March of the Sequels: A Kingdom for a Stage by Heidi Heilig

Jetta is a wanted criminal. The army wants her for treason against the crown, for the sabotage of Hell’s Court temple, and for the murder of General Legarde. They also want her for the power in her blood―the magic that captures wandering spirits to give life to puppets, to rocks, to paper . . . to weapons. They’re willing to trade the elixir that treats Jetta’s madness for the use of her blood. The rebels want her, too, to help them reclaim their country. Jetta may be the one who can tip the scales in this war.
But Jetta fears using her power will make her too much like Le Trépas, the terrifying and tyrannical necromancer who once held all Chakrana under his thumb―and who is Jetta’s biological father. She’s already raised her brother from the dead, after all. And scared off Leo, the only person who saw her as she truly is. With Le Trépas at large and a clash between the army and the rebels becoming inevitable, Jetta will have to decide if saving her country is worth sacrificing her soul. (Taken from Amazon)

There are spoilers for For a Muse of Fire (first in the series) below. You can find my review for that book here.

**Here Be Spoilers**

       Oh man, I loved this book! From the plot-line to the characters, everything was done well. It was a worthy sequel to For a Muse of Fire.

Jetta is a great character. She’s tough without being cold and emotionless. In fact, her emotions are a big part of what makes her so tough. She has an illness that is most definitely bipolar (as confirmed by the author). I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but books that feature mental illness with consideration and respect automatically get extra points from me. This one in particular means a lot, since I also have bipolar. It is a mental illness that is rarely represented in YA, and even more rarely mentioned in the fantasy genre. Heidi Heilig’s choice to not only feature it in a fantasy, but to show both the positive and negative aspects of it is pretty stinking cool. But I digress.

In this book, Jetta has been offered a medication that will help with her illness, in exchange for the use of her blood by the crown. Whoever uses the blood can bind souls to inanimate objects, essentially animating-and controlling-them. The crown wants to use her power as a weapon against the rebels, who Jetta sympathizes with.

The rebels also want to use Jetta. Meanwhile, she’s afraid to use her power at all, worrying that it will make her like her biological father. He’s a monstrous necromancer, and everyone is afraid of what would happen if he- or another like him- came to power.

Of course, there’s also ye random romantic entanglement with Leo, another rebel. I’m not a huge fan of their relationship because it often came across as an unnecessary distraction from the rest of the plot, but I admittedly don’t like most dramatic bookish relationships.

I liked that Heilig didn’t pull punches. I was justifiably concerned about what would happen to some of the characters in the book. I like when an author gives things a sense of urgency, and she does that very well. I raced through this book, enjoying every moment of it.

I feel like this series is very underrated and deserves way more hype. It’s well-written and fast-paced, with memorable characters and an interesting plot. The mental illness representation just pushes it even higher in my esteem. I highly recommend this book.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

March of the Sequels- Interview with Rob Edwards

Today I am grateful to be talking about sequels with author Rob Edwards. His book, The Crossover Paradox, which is a sequel to The Ascension Machine, is available now. You can find my review here.

Thank you for joining me! Will you talk a little about your series and its upcoming sequel?

Thanks for having me back! Sure thing. The Justice Academy series follows teenage grifter Grey through his studies at the eponymous college for alien superheroes. It’s a scifi superhero adventure about found family, identity, truth and proper maintenance of your grapnel gun.

I’ve always envisioned it as a trilogy. The Ascension Machine is about Grey, alone, learning to work with others. Book two, The Crossover Paradox, is about unlikely team-ups. Book three… is yet to be written, but there’s a progression we’re following, for sure.

Bad things happen to and around Grey, but at its heart the series is (I hope), fun, light-hearted and exciting.

Do you find that most readers will continue to read the series?

Time will tell! This is my first foray into a sequel novel. I know a lot of people have been excited for book two to arrive, and I hope that converts into sales. If I had to guess… I think it’s inevitable you lose a percentage of readers for subsequent books in the series. The aim is to keep the retention level up.

I think received wisdom is that the arrival of book two will have a positive impact on sales of the first book in the series, at least.

