Summary from Goodreads:
Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, Han Alister journeys south to begin his schooling at Mystwerk House in Oden's Ford. But leaving the Fells doesn't mean that danger isn't far behind. Han is hunted every step of the way by the Bayars, a powerful wizarding family set on reclaiming the amulet Han stole from them. And Mystwerk House has dangers of its own. There, Han meets Crow, a mysterious wizard who agrees to tutor Han in the darker parts of sorcery-but the bargain they make is one Han may regret.
Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana'Marianna runs from a forced marriage in the Fells, accompanied by her friend Amon and his triple of cadets. Now, the safest place for Raisa is Wein House, the military academy at Oden's Ford. If Raisa can pass as a regular student, Wein House will offer both sanctuary and the education Raisa needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen.
Everything changes when Han and Raisa's paths cross, in this epic tale of uncertain friendships, cut-throat politics, and the irresistible power of attraction.
I really love when a sequel blows its predecessor out of the water. Way, way out—into space. Such was the case here. Overall, I found the first book in the Seven Realms series, The Demon King, to be okay. It was lacking in a lot of areas, and was very reliant on tropes. I was expecting more mildly-decent storytelling in The Exiled Queen, but I was happily surprised, as Chima met improvement on just about every front. After making it through 1100 pages, I think I can firmly stand behind this series, and honestly praise its merits.
As I pointed out in my review, The Demon King served mostly as a foundation for the series as a whole. It was very slow-moving, with a lot of world-building, characterization, and establishment of plot. Therefore, I found it pretty boring and lackluster. In contrast, The Exiled Queen required only 100 pages or so of exposition before the juicy bits started happening. (100 pages may seem like a lot of recapping, but considering it’s only a sixth of the book, it’s not too extravagant.)
I’m just, overall, really impressed with this book, partly for reasons I can’t describe. When I read a great book, I get this fuzzy/nervous feeling in my stomach. I guess we could be cheesy and call it my gut instinct—it’s usually how I discern a great 5 star book from an amazing 5 star book. The Exiled Queen wasn’t quite a 5 star read for me, but it came pretty close.
Even though, in this second installment, Cinda Williams Chima became less reliant on clichéd storytelling, it still had a presence. Even though she’s cut her hair off and dresses like a soldier, Princess Raisa is still a boy-magnet, once again having three separate love interests orbiting around her. Her waist, once again, was also described as being “small enough to wrap his two hands around”, which promotes ridiculous ideals of female beauty. But…oh well.
Really, other than that, my only other complaint had more to do with printing/typography than Chima’s actual writing or story. See, in some books, when a character thinks, those words are italicized. In some books they aren’t. In the Seven Realms books, both is true.
Better go easy on that, Han thought. Cider isn’t a strong drink, but you’re a small person. (pg. 476)
Uh…what? If it had been just the once, I might have excused it, but it seriously happened all the time. Either italicize thoughts, or don’t, but if you switch back and forth, I’m going to be seriously aggravated. With me, it’s often the small things that ruin a perfectly good novel, as you can see.
No, but seriously, The Exiled Queen was pretty fantastic. The plot was gripping, full of twists and strong plot arcs, the characters were likable (even the villains—it’s important to show the human side of everyone), and the book concluded on a nice note, dangling the promise of more to the enraptured reader. Er…I was enraptured at least, okay?