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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Queen Of Fire by Anthony Ryan (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
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Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Blood Song
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Tower Lord
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Anthony Ryan
Read "The Influence Of History On Epic Fantasy" by Anthony Ryan (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Anthony Ryan is a pseudonym used by the author as his previous day job prevented him from using his real identity. The author has an academic background in history, previously worked full-time as a researcher and currently lives in London. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB:The Ally is there, but only ever as a shadow, unexplained catastrophe or murder committed at the behest of a dark vengeful spirit. Sorting truth from myth is often a fruitless task.”

After fighting back from the brink of death, Queen Lyrna is determined to repel the invading Volarian army and regain the independence of the Unified Realm. Except, to accomplish her goals, she must do more than rally her loyal supporters. She must align herself with forces she once found repugnant—those who possess the strange and varied gifts of the Dark—and take the war to her enemy’s doorstep.

Victory rests on the shoulders of Vaelin Al Sorna, now named Battle Lord of the Realm. However, his path is riddled with difficulties. For the Volarian enemy has a new weapon on their side, one that Vaelin must destroy if the Realm is to prevail—a mysterious Ally with the ability to grant unnaturally long life to her servants. And defeating one who cannot be killed is a nearly impossible feat, especially when Vaelin’s blood-song, the mystical power which has made him the epic fighter he is, has gone ominously silent…

FORMAT/INFO: Queen Of Fire is 656 pages long divided five sections, each of which open with a Verniers account and a total of forty-eight numbered chapters. This pattern is very similar to that of the first and second book. Narration is in the third-person, via Vaelin Al Sorna, Reva, Frentis, Queen Lyrna and Alucius Al-Hestian. The book also feature maps of the unified realm, the Alpiran and Volarian empire. There is an appendix for the Dramatis Personae and this is the concluding volume of The Raven’s Shadow trilogy.

July 7, 2015 marks the North American Hardcover and e-book publication of Queen Of Fire via Ace Books. The UK version (see below) was published on July 3, 2015 by Orbit Books UK

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I’ve been waiting to read this book since I first finished Blood Song in 2012. There was a line in the book about a Queen Of Fire and of the Darkblade that was to serve her. When I learnt that the trilogy ending volume would be titled the same, I was extremely excited. As an Anthony Ryan fan, we have been waiting to what happens to Vaelin Al Sorna and the other characters from the unified realm and other areas. Be warned that since this is the concluding volume, my review will have spoilers for the preceding volumes as I will have to talk of certain events and characters.

When Tower Lord ended, we were shown that Queen Lyrna was attacked and “saved” by a special person. The Unified Realm is in a precarious situation as the Volarian invaders have ravaged it. However things aren’t lost as Tower Lord Vaelin Al Sorna managed to rescue the Cumbraelians and also saw the rise of Reva Mustor. She turned out to be as deadly a warrior as Vaelin. Lastly there’s Frentis who has been under the mental command of a Volarian assassin called Elverah and has been carrying out a savage murder spree. However her hold was weakened enough for him to regain his person and make his escape. Things however are dire as the unified realm is in shambles and no one knows what will happen next.

At the start of Queen Of Fire, we learn that Weaver has healed Queen Lyrna of her mental and physical scars. Vaelin has lost his song and finds himself much more human for the first time in his life. Reva is feted as a great warrior and championed by her people. Lyrna conscripts her in her campaign to attack Volaria. Frentis journeys back to join his brothers and what’s left of the order to help those afflicted by his actions. He however is very wary of the moment when he will have to explain his actions. Lastly there’s a new POV character in Alucius Al-Hestian who is forced to side with the traitorous Renfaelin lord Darnel. His father is also siding as his only son’s life hangs in the balance. That’s where all the plot threads in this concluding volume begin. What ends up happening is an insane action-packed volume wherein many secrets are revealed and many characters face deaths.

What do I say about this concluding volume, this is an action packed storyline very similar to Tower Lord. There’s a marked change in all of character who survived the events showcased in Tower Lord. Lyrna is far from the tempered character we met at the start of the second volume. Freshly healed, she’s back to her cold, calculating self that we first met in Blood Song and that’s a major plus point. Lyrna in many ways was the perfect foil to Vaelin, her brilliant acumen to his unsurpassed martial skills. Her faith in intelligence to that of his in people. In this volume, we finally get to see how dangerous she truly can be. Vaelin is Vaelin and with the loss of his Blood Song, he seems more conflicted with his choices and actions. Nevertheless he does whatever it takes to be the hero he’s meant to be. His journey is truly the best one in this as it’s via his chapters we get to know all the deep, dark secrets of the world.

Reva has another life-changing arc play out in this book. She’s thought of as a feared warrior equal only to Vaelin however with this book she faces the brunt of the expectations and faith that has been heaped upon her. Her skills get further refined with certain plot twists that happen in the second half of the story. For those who thought Reva had it rough, will be shocked to see what new tests she has to overcome. Then there’s Frentis and we finally get to see him unravel after the events of Tower Lord. Never one to shirk his duty, he does his best to aid his fellow warriors in the fight against the Volarians. However within his chapters we get to see his tenuous connection with the Volarian Empress and it’s via these sections that she is fleshed out to be more than just a caricature-ish villain.

