A Broken Queen by Sarah Kozloff
A Broken Queen (2020) is the third book in Sarah Kozloff’s NINE REALMS series, with each book being published only a month apart, and to be honest, I sort of wish I’d waited for them all to come out and then reviewed the series as a whole, mostly because I feel I’ll just be repeating myself in this review, and, if things go as they have been, in the review of book four as well.
In that vein, mostly what I’ve been saying about the first two books (A Queen in Hiding and The Queen of Raiders) is that they’re readable enough, even somewhat enjoyable, but they leave me wanting more as a reader. They move along relatively smoothly, but nothing in the plot drags me forward, nothing in the characters compels me to know more about them or worry about their future, and nothing in the style makes me sit up and take notice. That all comes across probably worse than it should; as I said, the books are perfectly readable, but I can’t say they’re a lot more than that, which holds true for A Broken Queen as well. Ware spoilers for the first two novels ahead.
The story picks up soon after book two, with Cerulia badly injured from the events at the close of that story. With some timely godly intervention, she finds herself in a house of healing in far-off Weyland where she slowly recuperates both her physical and her emotional injuries. Eventually, with a little help from some animals (remember, her talent is talking to them), she decides her time of hiding has come to an end (sort of). Instead, she needs to pick up her queenly responsibility (though the idea of rulership in general has become a bit more questionable) and so she returns home to where the usurper, Regent Matwyck, still rules, though resistance is growing. There she comes back in contact with her “sister” Percia, who is in the capital to marry Matwyck’s son, who has fallen far from the paternal tree. Meanwhile, Thalen, back home after his successful efforts in the Oros’ homeland, returns home and joins with the resistance to drive the remnants of the Oro occupying army out. Another subplot reveals the growing conflict among the gods and their agents, as well as recruiting some familiar characters from the prior books into those roles.
A Broken Queen, more than the others, and now the series as a whole, is beginning to feel its length a bit. I didn’t think this one needed all of its 400+ pages, and while I’ll hold off on a final judgment, I’m guessing I’ll end up believing the NINE REALMS series as a whole didn’t need four books’ worth. The side characters in this one also felt more, well, “side.” Their scenes felt more disconnected and less engaging, a few even somewhat perfunctory. Kozloff also feels on stronger footing with the more interior moments, such as Cerulia’s doubts or characters wrestling with grief or the impact of violence. As with the last book, the battle scenes/strategy move the story along, but don’t feel like they can stand much scrutiny. The villains have been a consistent weakness in the series and that holds true here as well. Early on I had hopes Sumroth would be more complicated, and perhaps we’ll get that in book four, but so far he hasn’t lived up to my hopes.
Right now I’d say the NINE REALMS is shaping itself up to be a series one wouldn’t regret reading in terms of no enjoyment coming out of it, but I’d be hard pressed to recommend it at this point — not for lack of quality but because it falls so solidly in that “OK” mode that there are a lot of other works I’d recommend ahead of it. Here’s hoping Kozloff proves me wrong with a slambang ending of a book in The Cerulean Queen.