The Queen of Sorrow


Sarah Beth Durst


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

March 11, 2020

he Queen of Sorrow is book three in the Queens of Renthia series, it is the final volume in the trilogy. When I started reading The Queen of Sorrow, I wondered if I had accidentally picked up book four. Durst refers to significant events that I don't remember happening in book 2 - Aratay fought a war with Semo? Queen Merecot led her spirits across the border, only for her invasion to be repelled by Queen Daleina and Queen Naelin? I did not remember these events, it made me think that I had missed a volume.

At the start of this novel, in the aftermath of the war, Queen Daleina and Queen Naelin are trying to repair their battered landscape. The trees and farms must be regrown. The towns and roads must be repaired. But before this vital work can begin, air spirits from Semo kidnap the two children of Queen Naelin - once again provoking war. Queen Naelin reacts in a fury, using her power control of the spirits to hurl them in an attack at the kingdom of Semo. But just as Queen Merecot cannot effectively command the spirits of Aratay, Queen Naelin can not command her spirits to overwhelm the Semo spirits. Naelin's counter-attack is brushed aside.

With all-out assault ruled out, the queens of Aratay decide on a diplomatic mission to Semo, to find out what Queen Merecot wants. Is a trap? Almost certainly, but what choice do the Aratayians have? Added to the expedition is the old crippled director of the Academy, Hanna - she plays a vital role on this political expedition. Despite her physical infirmities, Hanna is as sharp any of the other characters in this book. In fact, Durst might over do it with the robustness of her older women - in this book we meet Champion Ven's seventy-year old mother, a ranger who can still out fight seasoned men half her age. We also watch Hamon's diabolical old mother, Garnah, Chief-Poisoner in Aratay, as she schemes and plots in an over-the-top manner.

One of the things I admire about this book is that Durst shows us what motivates Merecot. Queen Merecot isn't just a villian who does nasty things to our heroines for the sake of moving the plot forward - Merecot actually sees herself on a vital mission to save all of Renthia. Merecot believes she must take desperate actions, however ruthless they seem, for the sake of the greater good. I like this thoughtful of plotting and character develop - everyone should have reasons and motivations for what they do, but too many times the villians in novels seem to act solely and unbelievably to create obstacles for the stalwart hero.

Another thing I like about this fine novel is that Durst has clearly thought long and hard about her world and how it works. Given a world of spirits, that control fire, air, trees and earth, how would that effect the workings of the world? Durst goes for big topics: how did the world form? Can it be changed (as Queen Merecot proposes to do)? What is the meaning of the untamed lands?

Durst has a deft hand at characterization. I think Merecot and Daleina are wonderfully portrayed, as each tries to do what is best for their respective kingdoms. Daleina especially comes through as courageous and compassionate, the reader can't help but root for her to succeed. I also liked the intrigue as the Queens calculate and maneuver for advantage? Can they trust someone? Who should they betray?

****Spoilers below****

Don't read these last paragraphs until after you've read the trilogy. The novels are fun to read, I recommend them! But I find myself thinking about the world that Durst has described, and these questions arise. I wonder if I should send an email to Durst...

Once ex-Queen Jastra has abdicated, how does she have any control left of the spirits of Semo? I imagine that giving the air spirits commands to enter the untamed lands with the two kidnapped children would take considerable power, and Jastra should have none? Yet when Merecot allows the spirits to attack Jastra, Jastra has no ability to command the spirits to stem their attack.

Why doesn't Queen Jastra simply order the spirits to slay the two children? Why bother carrying them to the untamed lands at all?

I hadn't really thought about the spirits population until Queen Merecot revealed that Semo had too many spirits, and not enough land for them all. Don't spirits perish in their endless fights with humanity? It seems to me that over the course of time, their numbers would diminsh - after all, the war between Semo and Aratay left many bare spots because of dead/missing spirits. So either the spirits numbers have been dwindling over the centuries due to fatal confrontations with humans, or else the spirits can reproduce, in which case only the wars with humanity can keep their numbers in check.

Once Queen Daleina abdicts, how is it that she has any power to sever Queen Merecot's connections to the spirits? Daleina can even sever the connections between Merecot and the Semo spirits. If Daleina can sever the connections, then Queen Merecot should have been able to use the same trick against the Aratay queens, but with more power. There was never any need for Merecot to assassinate Daleina or Naelin, simply sever their spirit connections and control all the spirits herself.

I see that Durst has now published an additional stand-alone novel, The Deepest Blue, set in the same Renthia world. I liked the trilogy well enough that I will probably try to track that book down as well.

The paintings for the hard cover editions of the Queens of Renthia are by Stephan Martiniere, and I think they are quite good. The cover art may be what drew my eye to the books in the first place, when I picked The Queen of Blood off of the shelf.