Of Fire and Ash / Summer Queen

Summer Queen

This review is brought to you as part of the Virtual Book Tour for Summer Queen, hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, Winter Queen. You can read my review of this novel [here].

The Fairy Queens series was written by Amber Argyle, author of the highly regarded Witch Song series. They are high fantasy novels, set in a world where the balance of nature is controlled by powerful faeries. The series currently consists of two novels – Winter Queen (2013) and Summer Queen (2015) – and the novella Of Fire and Ash (2015) which falls between them. The third novel of the series has been titled Daughter of Winter, although a release date for this has not yet been set.

As a child, Nelay made a deal with the faeries in order to save her father’s life. She has always known that one day they will return to her to collect a heavy price for this but as the years rolled on, gradually her ability to see the creatures has faded. She is now an acolyte at the Temple of the Fire Goddess and the High Priestess is about to ask her to make a terrible sacrifice.

Zatal, King of Idara, has been fighting an endless war against the invading Clansmen, yet his forces are failing. To make matters worse, his wife has born him only daughters and so he has no heir to carry on his dynasty if he falls in battle. The High Priestess has offered Nelay to him as a Queen, promising that she will be set free from the unwanted marriage only after she has given the King three sons.

Yet Nelay has other plans. With the help of her friend Jezzel and the handsome smuggler Rycus, she manages to escape the Temple and flees across the desert. Her only concern is to reach her family home and ensure that her family are safe from the encroaching Clans. What Nelay does not realise is that she is merely the pawn in a larger game. The faeries still want for her to uphold her end of the bargain and the price they are asking is far greater than she could ever have imagined.

Summer Queen Banner

Although Summer Queen is a sequel to Winter Queen, it largely stands on its own. It is set 20 years after the events of the first novel and contains a completely different cast and setting. While I think that you could probably enjoy this story in its own right, I would still recommend that you read the bookd in order as you would be unable to truly appreciate the complexity of the series.

Before I get into the main subject of this review, I feel I should perhaps mention the novella that falls before this story. Of Fire and Ash is an incredibly well written short which neatly introduces the characters of Nelay and her family, as well as giving the reader their first glimpses of Idara. It’s not necessary to read this story in order to fully understand Summer Queen (all of the events of the novella are touched upon in the opening chapters of the main novel) but I would still really recommend that you check this out. Despite its length, Of Fire and Ash is a truly gripping story and does help to add further depth to Argyle’s world.

Summer Queen brings a massive expansion to the Fairy Queen universe, further developing its mythos as it allows the reader to explore an entirely different side of the world. In the first novel, the reader experiences the world purely from the perspective of the Clans. While reading this book, I never questioned the fact that the Clansmen were (relatively) civilised while the Raiders were savage and violent because this was the way that they were always portrayed.

In Summer Queen, the story is presented from the perspective of one of the Raiders (known now by their true name of Idarans) and it becomes clear that our view of them was skewed by years of war. There is no real good and bad in Argyle’s world, there are merely two ideologically opposed races locked in a war that seems unresolvable. The Clansmen want to make slaves of the Idarans to repair the damages that they have caused in the war, yet they kill Idarans indiscriminately and destroy whole cities themselves. Similarly, the Idarans feel victimised due to the encroachment of the Clans onto their lands and yet casually seem to forget that they once tried to do the same thing to the Clansmen. It’s a complex political setting that exists only in shades of grey, balancing both sides well so that never seem like the villains and it further emphasises the idea of the Balance.

The faeries are also presented very differently in this novel, as the Idarans hold a very different attitude towards them. For the Clansmen in Winter Queen, the faeries had largely become the stuff of legend but the Idaran’s religion still reveres them, centring in the worship of the Goddess of Fire – their name for the Summer Queen. The faeries we see in this novel are also far more devious than those that Ilyenna encountered in her story. While the winter faeries always seemed benevolent and eager to help Ilyenna, the summer faeries are cruel and calculating. Humans know that they are untrustworthy and that their assistance always comes at a terrible cost. This left me wondering if their plans for Nelay really were for the greater good or if they are some piece of a larger design.

