Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “I had no desire to become someone else’s puppet…”
Lady Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair, heir to the throne, went to live with relatives in the royal court of Bellona after her parents were assassinated. Thought to have no magic, she is regulated to a life little above a servant. When her cousin, the crown princess, stages a coup; assassinating her mother the queen and the entire royal family, Evie fights her way out of the castle and ends up with a traveling gladiator troupe. In hiding and unsure of what to do, Evie finds herself at a crossroad when she learns that she may be the only thing to stand between the people of Bellona and war. Taking her destiny in hand, Evie, with the help of a skilled mage and a stable of fierce warriors, fights to take back the crown.
Jennifer Estep plunges headfirst into a fantasy based adventure revolving around a kingdom on the brink of war and a reluctant heroine who is forced to step up and defend her heritage. Action, intrigue, suspense, revenge, and a small romance greets readers as they step into Estep’s new world. A talented urban fantasy author, Esteps creates characters and uncomplicated worlds that appeal to the average reader. Her heroines are often loners, usually due to the loss of a parental figure in their youth that inevitably forges them into a weapon for good. They may be damaged but they aren’t broken. Survivors; they are often reluctant to involve themselves in the politics of others. Estep puts them through their paces, using their experiences to strip them down to their soul and rebuilds them into formidable individuals. Add in some creative world-building, solid plotlines, and a personable cast of secondary characters and you have a story with many possibilities.
Heavily character is driven, the themes of this book are change, growth, and possibility; as is the majority of Estep’s books. Estep creates characters who aren’t always likable or easy to relate too. She gradually chips away at their shells to reveal their heart and only then is their true potential. Our heroine Evie is the ultimate Estep heroine. A somewhat younger version of Gin from her assassin series, Evie has the darkness that Gin has but not as much compassion and doesn’t question her decisions as much. An orphan loner who has been shuffled to the side, ignored and bullied by her family. She has much to hide, being forced to live in the royal court that consumes a steady diet of betrayal, deception, and greed. Forced to seek out friendship from other servants, she creates some unusual allies whose strengths are revealed as the story progresses.
Evie’s growth comes in waves. I like the fact Estep doesn’t force her into the position of savor but rather allows Evie to find her own path. She is cautious, prickly, and doesn’t trust easily. She discovers family isn’t always birthed by blood and that honor, loyalty, and responsibility can be heavy burdens to carry. Burdens she questions even wanting. Forced to face some uncomfortable truths about herself, she discovers she can no longer hide in the shadows. The time to embrace her fate is upon her. And embrace it she does but as always, there is always more to the story. A resolved main conflict ends the story on a high not but creates multiple avenues of discovery as the arc continues to build.
While I enjoyed this book, I did find it not much different from Estep’s other books in terms of set up, characteristics and certain main elements. The royalty and gladiator/circus themes were different (and enjoyable) but other than that, not much new is seen. The usual reveals with repetitive emphasis on food, the lonely orphaned heroine, the reluctant champion, and female bully, and a romantic interest with a secret that prevents him from committing fully. I would really love to see Estep step completely out of her comfort zone. She is so talented and I think she has the ability to create something big outside this subgenre.
Regardless of issues I feel need to be addressed, I did enjoy the story overall. Estep has once again penned a female-centric action fueled fantasy whose hints of darkness and violence are tempered by humor and light. I look forward to visiting this world again. Book two, Protect the Prince, is set to release July 2, 2019.