(Cover picture courtesy of Cinda Williams Chima’s site.)
Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, Han Alister journeys south to begin his schooling at Mystwerk House in Oden’s Ford. But leaving the Fells doesn’t mean that danger isn’t far behind. Han is hunted every step of the way by the Bayars, a powerful wizarding family set on reclaiming the amulet Han stole from them. And Mystwerk House has dangers of its own. There, Han meets Crow, a mysterious wizard who agrees to tutor Han in the darker parts of sorcery—but the bargain they make is one Han may regret.
Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna runs from a forced marriage in the Fells, accompanied by her friend Amon and his triple of cadets. Now, the safest place for Raisa is Wein House, the military academy at Oden’s Ford. If Raisa can pass as a regular student, Wein House will offer both sanctuary and the education Raisa needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen.
Everything changes when Han and Raisa’s paths cross, in this epic tale of uncertain friendships, cut-throat politics, and the irresistible power of attraction.
I felt rather ‘meh’ about the first book in this series, The Demon King and only gave it 3.5 stars. Still, I felt that I was sufficiently interested to buy the second book in the Seven Realms series. Why not give Cinda Williams Chima another try?
Good thing I did, though. It turns out that this second book in the series is actually quite a bit better than the first book. I felt that the plot was the weak point of the first novel because there were sections where it was really fast-paced and then it would drag on and on for several pages. That really wasn’t the case with The Exiled Queen, which was quite fast-paced throughout the nearly 600 pages of the story. There were places where the plot was slow, yes, but at least there was always that undercurrent of tension as both Raisa and Han were on the run.
I was really impressed with how the world-building was expanded. We learn so much more about the Demon King and his effects on the Seven Realms even a thousand years later. We also learn a lot more about magic: how it’s used, where it comes from, how flashpieces are created, etc. It’s really fascinating to see just how in depth the world-building in this story is. The first book gave me the impression it was an average fantasy world, but I’m definitely going to have to revise that opinion after reading this book.
The characters were just as good this time around. Raisa, for the first time in her life, is learning real hardship as she tries to make it as a soldier. It’s not easy for her because even though she’s not your stereotypical pampered princess, she has lived a life of luxury. Yes, she does a bit of complaining but she possesses enough self-awareness to tough it out and work just as hard as everyone else does at school. Han is definitely improving as a character as he becomes a true wizard. He’s powerful but is not above beginner mistakes and he’s well aware of his shortcomings compared to his peers at Mystwerk. I found myself liking Han more than Raisa this time around but both characters are very memorable.
Basically I’m not sure what went wrong with The Demon King, but The Exiled Queen is far better. Maybe it’s the change of scenery or the new maturity of the characters. Either way, this second book was way better and I can’t wait to read the third book.
I give this book 5/5 stars.