Why do you think that is?

I think book buying habits have changed over the last few years. A writer friend of mine made a good point to me a while back, she said the number of people who stumble across book two of a series first has dropped dramatically. 

There are still people who find interesting books by browsing their local bookstore’s shelves, of course, and might gamble on a sequel that catches their eye. But so many book sales come from on-line stores now, particularly for independent books. Love it or hate it, buying books on-line makes it super easy to find the first book in a series. Even if you do stumble across book two of a series first, book one is usually only a click away. 

Book two raises the profile of the series as a whole, but most people will want to start from the start.

Is it easier to fully develop characters that you have already written in previous books?

Yes and no. On one level, sitting down to write book two, I already had a pretty clear idea who my characters are, what their voices sound like to me, what they want from life. I’m starting from a very different place than at the start of The Ascension Machine, but that’s true for my characters too. Grey’s found family is, well, found. There would be no point telling that story again. For The Crossover Paradox the question became what next? For Grey the problem is no longer not having a place to belong, and has become the consequences of having people around that rely upon him. It’s new ground for him, and it’s what keeps it interesting for me. Grey is still growing, still changing, and there are new discoveries (and a backslide or two) for him to deal with in the sequel.

How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into relationships that have already been established in the first book?

The main problem I had is that my cast was already so big! Adding a new set of characters into the mix was quite a daunting task. Still, the principle that each book of the series is set during a new year at the Justice Academy let me think back to the start of my second year at university (a long time ago, into the last millennium!). We were a close-knit group of friends in my first year, but as new students arrived, some of those relationships shifted, different priorities emerged, some brought us closer together, some took us further apart. It’s just life, and that’s what I wanted to capture in The Crossover Paradox.

Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world that you have already created in book one?

Well, I get to cheat a little. The galaxy in my series has thousands of populated worlds, so if I’m having problems with some established worldbuilding, I can just shift the action to another world. No, but so far, it’s not been a problem for me. The main beats of the trilogy have been in my head since before I wrote the first word of The Ascension Machine, and as long as I’m sticking to that path, I’m happy to adapt and work around. There are certain places, people and organizations that I mentioned in book one because I knew I’d need them in later books, so it’s fun to start paying them off in The Crossover Paradox. And to plant a few more things for book three of course.

Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book one that is very inconvenient to deal with in subsequent books?

Not really. I did have a couple of moments of the opposite, where I realised I’d already written something in the first book that I could totally steal and use in the second.

Not quite what you were asking but there were a few things in book two that did give me pause for another reason.

For example, the main tower of the Justice Academy. When I came to describe some scenes in book two, I found my notes were not as detailed as I’d hoped. I had to scour book one again to find any references to its entry hall to make sure I didn’t contradict anything. And then I found myself starting a spreadsheet to note what was on various floors so I could keep details straight in this book and the next. 

I do love a good spreadsheet.

Have you noticed your craft improving from book one through subsequent books in a series? If so, how?

Gosh. I’m not sure that’s for me to judge. You tell me! 

I will say I felt I was writing more confidently this time. I’d proved I could start and finish a whole novel already, so doing it again was less daunting. I’d like to think I’d learned some lessons too. One bad habit my developmental editor had to drum out of me in book one, was not to undercut my own stakes. I’d like to think that people didn’t see much of that in the finished product of The Ascension Machine because my editors helped me with it. And won’t see it in The Crossover Paradox because I’ve learned my lesson. Certainly, my editors and beta readers didn’t highlight it as a problem this time around.

Do you plan out the entire series at once?  Or do you plan one book at a time?

I thank you for the suggestion that I plan things! Actually, in this case, I did have at least a concept in my head for the whole trilogy before I started. I think calling it a plan would be overstating it somewhat, but I knew my direction of travel at least. I also know that Grey is a con artist and habitual liar and that the books are told first person, so, there’s that.

I’m actually somewhat intimidated by writing book three because it needs to pay off things I’ve been dropping hints about since the very first line of book one. There are a couple of moments that don’t make sense in the first two books until you get later revelations. Most people won’t spot them, but they make me happy knowing they are there. And that much planning of this series was completely necessary. There are probably other parts which don’t make sense because they just don’t make sense, of course. But if we all pretend that’s me playing mind games, that would be nice.

