Protect the Prince
By Jennifer Estep
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: July 2, 2019
Reviewed by Nancy
Protect the Prince is the second book in Estep’s Crown of Shards novel. The first book, Kill the Queen, describes Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair’s journey to the throne of Bellona. An orphan of royal blood, she narrowly survives a murder attempt, takes refuge with a troop of gladiators, and learns to wield her apparently weak magic.
The second book picks up shortly after Everleigh’s (or Evie’s) accession to the throne, as she is about to face Bellona’s nobility at her first formal court session. An orphan who becomes queen against long odds doesn’t have a web of connections among the nobility, who aren’t slow to let Evie know how backward and inept they consider her, even as they jockey for position with her. Thinking she doesn’t see through them is their first mistake, and she demonstrates her ability to handle them despite her secret doubts about her ability to rule.
Estep does a good job of balancing Evie’s insecurities with the skills she acquired, first as a poor relation on the bottom of the court totem pole and then as a successful gladiator. Although the reader sees how skilled she is, her doubts are understandable and are never overdone.
Evie’s first goal as queen is to repair Bellona’s relationship with the neighboring kingdom of Andvari, which were shattered by the events in Kill the Queen. Accompanying her on the journey are members of the gladiator troop who helped her gain the throne. One of those gladiators, Lucas “Sully” Sullivan, is a particular cause for concern. He and Evie are attracted to each other, but he refuses to act on that feeling because of their differing stations. He’s a bastard prince of the Advari line. He’ll be a useful advisor at their court, but he seems to walk a line between the Advarian royal family and the Bellonan contingent.
Sully’s family dynamics come into play as his father plunges Evie directly into court politics. So does his first love, Helene Blume. Estep handles the dynamic between Evie and Helene with skill, using it to amplify Evie’s inner conflict without falling back on clichés.
When Evie discovers a plot against the Andvarian king, she devises a plan to draw the traitors into the open. This causes severe problems between her and Sully, whose status as a royal bastard chafes him when he’s in Andvari. His family tensions further complicate the situation. The plan is cleverly laid out in a way that seems believable and logical. In the process of catching the culprits, Evie learns what it truly means to be a Winter queen and emotionally grows into her crown.
I had two minor quibbles with the story. First, I’m not good at spotting the important clues in a mystery, so if I notice something and think it’s important, I expect the main character to do the same. Evie didn’t. Second, an incident between Evie and Sully near the end of the book seemed to me to involve unnecessary conflict. I could see Evie’s reasoning, but I disagreed with it. Others may find it persuasive.
The characters in Protect the Prince are well drawn and sympathetic, and the mystery takes enough twists and turns to stay interesting. The relationship between Evie and Sully was a subordinate part of the book but an important one. Aside from my minor quibble, I thought it developed beautifully, reaching a satisfactory resolution.
Now all I need is Crush the King, the third book. Too bad it won’t be out until next year!