Book One of The Queens of Renthia
by Sarah Beth Durst
Harper Voyager, 2016. 353 pages.
2017 Alex Award Winner
Daleina is ten years old when her entire village is destroyed by the spirits – all except her family, who Daleina manages to save. She suddenly discovers in the terror of the destruction that she has an affinity to command the spirits. But she wasn’t strong enough to save the village.
But why didn’t the queen save their village? The queen is supposed to control the spirits and command them all to do no harm.
Ven, a champion who got to the village too late, doesn’t get a satisfactory answer either. In fact, he gets disgraced in return for questioning the queen.
Years pass. Daleina goes to the Academy to be trained to command the spirits. She wants to be chosen to be trained by a champion and then to be one of the heirs. The heirs must be ready in case of the queen’s death. Because then the spirits must be stopped from their instinct to destroy and made to choose a new queen, a new queen who will then harness their energy afresh and keep the people safe.
The people of Aratay lives in the trees. Wood spirits have been compelled to grow homes and bridges in the trees. Fire spirits provide light. Air spirits, ice spirits, water spirits, and earth spirits all work to make life continue in Aratay – even though those spirits would like to feed on human flesh.
This book has some elements of a wizard-in-training novel, and of a young leader learning what qualities are important in a ruler. But there are also elements of corruption in power. There is mystery as to what is going on and how it can be stopped. And, in keeping with the title, there’s a whole lot of death and blood.
The story is compelling. You can’t help but love Daleina. She’s not as skilled as her classmates. Her power is less direct. But she’s loyal and good at bringing teams together. Why does the disgraced champion choose her?
I spent a happy afternoon reading this novel. The world it presents is inventive, and the characters are people you want to spend time with. (I only wished fewer had died.) I’m looking forward to the next installment from the creative mind of Sarah Beth Durst.
Here’s the scene at the start when Daleina meets the champion, after her village has been destroyed, with only her family left:
For a brief instant, she imagined him sweeping her away, taking her to the capital, and proclaiming her his chosen candidate. It happened that way in the tales: a champion would appear in a tiny village, test the children, and pluck one to be trained to become an heir, and the heirs became legends themselves, creating villages, securing the borders, and keeping the spirits in check, in conjunction with the queen. She imagined herself in the palace, a circle of golden leaves on her head, with her family beside her, safe because of her power. Never again huddling afraid in a hut in a tree.
Her story should have begun right then, in that moment. Fate had declared that her power would emerge in her village’s tragedy, and chance had put the champion in the nearby trees at the moment the spirits attacked, too late to save the village but in time to meet Daleina. It should have been the beginning of a legend, the moment he recognized her potential and she embraced her future with both arms.
But it wasn’t.
The champion looked away, across the ruined village and the broken bodies. “Only the best can become queen. And she is not the best.” Daleina felt his words hit like slaps, and then he added the worst blow of all: “If she were, these people would still be alive.”
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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.
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