Monday, February 7, 2011

Thorn Queen by Richelle Mead

Thorn Queen (Dark Swan, Book 2)
If you haven't read the first book in the Dark Swan series, Storm Born, this review could contain spoilers regarding certain events in that novel. Thorn Queen picks up Eugenie's tale right after Storm Born. Eugenie is having an interesting time settling in as the ruler of the Thorn Land. On a tour of her land, she discovers a couple of things. First is that the people in her land, accustomed to a more lush environment when Aeson was ruler, are suffering great difficulties in surviving, now that the land has become much like her native Arizona desert. The second is that someone is kidnapping gentry girls from her land, never to be seen again. On these two problems hangs the rest of the tale.

Eugenie tries to show her people how to live in their new land, based on her understanding of how modern technology enables people to live in the Arizona desert, with irrigation techniques and by mining its mineral wealth to trade with other kingdoms for the food and other goods they need. She enlists the aid of a foppish young prince of a neighboring land, Leith, who was born with few magical powers, and so he compensates with what appears to be a natural talent for engineering. He helps her to design an irrigation system for one of her villages. Of course, Leith is hopelessly in love with Eugenie, and his mother, Katrice, has hopes off marrying him off to Eugenie and forming an alliance. Things go rapidly south when Eugenie finally gives him the "just friends" speech.

Eugenie also begins searching for the person or persons who are causing the gentry girls to disappear. The likely culprit seems to be a group of bandits operating nearby. She hunts them down, but has a nasty surprise when it turns out that they have fire demons at their command. Her magical strengths are not sufficient to fight the fire demons, so she has to enlist some help to take them down, including her half sister, Jasmine, who has inherited some of the Storm King's mastery of water magic, and can summon water demons.

A good portion of this novel is about Eugenie finally beginning to accept her heritage and her responsibilities to the gentry land she's come to rule. She fights it, but in the end must submit her own desires to accomplish the greater good for her people. I found it interesting how she learns to work new magics, blending her understanding of things like atoms and molecules with the more intuitive way of imaging the elements that the gentry use.

Once again, a strong female protagonist who is willing (in the end) to grow and change, a couple of gratuitous sex scenes, and some great political intrigue make this a pretty good read. Mead also begins to flesh out some of her supporting characters a bit more, and we begin to suspect that they might even have lives and minds of their own.

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