Alucius was a surprise POV character and his arc plays out crucially not only for him but for his beloved. Lastly the surprise package in all of this is Verniers Alishe Someren. Again we only get his account in 5 mini-chapters at the start of each section but I believe his are the juiciest. Infact he even ends up getting one of his fervent wishes granted (for discerning readers, look up Blood Song, especially his conversations with Vaelin.) There’s also various other characters who make quick appearances and have to face various tribulations that see them either dead or refined. The character cast is at its widest in this volume and it will be good for readers to frequently check up the appendix to see who's who.

What are the best points of the story, firstly the author goes all out and lays out all the revelations that are related to the Ally and his machinations. And by everything I mean EVERY THING. We learn where exactly he came from, what did he do to gain his powers and what lead to the Volarians being the blood thirsty lot that they are shown to be. With this volume, Anthony Ryan leaves nothing behind with regards to the magic system, the hinted secrets of the world’s past and plot revelations such as who is Caenis truly and what does he know.

The truth about Caenis is something that had bugged a lot of readers (including me) in Tower Lord as he barely made an appearance and then disappeared from the storyline. In this book, I was expecting him to be a POV character and while that didn’t turn out to be the case. We do get to see his return and learn what he's kept secret for so long. There’s also another character that makes a return from Blood Song however it’s not the person you might think. Another plus point about this volume is the insane amount of action packed into the pages. Across each POV chapter we get to see either huge battles, or intrigue being played out. I was truly surprised that this book wasn’t broken in to two and kudos to the author for managing to combine everything but the kitchen sink into this story.

Now going to the points that didn’t quite make this an all-star read, firstly those readers unhappy with Tower Lord because of the loss of the tight focus found within Blood Song, will be unhappy similarly with this one. Secondly with the first book, there was a lot understated humor to the passages. There was a noticeable decline to that in the second book and it’s even less so in this one. Of course there’s a slightly logical reason, which is that all the characters are facing life-changing decisions and that doesn’t really come across through humor. I still wish that the author could have tried to bring some dark humor in the passages.

Another sticky point for me was the one that I mentioned earlier of Caenis not getting a POV. But the bigger issue is that his role in the book is wildly shorter than what I imagined it would be. Also Sherin surprisingly doesn’t have a role to play and that omission was out of the left field. Lastly the beginning of the book has a rather sedate pace and it’s only after the first hundred or so pages that the story truly gets going. This might hamper the read for many readers who are expecting for it to be fast-paced from the start like Blood Song.

There’s also an extra-ordinary amount of recall needed, as there are many minor characters and events that make an appearance and are referenced from the preceding volumes. I would sincerely recommend that readers at least read Tower Lord before beginning this volume so as to not get lost. I must reiterate how much story Anthony Ryan has crammed within these pages, I sincerely felt that this story could have been split into two and further fleshed out. Some reader might have grumbled but then many (like me) would have enjoyed the deep focus. However even with a single volume, the author brings to a spectacular conclusion the story that he began with his self-published bestseller Blood Song.

CONCLUSION: Queen Of Fire is an epic ending to one of the best debut epic fantasy trilogies that I’ve ever read. I was lucky that my quote graces the US cover and it’s a statement that I still heartily stand by: “Anthony Ryan is David Gemmell’s natural successor and epic fantasy’s best British talent”. Anthony Ryan ends his trilogy with a bang that doesn’t match his beginnings but is still a solid one that will resonate with all his fans.


Anonymous said...

Did we read the same version of the book?!?!? This book was HORRIBLE... a major let down after the first book. Just look over at Amazon folks... the 2 star rating doesn't lie... I don't think Ryan even wrote this... probably someone else took over for him.

Anonymous said...

Lol. I agree with the comment above. Is this paid review??

Cindy said...

None of the reviews at Fantasy Book Critic are paid. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions on the books they read. This was obviously a book that you did not like, but that Mihir enjoyed. That is what makes reading so much fun, some books you like, some you don't. Some books you love and others don't, some books you hate and others love them. It is the glory of reading.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you and take back my comment. However people follow the reviews posted here and buy books based on those reviews. However above review is quite misleading. The book is nowhere close to how it's presented above and it's just not mine but general public opinion as well whether it's on goodreads, Amazon or other public review sites. You can check for yourself. Hence I totally agree with first comment. Looks like Mihir read a different version considering he is an expert on fantasybookcritic. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Gosh this book was bad. Can't believe its the same Author that wrote blood song. I really feel Anthony Ryan owes the fans an apology.

The Reader said...

@ Anons

Thank you all for your thoughts, I've stated why I liked the book and where I found it to be lacking. Obviously we disagree about the eventual conclusion. Like Cindy said, we don't get paid and all our reviews are via our own time and efforts.

