The Exiled Queen (Seven Realms #2), by Cinda Williams Chima

The second instalment of the Seven Realms quartet—The Exiled Queen—speeds up the sleepy plodding of the first book (The Demon  King), kick starting a much pacier story with plot twists aplenty. Thankfully, it also retains the deep character development and attention that made The Demon King such an offering of ‘slice-of-life’ fantasy. Our characters are on the move, each and every one of them, and their separate paths lead to one single place: the Academies.

Mystwerk House for wizards, Oden’s Ford for soldiers; the full cast from Han Alister and his bitter rival Micah Bayar, to Raisa ana’Marianna and her childhood friend-come bodyguard, Amon find themselves in one central place. A place where their stories mesh, mingle and merge, shaping the plot and driving it forwards, sideways and sometimes around corners unseen without a mirror. Han’s been forced into a bargain he’d rather refuse by the Clans; the very people he sought to trust. Raisa’s forced herself into protective exile, her identity a secret from all around her, save her bodyguard, who’s now more closely linked to her than she could imagine—yet still not close enough for the princess’ tastes.

Class is in session

Despite the main cast having enrolled at what is essentially either magic school, or military school, this is no Hogwarts set up. Mystwerk House schools natural born wizards, and somehow, Han’s found himself there: finally free of the cuffs that sealed his power, clamped onto his wrists by the very people who removed them. But for a price: in exchange for the very things Han needed—money, security, a life—the Clans have agreed to sponsor him through Mystwerk House, on the condition that Han returns to them once his training his complete. With little choice, yet little inclination, Han’s hands are tied and off he goes to train his magic, accompanied by his long-time friend Dancer.

Soldier Girl

Raisa ana’Marianna might not be the strongest built lass, or the tallest—or the prettiest since she lopped off her hair (she’ll never let her fellow soldiers do that again) and now sports something resembling a floppy rat—but she’s got balls, for a girl. Shirking her royal life, Raisa has no plans to return to the palace, avoiding it as one might a nest of vipers. That’s all the crown princess sees when she looks to the royal court of her homeland: machinations and intrigues develop and spawn in secret, whilst political power shifts dangerously, beginning to resemble a time when the world was once broken. A pivotal piece in the power-game, Raisa is safe from no-one. Should anyone find her at Oden’s Ford, and should Amon not be able to protect her, whomever holds her in hand could well hold the next few moves on the board.

Baying for Attention

Handed a much more sizeable role in the story this time, are the Bayar twins—Micah and Fiona—introduced in the first instalment, and with Micah receiving more stage-time than his sister. Desperate to steer Raisa towards his own subtle plans, Micah has spent the summer searching for the runaway princess. However, when term begins, the wizard son of the High Wizard—Gavan Bayar, presently worming his way into the Queen’s fancy, brushing aside all laws that would forbid him to do so—is obliged to attend Mystwerk House. Little does he know, that his would-be betrothed is soldering just across the way at Oden’s Ford, just out of his reach. For now. Fiona on the other hand has her own games in mind, and upon meeting Han, also a first-year, she quickly includes him and his power in her schemes; even if that means going against her own brother. Of course, Fiona doesn’t wish Micah ill, but neither does she support his father’s view to make him King at Raisa’s side. After all; what’s the harm in a new Queen in a Queendom in need? Young as they are, barely seventeen, the Bayar twins’ machinations might just outplay the defter games their father has in play. They might also outplay each other.

A Deeper Game

Not everything at the Academies is happy lessons and drilling in the yard: at the very places where Raisa and Han believe they’ll be safe, danger lurks close enough to hear it breathing in the dark. Whilst Raisa must do all she can to remain hidden as herself, ever posing as Rebecca Morley, Han finds himself in the tutelage of two wizards, both flaunting better, brighter power than his own, and invariably better and brighter futures that what the Clans have offered. Unable to refuse one, and unable to identify another—whom only appears in dreams—Han’s options aren’t as open as he at first thinks. Farther afield, back in Fellsmarch, the Queen is quiet: with Gavan Bayar close, and his game playing out differently to he expected, he begins to set his sights on Raisa’s sister, petitioning to make her the Queen’s heiress in Raisa’s stead, claiming her running away as contrary to the interests of the Queendom. A single letter from her mother is all Raisa receives in return for her correspondence; a letter that serves only to confuse the princess heir further as to who she can and cannot trust. In this game of power, influence and magics—both natural and intrinsic—Raisa, like Han, would do better to trust only a few honest friends.

Not so sleepy, but still not awake

Although the plodding pace of The Demon King has been nudged to a slow trot for The Exiled Queen there is still little action and little clear development of a real and world-influencing plot. The synopses for both books claimed dark, dangerous powers and spoke of the title-cited ‘demon king’. There is still little sight of this great wizard, and whilst it could be suggested that this second novel—and subsequently the two final novels to follow—chart his rise to the power his birthright suggests, this answer falls a little short and something is still lacking.

Why should I read this book?

Nevertheless, The Exiled Queen is an excellent and enjoyable read. The series has solidified itself in this second instalment as being a ‘growing up’ sort of story. Much like Harry and his friends come of age, and grow into strong teens-then-adults in the Harry Potter series, the same can be said of our friends from Fellsmarch. Whilst the plot lacks the punch of more epic fantasy settings/stories, this doesn’t do The Exiled Queen enough of an injustice that it matters. The story is fun, better-paced thanThe Demon King and overall, better delivered. The character development—the best part of the series so far—continues strongly and by the end of the book, the cast has matured considerably. They have struck out into the world against all rules and wishes, setting upThe Gray Wolf Throne to be an exciting and different style of novel considering what we’ve seen of the Seven Realms series thus far.

4/5

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