In terms of plot, I felt that Summer Queen was perhaps a little weaker than Winter Queen. It wasn’t that it was a bad novel by any means, it just did not seem quite as well structured. The story was slower to start, taking almost half its length to really find its focus, and after this it escalated into almost relentless combat. While the second half of the story was very fast paced and exciting, it never really eased up at all and I felt that I needed some quieter moments to help me better appreciate the scale of the siege.

The story was also perhaps a little too predictable. Although it would be unfair to say that it’s exactly the same as Winter Queen, if you have read this novel it is fairly easy to guess what the faeries want to ask of Nelay and how the story will inevitably end. However, this did leave me curious to see how the third story will break the pattern as it’s obvious that Argyle will be unable to repeat the same plot elements for a third time. The way that Summer Queen ended fills me with nothing but curiosity for the rest of this series – it is clear that very dangerous times are ahead for both the Idarans and Clansmen.

Yet, in terms of character, I felt that Summer Queen was a marked improvement on Winter Queen. Nelay was everything that I love to see in a heroine. She was brave, intelligent and resourceful, yet she was still very human. She made mistakes and had errors in judgement, many of which cost her dearly due to her elevated position in society. Her development within the novel was also incredible, her innocence gradually hardening as she witnesses atrocity after atrocity. While Nelay initially is distrustful of the faeries and determined to do anything to avoid making deals with them, the events of the story cause her to gradually consider if it is worth making the ultimate sacrifice to save those important to her.

My only issue concerning Nelay is not anything to do with her character in the story – it’s actually her depiction on the cover of the book. In the story, Nelay is described as having dark skin while the cover illustration makes her incredibly pale. I was a little disappointed by this. It’s still so rare to have a strong person of colour as a protagonist that it made be a little sad that she didn’t get represented as such on the front of the book.

The secondary cast was also incredibly strong and less prone to lapses of judgement than those of Winter Queen (*cough* Rone). I absolutely adored Rycus – he reminded me a lot of Po from Graceling and made the perfect male counterpart to Nelay. Their relationship was utterly believable and developed at the perfect pace. Jezzel was also a fantastic character, providing another awesomely strong female force in the plot.

The antagonists of the story were far more developed than those of Winter Queen as their actions were motivated by utilitarian necessity rather than malice. In fact, I lose the term antagonist very loosely. Neither Zatal or Suka were especially villainous. They were just people forced to make incredibly difficult decisions in the face of a relentless foe. The appearance of Ilyenna in the final chapters of the story also came as a surprise and allowed the reader to see her in a completely different light. While I’m not sure I really liked this version of Ilyenna, it did leave me curious to see what will become of her in the next novel.

Well, this review is running long so I’ll wrap up. Summer Queen is a very strong continuation of the series, easily making up for its slow start with a cast of strong and memorable characters. I’m certainly going to be following this author in the future and can’t wait to see how this story continues in Daughter of Winter.

 

About the Author

AmberAmber Argyle is the number-one bestselling author of the Witch Song Series and the Fairy Queen Series. Her books have been nominated for and won awards in addition to being translated into French and Indonesian.

Amber graduated cum laude from Utah State University with a degree in English and physical education, a husband, and a two-year old. Since then, she and her husband have added two more children, which they are actively trying to transform from crazy small people into less crazy larger people.

To learn more about Amber, visit her blog at amberargyle.blogspot.com

You can also find Amber on TwitterFacebookGoodreads, and Pinterest.

Want to read the stories for free? You can enter this contest for a chance to win eBooks of all of the stories to date. This competition is open internationally – click [here] if you want to enter!

Of Fire and Ash can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

Summer Queen can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amber Argyle, author
    Jun 17, 2015 @ 17:56:13

    Such a thorough review! I hope to see it on some retailer sites (and the dragon fighting off the snakes is hilarious and very fitting).

    Reply

    • Kim
      Jun 17, 2015 @ 18:21:10

      Thank you, I’m glad you liked the review. I worry about sounding too harsh sometimes but like to give an honest impression of how books make me feel.

      Reply

  2. J. L. Mbewe
    Jun 17, 2015 @ 21:59:59

    The cover is amazing! And Winter Queen? I have to go look up the other books now! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  3. Trackback: The Sobeks – Part 2 | Arkham Reviews

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