Review: QUEENSLAYER by Sebastien de Castell

Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 436
Release Date: May 21st, 2019
Series: SPELLSLINGER, Book 5
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars – Liked It

Queenslayer

After an honest mistake has Kellen accused of treason against the Daroman Empire, he has to do some quick thinking to prevent his execution. He manages to get himself appointed as tutor of cards to the current queen, an eleven-year-old girl who is clearly surrounded by advisors trying to take advantage of her young age. Adrift in a world of court politics he is unprepared for, Kellen struggles to feel he is worthy of the queen’s trust – especially when it becomes clear that supporting the queen may cost him his life.

QUEENSLAYER is a dark swerve in a series that usually does a fairly good job of balancing high stakes with fast, quippy adventure. For the first half of this book, I felt I was on track to write a gushing review. It had some of my favorite tropes: verbal sparring during royal court sessions, card games where so much more is happening in the subtext than the casual observer would see, assassination attempts, and a conspiracy to overthrow the crown. It was great, and I was loving it, and it seemed like another grand SPELLSLINGER outing.

Two things happened over the course of the book. The first was that Kellen spent a considerable amount of time telling the reader and everyone he met how much of a coward he was, and starts backing that up with actual actions (or lack thereof). Now, maybe I’m remembering previous books with rose-tinted glasses, but Kellen never struck me as a TRUE coward. Reluctant hero? Absolutely. Scared for his life at all times? Sure. Forced to play dirty tricks to survive attacks from people way more powerful? You bet. But Kellen never came across as a person who stands by and let’s bad things happen to good people. In fact, the book literally opens with him in the middle of a duel because a man was abusing his much younger wife and Kellen interfered. I could not reconcile the young man from the opening with the actions that came later in the book.

TRIGGER WARNING/Light Spoiler

The second thing that happened was events started getting much darker. The last third of the book contains both an on-page attempted rape scene, and some extreme violence. The SPELLSLINGER series has veered into dark places before, but never to this extreme, and I personally found it a bit off-putting. The author wanted to make clear Kellen’s relative powerlessness in the situations, but I don’t know that going that far was necessary.

End Trigger Warning

Again, I enjoyed most of the book very well, and with one book left in the series I’m still continuing onwards. But the book overall ended on such a bleak note, I found myself lacking the usual afterglow of a thrilling adventure. It’s possible this is a “darkest before the dawn” situation, and all will right itself in the last installment. CROWNBREAKER will make or break a series that, up to this point, I had been thoroughly enjoying. While there’s still plenty here to recommend, especially to those of you less bothered by the darker parts of the story, QUEENSLAYER was not my favorite outing in the series.

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