Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsKill the Queen by Jennifer Estep science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsKill the Queen by Jennifer Estep

Lady Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair is a member of the royal family (seventeenth in line for the throne of Bellona, to be precise) and has lived in the royal palace for fifteen years, since her parents were murdered when she was twelve. But this position of access hasn’t exactly translated into a life of privilege for Everleigh, or Evie. Partly because she lacks the powerful offensive magical powers that most royals have (she does have a super-sensitive sense of smell), Evie is treated just a few steps above a servant. She’s mostly overlooked unless there’s some boring or unpleasant duty that a royal has to perform, like making cranberry-apple pie for guests from the kingdom of Andvari or learning an intricate dance, the Tanzen Freund, for the visiting Ungerian delegation.

Evie does, in fact, have another magical power that she’s kept secret all her life, and it and her nose stand her in good stead when a “small” luncheon for two hundred royals and guests turns into a bloodbath, as the ambitious crown princess Vasilia ruthlessly murders her mother the queen and scores of other people attending the luncheon, including every other royal who might challenge Vasilia. With the help of her magic and, frankly, through a series of flukes, Evie survives the massacre and goes into hiding with a gladiator troupe, landing a role as their baker (all that pie-making came in handy) and learning gladiator fighting skills. Evie’s not sure what her next step should be, but Vasilia’s not done yet, and her actions may not leave Evie with much of a choice.

Jennifer Estep

Kill the Queen (2018) is a fast-paced, brain-candy type of fantasy by Jennifer Estep, starring a princess in hiding training as a gladiator, a nefarious queen who remorselessly murders others to achieve her ambitions, and a handsome magier (mage), Lucas Sullivan, who quickly develops a snarky relationship with Evie. It’s marketed as “Gladiator meets Game of Thrones,” but that’s only true on a superficial level. The fateful luncheon, originally intended to celebrate Princess Vasilia’s betrothal to Prince Hans of Andvari, is certainly reminiscent of Game of Thrones’ infamous Red Wedding scene, and yes, the heroine is a gladiator hoping to (eventually) take out the ruler of her country, but otherwise I’m hard-pressed to see many points of similarity. Certainly Kill the Queen lacks the complexity and subtleties of George R.R. Martin’s work.

Kill the Queen is at its heart a YA type of fantasy, despite its older heroine and the plentiful adult language and violence. The characters are familiar types and generally one-dimensional; the writing style and plot are straightforward and easy to follow. Evie’s adventures are in the nature of coming-of-age experiences for her. Evie initially disregards Queen Cordelia’s dying instructions to her to find Serilda Swanson, formerly the queen’s personal guard and now the leader of the gladiator troupe. When Evie fortuitously stumbles into Serilda’s troupe anyway, she still disregards Cordelia’s instructions to disclose her identity to Serilda and get her help. Ostensibly it’s because Evie is too distrustful, but it’s apparent that the real reason is to prolong the suspense. It’s also a bit hard to swallow how the two mundane skills she had to learn end up being critical to her survival and the plot; the plot hangs off a lot of coincidences.

With a straightforward, action-packed plot and style, Kill the Queen is fine for a beach read type of fantasy. There are a few unresolved plot threads at the end, not enough to create a cliffhanger ending, but enough to leave readers interested in what will happen next. The sequel, Protect the Prince, was just published in July 2019, and I’m interested enough to read it and see where events take Evie and Sullivan and their friends next. A third book in this CROWN OF SHARDS series, Crush the King, is planned for 2020.

Published in 2018. Gladiator meets Game of Thrones: a royal woman becomes a skilled warrior to destroy her murderous cousin, avenge her family, and save her kingdom in this first entry in a dazzling fantasy epic from the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Elemental Assassin series—an enthralling tale that combines magic, murder, intrigue, adventure, and a hint of romance. In a realm where one’s magical power determines one’s worth, Lady Everleigh’s lack of obvious ability relegates her to the shadows of the royal court of Bellona, a kingdom steeped in gladiator tradition. Seventeenth in line for the throne, Evie is nothing more than a ceremonial fixture, overlooked and mostly forgotten. But dark forces are at work inside the palace. When her cousin Vasilia, the crown princess, assassinates her mother the queen and takes the throne by force, Evie is also attacked, along with the rest of the royal family. Luckily for Evie, her secret immunity to magic helps her escape the massacre. Forced into hiding to survive, she falls in with a gladiator troupe. Though they use their talents to entertain and amuse the masses, the gladiators are actually highly trained warriors skilled in the art of war, especially Lucas Sullivan, a powerful magier with secrets of his own. Uncertain of her future—or if she even has one—Evie begins training with the troupe until she can decide her next move. But as the bloodthirsty Vasilia exerts her power, pushing Bellona to the brink of war, Evie’s fate becomes clear: she must become a fearsome gladiator herself . . . and kill the queen.


  • Tadiana Jones

    TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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