes. The ruthless Bayars will stop at nothing to take Han’s powerful amulet (the same amulet he “stole” from Micah in The Demon King), which means Han must watch his every move, for it could be his last. As Han throws himself into his studies, however, he learns that his aptitude for magic is nothing short of terrifying, and he soon is propositioned by powerful, senior wizards at the academy. Academy Dean Abelard, who loves the Bayars just as much as Han, maneuvers young Alister into her employ during waking hours – and in his trips to Aediion (the Dream World), a mysterious wizard that calls himself Crow also promises to tutor Han in tricky, dark charmcasting, provided Han help him destroy the Bayars.
It is only a matter of time before Raisa and Han’s paths cross once again, and this time the two of them face even higher stakes. Raisa can never tell Han her true identity, for he would never forgive her for her mother’s role in his family’s death – but she’s drawn to him, just as he is drawn to her. Despite the forces threatening to tear them apart, Raisa and Han’s fates are inextricably linked, and the two learn to trust in each other as their relationship deepens into something more.
While I enjoyed The Demon King, I did complain that while the writing and world building were excellently rendered, the book only set the stage for the action, leaving off when the truly interesting stuff started to happen. In The Exiled Queen, despite a slow start, the series finally gains its legs as it builds on the intricate framework set up in the first novel, and deepens characterizations and political entanglements with surprising deftness. To speak plainly, The Exiled Queen basically rocks.
Leaving the Queendom of the Fells, The Exiled Queen introduces readers to different areas of the Seven Realms, rife with different cultures, interpretations, and traditions – Ms. Chima weaves an impressively detailed backdrop for this trilogy. This second novel leaves the palace intrigue behind for wizarding and military academies (reminiscent of Harry Potter or even a YA version of The Name of the Wind), and the accompanying drama that comes from rivals in classrooms and hidden identities. While The Demon King was a ‘set-up’ book, The Exiled Queen is more of an action book, delving into the characters of Han and Raisa more in-depth and affording both of them time to learn and grow as characters. I’m not usually one of the heroes in novels (I’m more of a root for the heroine kind of gal), but Han is truly awesome. He reminds me of Kvothe, with his latent abilities and rough hewn, hard-earned status. He also reminds me of a hotter, more badass Harry Potter, just as he also reminds me of what I’m pretending is his namesake, my favorite stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder – that is, Han Solo. He’s cocky and ruthless and deadly and incredibly powerful, so often underestimated or seen as stupid because of his rough manners and past as a gang boss on the streets of Fellsmarch. But for all that Han is brilliant and handsome and clearly a “bad boy,” he is more than just the usual sum of these trope parts – and a lot of this is because of Ms. Chima’s writerly skill, and because of the fact that the book is split between Han and Raisa’s thoughts allowing more than one interpretation of each character. Han’s blend of ruthlessness and vulnerability is an irresistible mix, and there’s a bit of an edge to the character that appeals to me – I’m not sure he’ll always make the “good” choice, which affords some intriguing ambiguity.
Raisa, too, grows a lot in this second book, expanding from a headstrong and, yes, spoiled princess to a more thoughtful young woman dedicated to becoming the best queen for her realm. Raisa begins the series as somewhat naive, manipulative and brash – understandable given how young she is, and used to getting what she wants (as a princess, after all). In this book, Raisa is forced to grow up, emotionally and mentally, and her determination to become a strong leader is absolutely endearing. Plus…I like her and Han together. (Come on. A princess and Han??? Of course I love them together!)
As for the other characters, they range in depth and appeal – Micah Bayar is clearly the Draco Malfoy of this piece, which is a very fitting comparision. He’s obviously from a powerful, messed up, demanding family, but he’s got a little more depth to him, particularly in his feelings for Raisa. His sister, Fiona, also presents an interesting compliment as a character, as she’s every bit as powerful as her brother, if more cunning. Also amongst my favorite characters is Dancer, Han’s loyal and trustworthy friend that struggles with prevalent xenophobia as a member of the Clan. Cat, a fierce, down-on-her-luck thief rounds out Han’s crew as a welcome addition. The different wizards, particularly the mysterious Crow and Dean Abelard unfortunately didn’t get as much of a chance to shine in this book, but I’m certain we haven’t seen the last of them and they certainly are characters with a lot of potential. In fact, of all the characters, the only slight disappointment (for me) was Amon; Raisa’s best friend, and beloved. Amon’s struggles are unerringly noble and touching, but….he’s just kind of boring, because of all the said incessant nobility. (Personal opinion, of course!)