Still, outside of the metaplot, I do tend to just bumble around seeing what happens in the book I’m currently writing.

Do your characters ever surprise you, causing you to change previously planned-out details or plotlines?

Not often. Twice in the first book, once in the second. In The Ascension Machine, I had one character surprise me by existing. Lucy, also known as Sky Diamond, was not in my original concept of the series, but she turned up during the editorial process of The Ascension Machine, and now she’s a really important part of the story. The revelation that one of my cast was a librarian before coming to the Academy – which written like that doesn’t feel like much of a revelation, but really helped me understand the character better – surprised me. In The Crossover Paradox, there is a moment near the end of the book that surprised me. I won’t say what, for obvious reasons. I will say I’m not talking about the very end of the book, that’s been part of the story since day one.

Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing to get the completed story?

Oh, the trauma I had about this! I went back and forth on this question so many times. Also, how much of a recap of book one is needed in book two for people who haven’t read the first one in a hot minute? How much do I need to describe what a Welatak looks like again?

Where I’ve come down is that the book is readable as a standalone, you do get a complete story in there, but some aspects will have more weight if you’re coming from book one.

I’ve tried to keep the story in each book as a separate thing. Book one is a story about a long con. It’s a heist, with all that brings with it. Book two is a murder mystery, or at least happily wears the trappings of one. Book three is… not written yet.

Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?

Let’s say I’ll be scouring other March of the Sequels interviews for suggestions. Do all the things you did for book one, though hopefully you have some contacts you can speak with this time around.

I guess, remind people that book one exists (that’s The Ascension Machine, available now!) on the run-up to book two’s release. And then remind people that book two is coming. (It’s called The Crossover Paradox).

March of the Sequels: Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

For today’s March of the Sequels offering, I have Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold. This is the sequel to The Last Smile in Sunder City, which I loved. You can find my review for book one here. March of the Sequels is spearheaded by the awesome blog, Sue’s Musings.

Fetch Philips has nothing left to believe in. Which is why he’s surprised when the people of Sunder City start to believe in him

Rumour has it that Fetch is only one who can bring magic back into the world. So when a man is murdered in a way that can only be explained as magical, Fetch is brought in on the case. A case which just might unearth things best left buried…

This sequel to The Last Smile in Sunder City follows the adventures of Fetch Phillips – a character destined to be loved by readers of Ben Aaronovitch, Jim Butcher and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. (Taken from Amazon)

Dead Man in a Ditch picks up pretty much right after the end of book one. I expected this series to be rather episodic, to be honest, each book being a case that Fetch Phillips finds himself caught up in. Instead, the series has a continuing storyline, back stories are explored, new characters are introduced, and surprises are revealed.

Sunder City is full of grime, violence, and a fair hint of desperation. So is Fetch Phillips. They make for an excellent match. This city is full of once-magical creatures who are struggling to get by in a post-magic world. One of the many things I loved is how author Luke Arnold explores how it would feel for a being who is mostly magic to be bereft of it. His narrative voice is fantastic. There’s a Sam Spade feel to it, although Fetch has become much more introspective than he was in book one. This evolution of character feels natural and makes perfect sense in the story.

Fetch Phillips’ latest tangle (I’d say “case,” but it gets out of hand much too quickly to qualify as one) involves magic. It shouldn’t: it’s been established that all the magic is gone. However, someone seems to have missed the memo. Fetch finds himself trying to solve a murder and figure out if- and how – the magic is actually returning.

I love how delightfully madcap this book is. Running through it is more of Fetch’s backstory, and some serious character development. We get a closer look at this new, messed up, magic-free world. I’m annoyed at the author: he had me tearing up over the fate of a unicorn.  Grr!  I became so invested in this book, I had to stop myself from rereading it as soon as I finished the last page.

I would say that the tone of this book is more serious than the first book, but not so much that reading it is a downer. Rather, it draws you in. The stakes are higher and the fate of many hinges on decisions made by a small few. It’s kind of messed up, actually. I’m sure Fetch would agree.

