Queenslayer

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

Spellslinger | Shadowblack | Charmcaster | Soulbinder

Queenslayer was written by Sebastien de Castell and first published in 2019. It is the fifth instalment of the Spellslinger series and tells the story of the continuing adventures of Kellen Argos and his business partner, Reichis the Squirrel Cat. The novel follows on shortly after Spellslinger (2017), Shadowblack (2017), Charmcaster (2018) and Soulbinder (2018) left off, so you really need to read the novels in sequence to fully appreciate them.

After unwittingly declaring treason against Darome, Kellen finds himself imprisoned and awaiting certain execution. However, as he is brought before the eleven-year-old Queen, he finds that fate has something else in store for him. Ginevra has supposedly inherited the souls of a thousand years of rulers, yet seems to be charmed by Kellen’s card playing. She names Kellen her new Tutor of Cards – a position that puts him above the law. Kellen is slow to realise that this places him in even more danger.

When Ginevra reaches the age of thirteen, she gains the full power of the throne. Sadly, there are some nobles in her court that do not wish for that to happen. Kellen soon realises that there is a delicacy to the proceedings within court. He is not in the Outlands anymore and instead is in a world where words have power and those who speak too loudly often meet with unfortunate accidents.

As Kellen is sent away to deal with a seemingly insignificant crime in a border town, he comes to realise just what a precarious position the queen is in. There are some who think that an eleven-year-old should not hold the throne and are willing to overthrow the entire city if it means ousting her from her position. Yet, as Kellen is approached once again by Shalla with a mission, he soon realises that the one to destroy Ginevra might well be him…

While I did enjoy this instalment more than I did Soulbinder, I unfortunately felt that it still shared many of the same problems. Once again, this is a story that solely focuses on Kellen and Reichis, with no appearances from the many female allies that he has left behind. As with the previous instalments, it begins with Kellen’s arrival in a new city and he soon becomes instrumental in preventing some great tragedy from unfolding.

That said, Queenslayer had a very different feel to the stories that came before. While perhaps not as action packed as previous instalments, it weaved a delicate tale of political intrigue. This time, Kellen finds himself in a situation where strength and magic are not enough to win out. High society in Darome is built around the ability to out-think your opponents and flatter the correct people. Unfortunately for Kellen, for all his wits at cards, he is still kind of dumb and so it takes him a long time to figure out how to correctly play this particular game,

Yet, as interesting as this concept may seem, it still had its fair share of issues. Unlike Kellen’s time spent in Gitabria in Charmcaster or the Jan’Tep city in Spellslinger, we don’t get to see much of Darome beyond the palace walls and so I never had a clear picture in my mind of what made it unique. The story also had an issue with maintaining is focus and therefore meandered for quite some time before it truly found its feet. While the plot did eventually catch up with Kellen, this was not until around 300 pages in, which is quite a long time for the reader to wait for threads to draw together. Yet, at this point, the story became difficult to put down. The climax was particularly thrilling, as Kellen is forced to stop fleeing and actually choose a side to defend.

However, I feel that I should warn potential readers that there were some aspects of Queenslayer that left a really bad taste in my mouth. While the series has not been entirely tame thus far, Queenslayer was notably darker than previous instalments. There was a lot more violence, gore and torture than I remember ever having happened previously, along with references made to child abuse, paedophilia and rape. One particularly prolonged scene of violence against an unnamed female character left me feeling particularly uncomfortable, even once this act had been “explained” later in the story. As I found this book to be a little difficult to read in places due to the content, I would strongly advise caution if you are sensitive to these themes or are planning on gifting this novel to a younger reader.

While I found the ultimate villain to be a little easy to spot, I did enjoy some of the twists and turns that the politics of Darome added to the story, as well as the frequent faux pas that Kellen made as he tried to make sense of them. Yet, I am still very concerned by how stand-alone the novels still feel at this stage. While Kellen does not walk off into the sunset this time, there was still a sense of disconnect and no real feeling that the series is building to anything. As there is only one novel left to go, I really would have expected for there to be a stronger thread connecting the last few instalments.

In terms of characterisation, Queenslayer shared many of the same problems that I have had with every instalment of this series to date. While Kellen fortunately doesn’t gain any more special powers, beyond the friendship of a queen, he is still annoyingly savvy. An entire army fails to combat a political coup, so it seems a bit unrealistic that a single card player can succeed unaided where they all fail. Despite constantly whining about how weak he is, Kellen even proves to be able to defeat powerful warriors in single combat time and time again.

While I generally am rather fond of Reichis, even he began to trouble me this time around. Due to the darker tone of the novel, the Squirrel Cat’s general bravado has been replaced by frequent acts of actual violence, making him surprisingly lethal to all who anger him. While I expect this is supposed to represent the increasing effect that the shadowblack has on him, it still made him a little less likeable as it’s hard to find a creature charming when it is frequently ripping out eyeballs.

The novel also, once again, introduced many new supporting characters that often died before they had chance to make any impression. While some limited growth was given to the likes of Mariadne, she shared the same issues as previous female leads. All of her tragic backstory was given through exposition and she was oddly attracted to Kellen on sight. Sadly, she also proved to be a very weak character as she was basically unable to do anything for herself without the protection of men.

The only real exception this time around was Ginevra, who proved to be a very interesting addition to the cast. Her old soul and worldliness formed a nice contrast to the fact that she had been forced into a terrible (and potentially fatal) position at a young age. You really did feel her desperation and her relationship with Kellen grew nicely as the story progressed. I really look forward to see where de Castell will take this in the final book

I think that about covers everything. All in all, Queenslayer was a bit of a mixed bag. While I thought it was stronger than Soulbinder, I’m a bit disappointed to say that no instalment of this series to date has been as strong as Spellslinger. Still, I’m in this for the long hall as I’m curious to see how the series will conclude when the final part is released later this year.

Queenslayer can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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