In terms of plotting, my only qualms with The Exiled Queen were with a dragging first third or so of the book (as both Raisa and Han make their way to Oden’s Ford), and with a degree of predictability so far as certain plot elements are concerned (particularly where Cat is involved, or Crow, for example). Despite these minor issues, I felt The Exiled Queen was impressive overall, well-written and eminently enjoyable. This second book ends on a dramatic note – again! – and I am counting the days until the release of the final book in the trilogy. Absolutely recommended, especially to those who are looking for YA traditional fantasy with some serious detail in terms of plotting and worldbuilding (and a flawed but awesome leading pair of characters).
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 2:
Han Alister reined in his pony at the highest point in Marisa Pines Pass. He looked out over the jagged southernmost Queens toward the hidden flatlands of Arden beyond. These were unfamiliar mountains, homes to long-dead queens with names he’d never heard.The highest peaks poked into the clouds, cold stone unclothed by vegetation. The lower slopes glittered with aspens haloed by autumn foliage.
The temperature had dropped as they climbed, and Han had added layers of clothing as necessary. Now his upland wool hat was pulled low over his ears, and his nose stung in the chilly air.
Hayden Fire Dancer nudged his pony up beside Han to share the view.
They’d left Marisa Pines Camp two days before. The clan camp sat strategically at the northern end of the pass, the major passage through the southern Spirit Mountains to the city of Delphi and the flatlands of Arden beyond.The road that began asthe Way of the Queens in the capital city of Fellsmarch dwindled into little more than a wide game trail in the highest part of the pass.
Though it was prime traveling season, they’d met little trade traffic along the trail—only a few hollow-eyed refugees from Arden’s civil war.
Dancer pointed ahead, toward the southern slope. “Lord Demonai says that before the war, the wagon lines ran from morning to night in season, carrying trade goods up from the flatlands. Food, mostly—grain, livestock, fruits, and vegetables.”
Dancer had traveled through Marisa Pines Pass before, on trading expeditions with Averill Lightfoot, trademaster and patriarch of Demonai Camp.
“Now the armies swallow it up,” Dancer went on.“Plus, a lot of the cropland has been burned and spoiled, so it’s out of production.”
It will be another hungry winter in the Fells, Han thought. The civil war in Arden had been going on for as long as Han could remember. His father had died there, serving as sell-sword to one of the five bloody Montaigne princes—all brothers, and all laying claim to the throne of Arden.
Han’s pony wheezed and blew after the long climb from Marisa Pines Camp.The air was thin at this altitude. Han combed his fingers through the shaggy pony’s tangled mane, and scratched behind his ears. “Hey, now, Ragger,” he murmured. “Take your time.” Ragger bared his teeth in answer, and Han laughed.
Han took a proprietary pride in his ill-tempered pony—the first he’d ever owned. He was a skilled rider of borrowed horses. He’d spent every summer fostered in the upland lodges—sent there from the city by a mother convinced he carried a curse.
Now everything was different. The clans had staked him his horse, clothing, supplies, food for the journey, and paid his tuition for the academy at Oden’s Ford. Not out of charity, but because they hoped the demon-cursed Han Alister would prove to be a potent weapon against the growing power of the Wizard Council.
Han had accepted their offer. Accused of murder, orphaned by his enemies, hunted by the Queen’s Guard and the powerful High Wizard, Gavan Bayar, he’d had no choice. The pressure of past tragedies drove him forward—the need to escape reminders of his losses, and the desire to be somewhere other than where he’d been.
That and a smoldering desire for revenge.
Han slid his fingers inside his shirt and absently touched the serpent amulet that sizzled against the skin of his chest. Power flowed out of him and into the jinxpiece, relieving the magical pressure that had been building all day.
It had become a habit, this drawing off of power that might otherwise pinwheel out of control. He needed to constantly reassure himself the amulet was still there. Han had become strangely attached to it since he’d stolen it from Micah Bayar.
The flashpiece had once belonged to his ancestor, Alger Waterlow, known by most people as the Demon King. Meanwhile, the Lone Hunter amulet made for him by the clan matriarch Elena Demonai languished unused in his saddlebag.
He should hate the Waterlow flashpiece. He’d paid for it with Mam’s and Mari’s lives. Some said the amulet was a black magic piece—capable of naught but evil. But it was all he had to show for his nearly seventeen years, save Mari’s charred storybook and Mam’s gold locket. They were all that remained of a season of disaster.
Now he and his friend Dancer were to travel to Mystwerk House, the charmcaster academy at Oden’s Ford, and enter training as wizards under sponsorship of the clans.
You can read the full chapter PDF HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Cinda Williams Chima has a lot of awesome extras on her website for the series – including a map of the Seven Realms, below (you know how much I love maps!).
You can read more about the Seven Realms series HERE.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Elfland by Freda Warrington