Crown princess. Clever spy. Powerful mind magier. Gemma Ripley of Andvari is all those things—and determined to stop an enemy from using magical tearstone weapons to conquer her kingdom.
Gemma’s quest for answers leads
her to a trade Summit between the various kingdoms. Among the other royals in
attendance is Queen Maeven Morricone of Morta and her son, Prince
Leonidas—Gemma’s charming and dangerous nemesis.
Gemma knows that Maeven always
has a long game in motion, and sure enough, the cunning queen invokes an arcane
tradition that threatens the fragile truce between Andvari and the other
kingdoms. Despite her best intentions, Gemma once again finds herself thrown
together with Leo and battling her growing feelings for the enemy prince.
series of deadly attacks shatters the Summit’s peaceful negotiations, Gemma
realizes that someone wants to tear the royals down from their thrones—and that
this enemy just might succeed.
Jennifer Estep continues her Gargoyle Queen saga with Tear Down the Throne, which picks up
Princess (and spy) Gemma Ripley’s story soon after the prior volume, Capture the Crown, ends. Gemma has
returned home to Andvari after surviving torture by Crown Prince Milo of rival
kingdom Morta and narrowly escaping. When the story opens, she’s visiting an
important nobleman to maintain a good relationship.
Her host makes a tactless remark that reminds her of what she
suffered in Morta. This leads to a recap of the previous book’s events,
including Gemma’s longstanding attraction to another Mortan prince, Leonidas.
The recap posed a problem for me. While it presents the necessary information
fairly succinctly, it occurs mid-conversation. By the time the recap, which
runs almost two full pages, ended and Gemma replied to her host’s blunder, I
had lost the original remark.
Other than that, the story moves at a solid pace with an
interesting plot. We learn more about Gemma as she tries to figure out what the
Mortans are doing. Prince Milo is using tearstone, which is found mainly in
Andvari, to make arrows. His men are also stealing tearstone. Why? What does he
intend to do with it? Having been tortured with one of those arrows in the
prior book, Gemma has a personal interest in thwarting his plans.
She has help from Reiko Yamato, a friend who’s a spy from the
allied kingdom of Ryusama. Estep lays the groundwork for bringing Reiko and her
romantic interest to the fore in the future. She also develops the two women’s
friendship, though Reiko’s split loyalties cause friction between them.
We also learn more about Gemma’s family, who are closeknit and
supportive. There are nods to the prior trilogy, Crown of Shards. The
emotional center of the book, however, is Gemma’s relationship with Leonidas
Morricone, Morta’s bastard prince. That relationship springs to the fore when
his mother, Queen Maeven, invokes an ancient tradition to force Gemma to marry
Leonidas. If he completes three trials known as the Gauntlet, she must either
marry him or pay a forfeit that could involve Andvarian lands and money or
Gemma’s death. If he fails to complete them, he forfeits his life. Gemma is
appalled to find that neither prospect appeals to her though one part of her
yearns for him to succeed.
Estep does an excellent job of exploring Gemma’s conflicted
feelings and Leonidas’s determination. As Leonidas progresses in the trials,
Gemma’s internal conflict deepens. A moment after the second trial forces her
to confront her feelings and gives Leonidas hope.
While the Gauntlet tests are cleverly constructed, I found the
final one, when Gemma can influence the outcome, confusing because the tests had been presented as all or
nothing in the beginning, with no mention about her playing any role. Had that
been explained at first, I would have read along happily and never questioned
Leonidas’s murderous brother, Milo, his wily and ambitious
fiancée, Corvina, and the treacherous Captain Wexel all return. Gemma,
Leonidas, and Reiko try to uncover Milo’s plot. They make progress but discover
all, as befits the second book of a trilogy. The plot takes interesting twists
and turns with the threads of the romance woven through it.
The Andvarian gargoyles and the Mortan birds known as strixes
also play roles in the story, and one special gargoyle makes an important
choice. These sentient species and the specialties in the magic system give the
series world a unique depth and flavor.
While I always favor reading a series in order, Tear Down the Throne can be read as a
The suspense plot uses the world and its magic well. The
characters acquire additional depth, and the relationships—families, friends,
and enemies—progress nicely. We also learn much more about Gemma’s deceased
mother and the way her long-ago actions influence the story. Gemma and Leonidas
are easy to root for, and their relationship takes an intriguing, satisfying
turn at the book’s end that raises their stakes for the final book.
Highly Recommended. 4.5 stars