THE BORN QUEENA novel by Greg Keyes
(2008, Del Rey)
Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, book 4
Aspar tries to get his love to safety, while Stephen and Anne attempt to gain the ultimate power to save or destroy the world.
-- First reading (hardcover)
My thoughts strayed back to the first book in this series as I read this one. When I read The Briar King, it took me a long time to get used to the style of the writing, and its unusual terms for stuff we normally would come across (malend for windmill, among many others). The plots were mostly separate, which made them actually disparate, and the whole book seemed disjointed.Spoiler review:
As with the rest of the series, it is most practical to talk about the individual characters, and where the plot had finally led them.
We can start with Aspar, who had the absolutely most boring part of the entire book, and it took up endless pages. Recovering from his battle with Fend and the worm at the end of The Blood Knight, he feels that he needs to get moving, even though his Sefry caretaker thinks it is unwise, at least until Fend finds them and sends a hoard of creatures after them. They escape down a ravine, and then find some old friends, as well as a pregnant Winna. It occurs to the reader just a little before Aspar that Winna probably became pregnant at the same time as he visited that strange witch, and that she might not be carrying a human baby, especially given the way the other horrible creatures were born from otherwise normal animals. But the witch has other ideas, and puts a spell on him that compels him to bring Winna to the place where the worm died so she can have her child there. And she does, at the end of the book, but Aspar has already died, of a sort, and he might have even turned into the next Briar King. The baby seems to be human, but will probably grow into the next generation Briar King.
Stephen also does a lot of sitting around, followed by a lot of endless traveling. He has fallen in love with a woman from the last book, who loves him back, and finally decides to try and walk Virgenya's secret faneway, though he doesn't know where it is. When he finds it, he and his companions walk the magical way, yet only he can join with the spirit that already resides there, the remains of Kauron who walked the faneway before him. No wonder the author spent so much time making references to the Black Jester in the previous books. Kauron was him, and he puts so much of his soul in Stephen's body. Stephen seems to master the beast, which might be the ancient Skasloi that Anne freed in the last book -I'm not sure. They go off in search of Anne, because they want the magical throne she is after -and they plan to take the other thrones, as well. There is a cautionary tale here, which comes across as backstory that could have been spread over the other books. The Skasloi used the magic of the faneways once, but it destroyed the world, so they shut up that magic and found another, less invasive one, and brought life from another reality back to this one. It is not said if humans could use that magic or not.
Hespero murders the current head of the church, and pits Hansa against Crotheny in war, not that they needed much help. He, too, has amassed incredible magical powers, and wants Anne's magical throne. He actually kills Anne in a totally unexpected scene!
After Anne kisses Casio, and considers seducing him away from Austra, she suddenly sends him away, wanting him to be away from her when she sees magically that he could die if he stayed. However, the castle where he is sent is overrun before he gets there, and he is thrown into a dungeon. Before he can go mad, he is rescued by his old benefactor Z'Accato, who shows him around an incredible wine cellar he found. Together, they rescue Austra in her cart from the churchmen, and Cazio finds out the man who raised him was actually an incredible fighter, back when his father was alive. They defeat the churchmen, and return to the north, where they find Leoff the musician...
Leoff has been living in depression since he created that wonderful and dreadful song in The Blood Knight. Robert now has the song, and Mery has gone nearly crazy, as if she walks half in the world of the dead. So Leoff decides that he must be able to write a song that can heal the tear in the soul of the world, which can heal the rift. We don't get to see much of him, but he does complete it, at least, in time to kill Robert.
Robert, before this happens, kills Muriele, Anne's mother, whom Anne sent as an embassy to Hansa. Neil MqVren is sent as her escort, and finds the Hansan woman, Brinna, he briefly fell in love with in The Charnel Prince. She is a seer who has been thwarting Anne, because she knows that the world will endure a thousand years of hell if Anne takes the magical faneway throne. But it's also revealed that she was one of Anne's four Faiths, who were guiding her magic -it seems like a conflict of interest. When Muriele is killed, Brinna makes her way back to Crotheny with Neil, where she helps sing Leoff's magical song to heal the world.
Anne plays a somewhat capricious role in this book. First she is off on a jihad to eradicate the church, after which she returns to her castle. Then she takes the war to Hansa, using her powers of seeing to nearly eradicate the enemy before they use their own seer against her. That's probably the best part of the book, as Anne is confident and full of potential. But the army is afraid something will happen to her. The irony is that she is killed by Hespero after returning from the border. On the retreat, she finally musters the magical ability, and uses it to kill a vast number of soldiers. She starts falling in love (again) with another man, who is in line for the throne of Virgenya. She has an amusing thought about virginity, jealous that Austra gets to have fun, but she has to be more responsible! She considers just doing it to see what the fuss is all about.
When Anne gets hit by an arrow, she takes care of (meaning she kills) most of the Hansan army and heads back to the castle again, where Hespero kills her, and she almost takes his life, so powerful is she now in magic. The world seems to hold its breath, then, and the church surround the castle. Hespero and Stephen converge there, seeing that the throne is coming back into the world for the taking. They don't realize that Virgenya made it so that Anne would be the throne, and Austra is her vessel, since they both walked the first faneway together back in The Briar King.
So Anne comes back to life when brought near Austra, and she battles Stephen to a standstill. She defeats Hespero in the same way, in the magical world. The Briar King also shows up, in the guise of Aspar. The Kept Skasloi urges her to take the throne, which then he would take from her, and end up owning all the magical thrones. Instead, Anne is drawn back to reality by Austra, innocent Austra, who reminds her of who she used to be. Anne rejects the throne, welcomes the Briar King back, which sentences both Stephen and the Skasloi to nothingness, at the same time significantly reducing the power of magic in the world.
If these descriptions sound emotionless, it's because that's how I felt about them. Everything had to come into place at the right time, which is often a theme of fantasy worlds, but getting there took forever, and I didn't feel that the result was worth it. The stories felt quite disjointed, and the characters didn't grow as much as I would have hoped. But when you compare Anne to the person she was back in The Briar King, she has grown much more responsible, though she remains undisciplined at the same time.
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