Crush the King
By Jennifer Estep
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: March 17, 2020
Reviewed by Nancy
This concluding volume of Jennifer Estep’s Crown of Shards trilogy opens with Queen Everleigh (Evie) Blair of Bellona girding for a final confrontation with her nemesis, King Maximus of Morta. In the first book of the trilogy, Kill the Queen, he had her entire family assassinated to put his puppet on the throne. In the second book, Protect the Prince, his agents tried to kill a neighboring monarch and his son, who’re related to Evie’s lover, lightning magier and gladiator Lucas Sullivan.
Maximus and Evie have never met in person, but they’re about to. The annual multinational games known as the Regalia will soon begin. Custom dictates that the monarchs of participating countries attend. Before the games start, however, events lead Evie to believe she needs to change her approach, to be harder, sterner, and more assertive with her courtiers and her fellow monarchs.
One thing that makes this series so engaging is Evie’s evolution from a scared nobody, a minor blip on the royal family tree, to a confident gladiator and then to a queen. Nothing comes easily to her at any stage, and when she gained the throne in Kill the Queen, she knew she had no clue how to truly be a queen. Protect the Prince showed her growing into that role, learning the pitfalls and advantages while still not feeling she’d truly earned her crown. Throughout the other two books, she has slowly learned how to wield her own magic.
Crush the King brings this arc to fruition. Her new, more assertive approach is totally believable because of all that has gone before. So does her growth as a magier.
Evie goes to the Regalia knowing she may never get a better shot at Maximus. She plans to kill him during the games and knows he will also try to kill her.
The coming confrontation will involve courtly intrigue and various competitions. Evie has help preparing from her dancing instructor, Xenia, and the gladiators of the Black Swan troupe, including Lucas Sullivan, her consort. Part of the pleasure of reading any series is seeing familiar characters return, so it’s satisfying to see that Evie’s friends still have her back.
Her arch nemesis, Maeven, also returns. A magically gifted but illegitimate member of the Mortan royal family, she is her half brother’s top agent and assassin. Maeven’s story takes a twist here, one that allows Evie to up the stakes in the long game she has played with Maeven since her family was massacred.
The pace of the story generally moves well, with solid action sequences and hot, tender romance as well as intriguing strategy sessions. Still, I would’ve liked to get to the confrontation earlier and was tiring of the prep for it. I also had issues with two particular scenes farther into the book. In one, a confrontation occurs in Evie’s tent. I thought the guards were incredibly lax, probably standing far from the tent, not to notice the noise of the fight sooner. Once they do notice it and announce they’ll check on the queen, a lengthy conversation ensues before the guards arrive. That timing was hard to believe.
Later, in Evie’s final confrontation with Maximus, he threatens to do something that, in the circumstances, he has absolutely no way to do. He’s not stupid, and this threat feels out of place—even more so because nobody else notes that he can’t possibly do that.
These were my only issues with the book. As Protect the Prince did, Crush the King gives us a broader view of the story world. We explore the island of Fortuna and its crafty owners, the DiLucri family, who’re somewhat reminiscent of the Renaissance Medicis, and learn more about the magic in the world. I especially liked the magical birds known as strixes.
The ending involved a terrific twist that solves Evie’s problems in an unexpected but satisfying way. While Crush the King ties off this trilogy nicely, Estep also plants seeds for further trouble between the Mortan royal family and Evie.
Overall, I enjoyed this book tremendously despite my issues with a couple of things. I recommend it highly.