With regards to Goodreads, the book has a good 3.91 rating after 500-pus reviews. The Amazon one is not surprising as all dissenting reviews (including mine) have been downvoted. At least with Goodreads, folks are able to see all reviews (both praise and dissenting kinds)

This book is a hard book to enjoy because so may folks found the change in style from Blood Song to be jarring. Even in Tower Lord, there were similar complaints. However I fail to see how Anthony could have given us this story from just Vaelin's perspective?

This story expands from Vaelin and we get Lyrna (arguabley my fav. POV in this book), Reva, Frentis, & Alucius. I'm not counting Verniers as his sections are always recollections & this book were simply the best.

Yes this book has some major fallbacks:
1) No Caenis POV and his short participation in the plot
2) No Sherin at all (I was very much hoping for her to make an appearance with Ahn Lin)
3) The vast appearances of all characters from previous 2 books that need the readers to have either an impressive recall or atleast a strong re-read of the ppreceding titles before starting this one.

BUT this book also has some massive resolutions:
1) We get the full revelations about the Ally and his modus operandi, his agents & the Alpiran empire.
2) Queen Lyrna becomes the fierce, intelligent character we met in Blood Song and is so much fun to read.
3) The conclusion was epic and showed that the world and lives of characters will go on. Perhaps he means to write a further series in this world but it felt deep enough and not cookie-cutter.

Again I enjoyed the book however IT ISN'T ON PAR WITH BLOOD SONG. That doesn't mean it's not a good book or even a fail at the trilogy conclusion. Yo all have your opinions and I have mine, this is the fun with book reviews. Not everyone has to love everythign all the time.


Greg said...

I am halfway through The Queen of Fire. It is not as entertaining as Blood Song but it continues off of Tower Lord perfectly. The world is so mysterious and intriguing and I am really enjoying the story. My complaints would be that like you mentioned the recall for Tower Lord and even more so The Queen of Fire is staggering. And I found myself on more than a few occasions looking at online conversations "since I have yet to find very good recaps of the first 2 books" to refresh my memory in certain areas. I think the author would greatly benefit with a few page recap before each book. I know that seams droll but I feel it completely necessary.

Other than that, books 2 and 3 both suffer from a bit of slow pacing in the first 100-200 pages especially since you're trying to remember exactly who everyone is and how the previous events played out. Hell I didn't even remember who Reva was when I started up because it had been over a year. And who the ally is and who is cohorts are was a contention as well. Damned Everah and The Witches Bastard.

Anonymous said...

The rating on goodreads website is steadily going downwards Mihir as more and more reviews pour in. So that tells you something right? I guess it would end somewhere around or below 3, which would still be a lot more than the book actually deserves in my opinion (and that if lot others). Anyways as you said everybody has their own opinions/perspective and I respect yours. Let's end the debate here and move on to something better.

The Reader said...


Yup the pacing in the start of both books 2 & 3 is an issue and one that I spoke on in both my reviews. I wish the author or publishers had added a "what came before section" a la Bakker in Queen Of Fire and that would gone a long way in helping readers with the recall.


The Reader said...


Thank you for your comments, the goodreads rating though seems steady at 3.74 after 1250-plus ratings. I think it might stay stable or it might slip a little bit. I do respect your opinion and like you said we can end the debate here :)

So what did you read recently that you really loved/liked?


Stephen Merrill said...

How is the ending epic? Don't want to spoil too much to but they all get to where they were trying to get to, the enemy feebly attempts to turn the tables but is thwarted by our heroes by pure effort of will, and we win! The end. No plot twists at all. So lame and boring! It was almost like this was an attempt at a fantasy genre satire with the number of things that were hinted at or set up that never happened. For example : Caenis' role, the constant hints that Lyrna is getting darker and darker, Vaelin's lost song, Frentis' "suicide" mission, and most importantly, The Ally. The unbeatable, untenable force that we need to confront until inexplicably we just go ahead a trap him. No problem. This book gets destroyed by anything Sanderson or Butcher has written. I kept on hoping for all the plot threads to come together at the end, but like Sherin's return, it wasn't to be.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the trilogy as a whole is great but Blood song set a really high bar for the writer and he could not match it in his other two chapters Tower Lord and Queen of fire.I don't hate Queen off fire but for me it felt like a missed opportunity to close the trilogy out with a bang.Some characters were left out and some where pushed for no reason for instance Riva and Frentis as characters where ok but they seemed redundant he should have picked one and use the others time to expand on Caenis and Lyrna and give Vaelin more time instead off making him travel and travel.I would cut out Riva and focus on Frentis because he could have showed how Valar works and who are the main antagonists and connect to Lyrna and her vendeta.For me Lyrna is a true miss she never really showed that evil side and put the main characters in to much trouble the best example of that was in Abercrombie's First law universe with Bias and Monza and even Jarvie in Half a king that is how you do it.All in all it's a great trilogy but i wont be reading any more books from Antony Ryan.A had to read Queen of Fire to wrap it up but if i knew how weak the other two books would have been i would not start this trilogy at all.Blood song is a 9.5 Tower Lord is a 7 and Queen off fire is a 5.5


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