Review: Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. And, in the grand tradition of being the worst book blogger ever, I procrastinated finishing it until, you know, the actual book was already out.

I’m not sure what about this book made it take so long to get through. It’s not a long book by any means. Nor is it a bad book. Certainly, I loved the first book, and eagerly anticipated the sequel. I was thrilled when I was selected to receive an early copy. But something about this book failed to grab me the way the first one did. But more about that later.

Warning: This review contains MAJOR spoilers for the first book, The Armored Saint. If you haven’t read that book and want to, close your browser tab and walk away now

Plot

After narrowly defeating a devil with the help of a suit of medieval-steampunk mecha armor, Heloise is hailed as a legendary Palantine Saint. But not everyone in her town is so convinced of her sainthood. Heloise has already lost her home, her hand, and the love of her life. But as she leads her scared and reluctant villagers in uprising against the corrupt Order, she will soon find she is about to lose much more.

Thoughts

Okay so there were a lot of things I did enjoy about this book. The action scenes were realistic and gripping. Cole obviously knows a lot about historical combat, but he conveyed his knowledge in such a way that it didn’t come across as “showing off” or at the expense of tension. I also liked reading more about the setting, the world outside the small village where the characters came from, and cultures other than the Empire. I especially liked reading about the Traveling People and how they interacted with Heloise and her villagers.

However, I felt The Queen of Crows was lacking compared to the first book when it came to character development. I really enjoyed reading about Heloise in the first book, her hopes and her fears, and how she finds her courage. I think my favorite part of the first book was the interactions between Heloise and her best friend and secret crush, Basina. Unfortunately, since Basina dies at the end of The Armored Saint, there’s no chance of that continuing in the sequel. Cole does attempt to introduce a new love interest and an unwanted love triangle, but it was, in my opinion, clumsily done and didn’t add much to the story.

Ultimately however I thought most of the characters were reduced to one or two personality traits. Heloise’s father wants to protect and shelter his daughter. The village tinker wants to worship her as a religious figure. Poch and Sald want to grumble and complain and disparage like a grimdark version of those two old guys in the Muppet Show.

Heloise herself was a bit frustrating to read about this time around, due to her single-minded desire to defy the order against all common sense. This one-sidedness, compared to the first book, made even this short novella slightly tedious to read.

Cole was obviously going for the grimdark moral lesson of, “If you’re not careful you’ll become just like who you’re fighting against.” But it felt very heavy-handed, not so much a theme as a glowing neon sign glaring in the reader’s face.

I think the biggest disappointment with this book, however, is that the metaphorical elephant in the room is never addressed. At the end of The Armored Saint, it is revealed that magic can, in fact, lead to the summoning of devils, and that the Order is at least partially justified in their zealotry. However, despite seeing this firsthand, despite losing her best friend and would-be lover to it, Heloise plows full-steam ahead in her quest to overthrow the Order. It would be okay if they at least acknowledged, “Hey, wow, the Order has a point, but we still hate their methods, so let’s rise up in rebellion anyway.” But nobody does that. The closest we get is when Heloise expresses some apprehension when one of the Travelling People heals her with magic, and the healer says, “Nah, it’s okay, we’re careful.”

In the end, though, it seems Heloise considers the Order to bear the brunt of the blame for Basina’s death, even though it was very much the devil, summoned with magic, which the Order tried to prevent, who is actually at fault. And that is never acknowledged.

I know this review sounds like I hated the book, and I don’t mean for it to sound like that at all. There were, as I said above, many good things about it. However after how gripping and excellent I found the first book to be, this one did come as something of a disappointment.

Overall Rating

3/5

Who Will Like This Book

  • Fans of realistic siege warfare and epic battles
  • People who like moral ambiguity and difficult decisions
  • People who really liked the first book and want to know what happens

Who May Not Like This Book

  • People who enjoy lighter, non-grimdark fantasy
  • People who prefer slower-burn, character-driven fantasy
  • People who prefer longer books

Reddit Fantasy 2018 Bingo Squares

  • Reviewed on r/fantasy (it is now!)
  • Published in 2018
  • LBGTQ database

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