Hot Key Books; May 2, 2019
451 pages (PB)
4 / 5 ✪
Contains spoilers for the previous Spellslinger books!
The penultimate book in the Spellslinger series finds Kellen in Daroman doing what he does best—pissing people off. As a matter of course, he and Reichis realistically needed to find their way into the Empire at some point. Having been in jail, hunted, or hunted while in jail virtually everywhere else on the continent ultimately would’ve led them to feel disappointed by not having experienced the Daroman justice system first hand.
Kellen being Kellen, he manages to get arrested by Daroman authorities after legally killing someone. Following a duel over a hand of cards, Kellen dispatches his opponent with flair, afterwards wiping some of his blood onto a cloth in the overseeing marshals’ saddlebags. A cloth that just happened to be the Daroman flag. See, Daroman justice is a fiddly bit, and wiping blood (or likely other bodily fluids) on their flag is tantamount to treason. And so Kellen is trussed up, thrown on a horse and paraded to the capital where the Queen is to oversee his trial and subsequent execution. Reichis—meanwhile—rides in style, being hand-fed butter biscuits and pampered by the marshals.
But upon visiting the court, a curious thing happens.
The Queen—the ruling monarch for 2000 years reincarnated in the body of an 11-year old—chooses to spare Kellen, instead appointing him her Tutor of Cards, essentially making him untouchable by the legal system. His reward for this? To help the Queen survive into her teenage years, while also teaching her cards.
And yet, not all is as it seems. While many of the courtiers hate Kellen—being a foreign mage, especially one cursed with Shadowblack, is not good for public opinion—just as many fear him in equal measure. Reichis is generally just viewed with adoration or distaste, both of which seem to infuriate the squirrel-cat. As such, both Kellen and his business partner are quickly confronted with assassination plots, which they manage to thwart. But surviving these is just the first step.
Over the course of Queenslayer, Kellen is thrown into the pit of courtly politics. Involved is a beautiful countess, and the major attempting to force said countess into marriage. There’s a reclusive count willing to help Kellen out, seemingly for free. There’re several marshals seeking his death (actually, there’s quite a lot of people trying to kill him, but). There’s a millennia-old reincarnate, a powerful queen, and a scared little girl—all in one. The Jan’Tep have their fingers in the mix, with Sha’maat appearing to make another brazen request. There’s the queen’s social secretary; a mysterious man everyone loves and hates in equal measure.And there’s Kellen and Reichis in the middle, with no Ferius or Nephenia in sight.
“And what is your occupation?”
“Mostly people try to kill me. When they fail, I take their money.”
As Kellen has proved in past books, he doesn’t need anyone’s help screwing himself over. But as he proved in Soulbinder, neither does he need anyone’s help getting out of it. Just give him a sec to think it over, a half-assed plan involving Reichis that’s sure to fail, and clap him in irons and let him get to work. The results are usually surprising—but always entertaining.
It’s quite something to see Kellen’s progress over these five books. He’s built from a pessimistic smart-ass into something more, while still maintaining his core values. Some of them, at least. The character progression over this book—over the entire series—is an impressive bit of writing. The world-building as well continues to impress. While not as exhaustive as some other contemporaries, Spellslinger has spanned a continent and described, in rare detail, all the major players involved. While some further detail is left wanting, de Castell does a lovely job of giving enough, while not making it seem like too much. Though I’ve a feeling book six lies in the realm of the Jan’Tep—it could very well be anywhere seen over the course of the series.
The plot of Queenslayer involves an intricate—and at times confusing—journey through courtly intrigue, sex, death and politics. What emerges at the end is a a pale comparison to what started out, which I found both pleasing and disappointing at once, somehow. While I was mad at myself for losing a handle on everything that was going on, I loved the end result, an intricate plot with twists and turns and surprises aplenty. And yet, I was disappointed in the times Kellen simply refuses to act. More than once, he refuses to get involved, while the story attempts to pass him by and we the reader have to catch up with it when at last Kellen rejoins the fray.
As the final book looms large: so many questions remain. EDIT: most of which I can’t relay here because of possible spoilers. I guess you’ll just have to read to find out!
If you’ve made it to Book #4 or #5 in the series, congratulations! Similarly, you probably don’t need much urging from me to finish it off. In all likelihood you’ve stopped reading by now and moved on to the next book. If you haven’t (either gotten this far or stopped reading), then know that even through five books Spellslinger continues to impress. I think most fans of the series will be excited for Crownbreaker, but more than a little disappointed as well. I’ll miss Kellen and Reichis, their adventures and mishaps. But I want to know what happens in the end and how they fit into it. And how Nephenia fits into it. And Sha’maat. And the Jan’Tep. And the continent. And the Shadowblack. What more can I do but recommend this? It’s recommended. There. Done. Join me later for the series denouement—Crownbreaker—published just last fall!