Note: this review contains a few spoilers for Servant of the Crown and many spoilers for the bonus short story “Long Live the Queen” at the end of that novel, which sets up Exile of the Crown.
In “Long Live the Queen,” a “five years later” short story that appears at the end of Servant of the Crown (2015), the first book in Melissa McShane‘s CROWN OF TREMONTANE series, Queen Zara North of Tremontane comes to terms with the realization that she has inherent magical power, a type that rapidly heals her from any injury, poison, or illness and will make her nearly ageless. Magical powers are viewed as a taint in Tremontane, particularly for a ruler, and in any case Zara can foresee that her endless reign would be a disaster for her beloved country and for the reigning North family. Zara is a firm-minded woman with an acerbic personality and an incisive manner, and she takes matters into her own hands. With the reluctant help of her brother Anthony and his wife, Zara fakes her death and leaves her throne and relatives far behind, secretly heading to a distant, rural part of the kingdom.
Exile of the Crown (2015) is the story of what happens to Zara after she leaves the throne. It’s an interim novella between Servant of the Crown and Agent of the Crown (2016), skimming over the time period and events in Rider of the Crown. It consists of four intertwined stories from different times in Zara North’s life as an “exile” of sorts. Although she still lives in her own country, she’s far from the life and people she knew, feeling forever cut off from them. Zara now lives under the name of Agatha Weaver in small towns, moving from time to time when she feels like she’s spent long enough in one town that eyebrows will start to raise at the fact that she never looks any older.
Exile of the Crown skips through 44 years of Zara’s life, relating some of the interesting events in her life:
- A beckoning romance, even though Zara has determined that she should never get involved with someone because of her agelessness and inability to have a child.
- A surprise visit from a North relative, who wasn’t even aware that the former Queen Zara was still alive.
- Her life as a successful small businesswoman, owner of a weaving business, which comes under threat from an unscrupulous competitor who plans to open a weaving factory. This was my favorite, the most complex and thoughtful episode in the set.
- A long-distance argument with the current North ruler about a rather demanding request he’s making of her. This brief final episode is a teaser for Agent of the Crown, the next book in this series.
If you enjoy fantasies that mix romance and adventure, I recommend the CROWN OF TREMONTANE series. The romance element in the series overall is fairly strong, especially in the first book, but it’s far from being the sole focus. These books are more thoughtful than most in this genre. You should definitely read Servant of the Crown first, not just because it’s a delightful novel, but also because it sets up this steampunk-flavored fantasy world so well, and introduces you to the determined force of nature that is Zara. She’s a fantastic, strong female character, and there are frequent flashes of humor:
“You’re more like … what’s that knife Dr. Green uses?”
“That’s it. You cut where it’s needed and you strike clean. And everyone can hear the truth in what you say. … It just makes me wonder why you’re a weaver and not … I don’t know … ruling a County.”
Melissa McShane pays attention to the personalities of their characters and how they deal with their problems and pains. Despite her stubbornness and determination, Zara gradually comes to realize that she doesn’t need to cut herself off from relationships and friendships.
We live, and we love, and we mourn, and we rejoice, and none of that was possible without roots that ran deep.