This is a fantasy like no other. It’s gritty and dark, but still has an undercurrent of hope running through it. It showcases how wonderfully broad the fantasy genre really is. I loved every moment of it.  If you haven’t started this series yet, you need to make it a priority. Just go ahead and shift it right up to the top of your “to be read” pile. I guarantee you’ll love it too.

The Crossover Paradox by Rob Edwards

For March of the Sequels (a fantastic event created by Sue’s Musings), I’m excited to be reviewing The Crossover Paradox by Rob Edwards, book two in the Justic Academy series.

Return to the Justice Academy, the galaxy’s premier college for superheroes!

Back for his second year, Grey wants nothing more than to spend time with his friends and maybe take a class or two. A normal student life. Instead, Grey’s friends are all distracted by their own problems and somebody is trying to break his nemesis out of jail.

When tragedy strikes the Academy, Grey finds himself stuck between the roles of investigator and prime suspect. Chased across the galaxy and back, Grey must face a dark secret from the Academy’s past. Grey cannot hope to defeat it alone, but cut off from his friends, can he trust an unexpected crossover?

That paradox alone could kill him. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Crossover Paradox will be available for purchase on March 8th. I will do my best to avoid giving spoilers, but it is a sequel, so there is a slight possibility that something will sneak through. You’ve been fairly warned.

I loved The Ascension Machine, book one in the Justic Academy series. You can find my review for book one here. Book two continued on excellently, with new obstacles to overcome and even bigger danger. The Crossover Paradox raised the stakes and never let up on the gas.

The main character, Grey, is a roguish character who is trying to make a clean try after lying to everyone for the majority of the previous year. He is back at the Justic Academy, under his own name (well-not really, but that’s a mystery yet to be solved), ready to put the last year behind him. Unfortunately, someone has other plans. When someone is murdered, it is up to Grey and his group of friends to find the real killer- before Grey takes the fall for a crime he didn’t commit.

The story went in unexpected ways, keeping me invested and highly entertained. I loved seeing how smart Grey was, and the way his unconventional past aids him in the situations he finds himself in. He’s such a great character! For a mostly reformed conman, he has a strong sense of right and wrong which I loved. I’m all about the morally complicated characters, but I really do love a character who is more good than not. He’s an easy character to root for.

The Crossover Paradox introduces a few new characters, but some of the original group see less time. While I missed one of the characters (no names given), there was major setup for a future storyline involving him that I’m both excited and scared for. The rest of the supporting cast, so to speak, continued to elevate the book and take it in new directions. I loved that they were all important throughout the book and each character could offer something unique.

This book is meant for middle grade readers and did a great job of remembering that. While there is some violence and a bit of romance, it avoided going over the top with either. Instead, author Rob Edwards balanced each element of the book and tied it all together wonderfully. At the same time, there was a real sense of danger and no character was “safe”, which added to the enjoyment of the book. The Crossover Paradox is a fantastic continuation of the Justice Academy series, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

March of the Sequels: Interview with Ricardo Victoria

March is a month-long celebration of great sequels, organized by the great blog, Sue’s Musings. Today I’m happy to be able to talk with Ricardo Victoria, author of The Tempest Blades series. Both book one titled The Withered King and its sequel, The Cursed Titans, are available now.

Thank you for joining me!

Thank you for having me again on your blog. I even brought my own coffee mug this time.

Smart! Coffee is the stuff of life. Will you talk a little about your series, particularly the sequel?

Ah! The most difficult question you can ask a writer. Quoting myself, in general Tempest Blades is a series of stories where the characters have to learn to deal and work through their personal struggles on par of them going into adventures that put them in the position of saving the world –a world where magic and science coexist-. 

