by Richelle Mead, fantasy (2009)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0097-6
Thorn Queen is the second book in Richelle Mead's Dark Swan series, the first book being Storm Born. Thorn Queen can serve very well as a standalone novel, however, because the plot in this book is not dependent on your familiarity with the previous book. It goes without saying, though, that you will most likely appreciate this book better if you have read the previous book. At any rate, please read the review of the previous book to get the 101s if you are new to the series.
Our heroine Eugenie Markham is now the Queen of the Thorn Lands after defeating the previous ruler by the end of the first book. In this book, she tries to solve the case of missing young gentry women - gentry being the name of the sidhe that live in the Otherworld - but this plot is just one of the many problems faced by Eugenie here. A loner who used to take care of only herself, she is now responsible for the well-being of the folks in her kingdom. More significantly, she is now truly torn between two worlds. As a shaman in our world, she banishes Otherworld folks - some of the very same folks that she rule over in the Otherworld. Raised to detest the gentry folks, she is now responsible for their welfare. Her land calls to her, her insecurities and fears with regard to her new life see her pushing back and away. If this is not tough enough for Eugenie, external factors interfere. Being the daughter of the Storm King, having inherited his great power (magical abilities are always hereditary in urban fantasy stories, after all), and being half-human and therefore more fertile than the full-blooded gentry woman, she and her reproductive ability are much sought after by many folks in the Otherworld.
And throughout it all, Eugenie will have to deal with harsh facts about the two men in her life. One, whom she has chosen to love, will suffocate her with his own fear of seeing her turn into her father. One, whom she fears as much as is attracted to, wants her to embrace her magic and her crown and become the Thorn Queen.
Thorn Queen is not an action-paced story, so you may want to adjust your expectations if you are expecting such a story. Instead, this is more of a coming-of-age story. One thing I always love about Richelle Mead's stories is that she is never afraid of putting her characters through difficult and even brutal situations - and trust me, I have a feeling you will really wince at some of the things Eugenie goes through here - and she respects her readers enough to let them argue, scream, and rage at her for putting her characters through those ordeals. The last two books in Ms Read's Georgina Kincaid series wring me dry of emotions, and this one is no different. By the last page, my emotions are in shambles, as if they are a house of cards that Ms Read has cheerfully torn down. And it feels really great.
Eugenie can be whiny and very indecisive here, but Ms Mead does a great job in letting me understand why Eugenie is that way. Heaven knows, if I were in her shoes, I'd probably be an emotional mess. Eugenie never had time to reconcile herself with how her life has changed and how the things she has believed in all her life have been turned upside down, so it makes sense to me that she is lost and confused. Throughout it all, she tries to be strong and keep her chin high, so it is heartbreaking when events conspire to break her. By the last page, however, Eugenie is showing sign of becoming stronger person.
As for Eugenie's love life, ouch. But I'm glad that Ms Mead seems to agree with me on which man is better for Eugenie at that point in her life. In this story, yes, love is pretty and love is beautiful, but there are many different ways a man can love you, and Eugenie learns in the end that sometimes love alone isn't enough. You need trust as well. Oh, don't worry, Ms Mead isn't that cynical. The man Eugenie ends up with - for now, I suspect - is unexpectedly romantic. I never knew he had such a cold-blooded streak in him, and the fact that he is willing to kill for the heroine makes him the more appealing hero of the two.
Very readable and often heartbreaking at places, Thorn Queen starts out like a typical urban fantasy story and ends up taking me on an emotional rollercoaster ride. I love how Ms Mead manages to capture the many facets of Eugenie here, using both her strengths and vulnerabilities to turn her into a real character in my eyes. And she does it with apparent ease too. Wherever Eugenie ends up from here, I'd love to follow her there.
This book at Amazon.com
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