The Empire of Vishir has lost its ruler, and the fight to save Seravesh from the Roven Empire is looking bleak. Moreover, Askia has been captured by power-hungry Emperor Radovan, who plans on making her his wife simply so he can take her magic as his own, killing her in the process. Aware of his ex-wives’ fates, Askia must find a means of avoiding this doom, not only for the sake of Seravesh, but now for Vishir as well. She must put both nations first and remember Ozura’s advice: you must play the game in order to survive. Askia was born a soldier, but now it’s time to become a spy.
But it’s hard to play a game where the only person who knows the rules wants to kill her.
And time is a factor. The jewel Radovan has put around her neck will pull her power from her in thirty days. Worse, Vishir might not even have that long, as the two heirs to the throne are on the verge of civil war. Without any hope for help from the south, without any access to her magic, alone in a hostile land, Askia is no closer to freeing her people than she was when she fled to Vishir. In the clutches of a madman, the only thing she’s close to is death.
Yet she’d trade her life for a chance to save Seravesh. The problem: she may not have that choice.
Greta Kelly’s The Seventh Queen is the second of two connected books. The publisher generously sent along the prior book, The Frozen Crown, for context. I read The Seventh Queen first, however, so I could see whether it’s a good jumping-on point for those who haven’t yet read the first book. I’m happy to report that it is.
I think one reason the second book stands alone so well is that it takes place in a different setting, with mostly different supporting characters, from the first book. As the Askia learns about this place, her situation, and the people and ghosts around her, the reader learns without having to deal with an information dump.
Unfortunately, the book description on vendor sites, which is included above, is not a good introduction to the second book because it doesn’t explain the phrases it uses until the end. Quickly, before we dive into the book itself—Askia is the young, new Queen of Seravesh, she has a stake in the kingdom of Vishir because she was married to the Emperor of Vishir, who was murdered at the wedding, and the six-times-married-and-widowed Emperor Radovan of the Roven Empire, who ordered the murder, has been rampaging across the land with the help of magic he has stolen from his prior wives. He plans to make Askia the seventh and use the magic he steals from her to crush the other kingdoms’ resistance.
The Seventh Queen opens as Askia awakens in Radovan’s castle after being kidnapped. While the stone on her necklace, which she can’t remove, stifles her use of her magic, it doesn’t squelch her innate ability. She’s a death witch and so can see the ghosts of Radovan’s prior queens and two other spirits who followed her to Roven. Having been where she is, the prior queens sympathize with her. They offer comfort and then assistance as she tries to plan an escape. If she’s going to break out, she needs to hurry because the stone on her necklace will absorb absorb all her magic within thirty days. Once it does, Radovan will kill her. Amulets, necklaces, and other restraints that stifle magic are nothing new in fantasy, but the Aellium stone that siphons Askia’s power adds a fresh twist.
So the story opens with a ticking clock. Part of the thirty days have elapsed while Askia lay unconscious after her kidnapping. As she becomes oriented, she must figure out how to deal with Radovan. She despises him but dares not anger him lest he lock her up and foreclose any chance of escape. She also can’t lie to him because he absorbed truth-sensing abilities from one of his prior victims.
Her efforts to learn enough about the castle to find a weakness, a way out, don’t always go smoothly. The ghosts who are helping her have their own agendas, and not everyone in Radovan’s court is as they initially seem to be. Slowly, she learns how and where to apply pressure—all without Radovan finding out—so she can gather information. Her efforts pay off in an expected way.
Meanwhile, Askia’s loyal guard are searching for her. We’re well into The Seventh Queen when we first meet them, but Kelly provides enough information to orient new readers without slowing the pace of the story. One of those guardsmen, a fire mage, is particularly important going forward.
The plot includes believable progress and setbacks as Askia tries to find a way out of her predicament. Yet nothing is simple, and there are intriguing twists, especially at the end. Askia is determined and smart but not infalliable or immune to discouragement. She’s easy to root for.
The ghostly queens of Roven are nicely differentiated. Each has her own worries about what Radovan will do while some also worry about those they left behind. They’re not always on the same page as Askia about what needs to happen. This makes them believable, while their efforts to help make them sympathetic.
Radovan clearly is a horrible person, but he also has insecurities and layers. He’s the prime example of a villain who sees himself as the hero of his story.
There’s also a romantic subplot. This being a fantasy, however, the romance isn’t a prominent part of the book. The romantic scenes are done well, but as the relationship comes together, it, too, is not as simple as it first seemed.
The story moves at a solid pace without rushing. The final confrontation is tense, action-filled, and, again, twisty. The ending was satisfying but not entirely what a romance reader might want. There’s clearly more story to come on all fronts.
As for quibbles, I did get a little tired of Askia reminding herself she was a queen or making herself be a queen. I got that after the first time. While I liked the way she contrasted the woman circumstances forced her to become with the woman she’d been before the kidnapping, I could have done with a bit less repetition of that. There was one secret that seemed to be just a bit too convenient for my taste. These are quibbles, though, not big problems.
Overall, The Seventh Queen had engaging protagonists, an original, solid, and twisty plot, an action-packed climax, and an intriguing romance subplot. Highly Recommended.
Are you a fan of fantasy fiction? Are there authors or books in this genre that you would recommend?
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