Each book has several POV, but each one has a main POV, which is centered on one of my main 3 characters: Fionn, Gaby and Alex, are blessed or cursed –depending on whom you ask- with the Gift, which grants them special superhuman abilities. The first book centered about Fionn learning to accept his past, learning to move on and recognizing that he was getting a 2nd chance at life, while saving the world and mentoring a new generation of heroes. The second focus around the consequences for all characters after the events of the first book, and in particular the struggles with depression that Alex undergoes and that were exacerbated by the past events. So while he tries to save a city from a villainous monster, he pushes himself beyond what’s healthy and there are consequences of that. The way things happen on the book set in motion larger events for the next two. Apologies for being a bit vague, but I’m trying to keep this spoiler free.

Do you find that it is difficult for readers to continue a series? Why do you think that is?

Kinda, there are several factors at play that can make a reader stop following a saga. Finances are one, not everybody can afford to keep buying books from a really long series (although Public Libraries are a godsend in that case. Sidenote: support your local Library if you have one). Other is interest, the longer a series grow, if the readers feel there is no real sense of progression, that things are stalling, padded, then they are more likely to drop it. 

And then there is the elephant in the room: authors that take so long between books –if they ever release the next one- that readers feel like they will never see the end of a story, especially when the author is a well-known pantser. I mean, I’m not going to attack a fellow author for taking so long between books, because that can happen for multiple reasons (although I find that less defensible if they are full-time authors, as those who has a day job have to juggle a lot of things in order to write and yet they manage to do it). And we all are well acquainted with Gaiman’s comment of “Martin is not your bitch”, regarding readers’ entitlement. Regardless, I don’t blame readers from dropping incomplete series that don’t seem to make progress for the next release. My beta reader for example, refuses to buy any new book by certain famous author, because he hasn’t finished his main series and the last book came out almost a decade ago. I can understand that feeling. It’s like never being able to watch Avenger Endgame and get closure for the Infinity saga because Marvel decides to produce another X-Men movie without finishing the saga first.

Finally, is the daunting task of tackling a large series from the start, moreover when the books are doorstoppers. It’s kinda like asking an anime fan to watch One Piece from the start, with 1000+ episodes to go. And One Piece has no filler episode, all are relevant to the plot!

Is it easier to fully develop characters that you have already written in previous books?

Oh yes. The sequel allows you to build upon the previously shown aspects, dwell more on what makes them tick. Especially since the first book of a series is often an introductory book to a large plot so we get at times a cursory glimpse at who the character is. Sequels allow you to explore that, to even change the main POV to see how things are perceived by them.

How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into relationships that have already been established in the first book?

It’s like introducing a new friend to your old friend group, or like adding a new player to your ongoing-for-years D&D campaign.  It’s far from impossible, but the new character has to adjust to the already establishes dynamic –unless it is introduced to disrupt said dynamic- there are inside jokes, shorthands, shared experiences to which the new character has to be introduced. But since the reader is in a way already part of that already established group, you need to be careful with not repeating much information that has been already given.

That makes perfect sense! Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world that you have already created in book one?

It depends, if you are like me, someone who enjoys worldbuidling but has the memory of a shrimp for most things, yes it can be hard to keep track of your own continuity and timeline. There are times when I wish Tempest Blades had its own fan wikia, it would make my life easier. No, really, I need one. Please!

Leaving that aside, sequels are a godsend for worldbuilders because they allow you to showcase more of your fictional world, to come up with more and more interesting details, or simply rescue stuff you had to cut from the previous one due space and flow.

Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book one that is very inconvenient to deal with in subsequent books?

Have I? I’m staring at a couple of them as we speak, cursing at myself from the past. I’m planning to solve them through unreliable narrators and self-deprecating jokes. Thankfully my editor and my beta reader are really helpful with those things and have advised me on how to use them to enhance the original plot.

Have you noticed your craft improving from book one through subsequent books in a series? If so, how?

Yes. As I get to better know my characters and my world, I can focus more on the finer details of the plot. Also, I feel like I write with more fluidity and with better grasp of the subtleties of the language, which in my case I hope is more noticeable given than I’m writing in my second language.

Do you plan out the entire series at once?  Or do you plan one book at a time?

A bit of both. Tempest Blades is my first series so I can’t about entire series in plural. For this one I had a long arc –just the general ideas, not a full plan with details- but decided to take one bit that could work as a single book write it, and see if it got published and if it worked. Once my publisher got onboard with the idea of a series, I took the next bit of that general idea and wrote the second book, with the idea that if it didn’t work, I wouldn’t leave many open threads. Then the discussion for a third book came and by then I realized that a) I don’t want to spend my whole life dedicated to a single series in particular and b) I want to finish this one in a reasonable time so this time I did planned most of the final two books ahead, so once I finish writing the 3rd, I take a brief break and start writing 4th right away. This time I even did a chapter break for each one of those two.

Side note, originally I was going to finish the series in 3 books, totaling 5. But I decided to merge two of them as I didn’t feel I had enough ideas for 5 long books, or that the story could be expanded that much.

Do your characters ever surprise you, causing you to change previously planned-out details or plotlines?

Yeah, in big ways *stares at Sid*. But that’s part of the fun of this. I even discovered things I have never ever considered about the lives of 2 of my characters previous to the books that actually make sense on how they act around each other, and more about the personal life of a third one. And then there is Sid that has this knack to find ways to interject himself in the plot that is not his.

 Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing to get the completed story?

My approach with this series at least is to emulate the MCU model: each book is a standalone, but at the same time is part of a larger plot, with the final book probably being the only one that can’t be a standalone but still can be read if you have the basic grasp of what’s going on.

Originally, I wanted to make something like Sir Terry Pratchett did with Discworld, but I’m nowhere as good as a writer as he was.

Do parts of your books ever reflect what is going on either in your life or in the world at the time of writing?

Some bits, yes. When it comes to real world events, yes there is some inspiration drawn from there. But when it comes to stuff from my life, they come from previous experiences or my long term dealings with some issues, such as depression.

The way you tackled mental illness is one of the things I really enjoyed about The Cursed Titans.

Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?

To be honest, not really, I’m learning this on the way. I guess draw on the aspects that readers liked of the first one to amp the next one.

About the author:

Ricardo Victoria is a Mexican writer with a Ph.D. in Design –with an emphasis in sustainability- from Loughborough University, and a love of fiction, board games, comic books, and action figures. He lives in Toluca, Mexico with his wife and pets, working works as a full-time lecturer and researcher at the local university. He writes mainly science fantasy.

His first novel, Tempest Blades: The Withered King, was released in August 2019 by Shadow Dragon Press, an imprint of Artemesia Publishing. The sequel, Tempest Blades: Cursed Titans was released in July  2021. He is currently working on the third book of the saga. He has a number of stories published by Inklings Press, and other indie outlets, and has collaborated with the horror podcast The Wicked Library.

His short story Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, jointly written with Brent A. Harris, was nominated for a Sidewise Award for short-form alternative history. He co-authored a chapter (No elf is an island. Understanding worldbuilding through system thinking) for the book “Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, currently nominated for the BSFA.

You can find out more at his website, http://ricardovictoriau.com, or follow him on Twitter, @Winged_Leo

Purchase Links:

Amazon: The Tempest Blades

Publisher’s Site: The Tempest Blades

March of the Sequels: The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

During March we are enjoying March of the Sequels, a monthlong challenge issued by Sue’s Musings. Basically, the challenge is to read (and review, if you’re a reviewer) more sequels.

Filled with political intrigue, violent magic, and malevolent spirits, the mesmerizing second book in Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia epic fantasy trilogy that started with the award-winning The Queen of Blood.
Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .
And those spirits want to kill you.
It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.
Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.
Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.
But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.
Sarah Beth Durst established a place of dark wonder in The Queen of Blood, and now the stakes are even higher as the threat to the Queen and her people grows both from within and beyond the borders of Aratay in this riveting second novel of the Queens of Renthia series. (taken from Amazon)

The Reluctant Queen is available now. It is the sequel to The Queen of Blood, so there will be some slight spoilers for book one which I’ll try to keep as minimal as possible. You can find my review for Queen of Blood here.

The Reluctant Queen is an engrossing addition to the Queens of Renthia trilogy. The story continues in a way that I did not expect, but which makes perfect sense. Daleina has some disturbing news: she’s dying. As queen, she alone has the power to command the spirits that inhabit the land, to keep them from destroying everyone in Renthia. Without a queen, the lives of each human are forfeit. Daleina sends her champions (think King Arthur’s knights) to hopefully find and train an heir-because time is running out.

Here’s where things get complicated: Ven, the champion that trained Daleina, does find a candidate- one who is more powerful than anyone he’s ever seen. Naelin, who hides this power, is a mother focused on raising two healthy, happy children. She has no interest in traipsing off to be trained to use her power, and she definitely doesn’t want to become a queen. However, she might not have a choice: other candidates are mysteriously dying and things aren’t necessarily what they seem.

Being a mom myself, I loved Naelin. She knew where her priorities were and she made no bones about it. I felt horrible for her when she realized that the only way to protect her kids was to learn to protect everyone. Naelin’s kids were her whole world, and it was gut-wrenching when they were in danger as a direct result of her power.

This book moved a little more slowly during the first half, but it was never boring. The character development was fantastic. I loved getting to know more about Champion Ven, who grew in leaps and bounds between book one and the end of book two. There was an entirely new facet of his character revealed that added an extra layer of humanity to the plotline.

Sometimes in fantasy books, child characters are either incredibly annoying, or incredibly one dimensional. Neither of those things happened here. The children were fully developed characters, and they definitely contributed to the story.

The second half of the book ramped up until it became a breath-taking confrontation. I honestly didn’t know how things would end up and I loved every nail-biting moment. Once again, author Sarah Beth Durst showed incredible creativity in both her spirits and how they interacted and fought. Add in political intrigue, an epic battle, and some major backstabbing, and it’s safe to say that The Reluctant Queen has become one of my new favorite fantasies. This is a fantastic series for both fantasy veterans, and those who are just dipping their toes into this wonderful genre. I highly recommend it.

March of the Sequels- 2 Times the Fun!

There are many instances of readers not getting around to the sequel of a series, even if they enjoyed book one. I think there are several reasons for this, many that have nothing to do with the enjoyment of the book, but that doesn’t make it any less discouraging for authors. However, Sue from the excellent blog Sue’s Musings, has issued the call: let’s read and (and review, if you happen to be a reviewer) sequels this month!

Without further ado, here are some sequels that I think have continued a series magnificently:

Dead Man in a Ditch (Fetch Phillips Archive #2) by Luke Arnold- Review found here. “This is a fantasy like no other. It’s gritty and dark, but still has an undercurrent of hope running through it. It showcases how wonderfully broad the fantasy genre really is. “

The Reluctant Queen (The Queens of Renthia #2) by Sarah Beth Durst- Review found here. “The Reluctant Queen is an engrossing addition to the Queens of Renthia trilogy.”

The Crossover Paradox (Justice Academy #2) by Rob Edwards- Review to come. The Crossover Paradox raised the stakes and never let up on the gas.

A Kingdom for a Stage (For a Muse of Fire #2) by Heidi Heilig- Review found here. “I raced through this book, enjoying every moment of it.”

The Unready Queen (The Oddmire #2) by William Ritter. Review found here. “The series continues wonderfully, combining the fantastical with the everyday wonder of childhood.”

The Isle of Battle (The Swans’ War #2) by Sean Russell- Far from being merely a setup for book three, The Isle of Battle added so much to the storyline of the series! It also created a sense of urgency, which I loved.

Nectar for the God (Mennik Thorn #2) by Patrick Samphire- Review found here. “Once again, author Patrick Samphire crafted a book that is impossible to put down.”

The Bone Shard Emperor (Drowning Empire #2) by Andrea Stewart- Review found here. “Book two in the Drowning Empire series, The Bone Shard Emperor was a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists.”

The Cursed Titans (The Tempest Blades #2) by Ricardo Victoria- Review found here. “The Cursed Titans managed to again bring a deeper meaning into an action-packed storyline. In this case, it was mental illness.”

Dragons of Winter Night ( Dragonlance Chronicles #2) by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman – More on Dragonlance found here. “I open the pages, breathe in the smell, and am immediately whisked far and away- to a place that I both love and appreciate.”