The Born Queen
Author – Greg Keyes
Page Count: 464 pages pages
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: March 25, 2008
Greg Keyes is the most underread author in epic fantasy.
There, I said it.
His most recent work, a four volume cycle called The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone sets the bar for how to write a multi-volume epic fantasy without all the bloat that plagues so many other series. Keyes manages to tell an engaging, fully realized story and bring it all to a satisfying close by just the fourth book, The Born Queen.
Where Keyes excels is in the characters he crafts. Taking familiar archetypes – The Princess, The Woodsman, The Scholar, The Cocky Swordsman – he strips them down to the barest essentials and then reinvents them. The Princess, for once, is likeable; The Woodsman is an unconventional ladies man; The Scholar ends up kicking some ass; The Cocky Swordsman is most honorable and self sacrificing. When we were first introduced to the characters in The Briar King, I had trouble seeing what the big deal was – I had seen all this before. But by the end of that first volume I understood, and that was only the beginning of where those characters would take me.
I’ve always described Keyes as a perfect combination of Terry Brooks, Tad Williams and George R.R. Martin, three of my favourite authors. Keyes takes Brooks’ easy to read style and relatable characters, Williams’ sense of wonder, Martin’s ability to craft a deep story in a fully realized world and forms something magical. Taking cues from these other authors, it makes me scratch my head in wonder that Keyes is not being read by the audience of each.
Keyes’ world started out beautiful in The Briar King, a romantic mixture of France, Spain, England and Scandinavia, with a clever twist allowing tales and lore from our world to leak into his (Hint: google the Roanoke colony), and by the time of The Born Queen it’s impossible not to ache at the violence and war that has bled over it all. Keyes stays mostly away from epic scale warfare (something he admits that he has little knowledge of) and instead shows the wars being fought through the eyes of the characters, an intimate look at the ravaging of the land by opposing armies and the viles of the church.
When I finished the third novel in the cycle, The Blood Knight, I was floored. Each of the novels was better than the one before it and The Blood Knight was no exception. I obviously had high expectations for The Born Queen, but was also worried about all the loose ends that Keyes had to deal with in one volume. The Born Queen isn’t the best volume in the cycle, that honor still goes to The Blood Knight, and this is partly due to the fact that Keyes did have so much to cram into one volume. He manages to answer all the question I had going into the final volume – and the novel features one my favourite epilogues I’ve had the pleasure of reading – but I couldn’t help but feel that the whole novel felt a little rushed.
The series’ cast of stars spent most of the first three volumes grouped up together in various combinations, allowing Keyes to move the core plots along while exploring each of the various POV (point of view) characters in depth. By The Born Queen, however, almost each of the characters are off alone following their own storyline in various different areas of the world. This leads to a splintered approach to storytelling as Keyes juggles several storylines and subsequently must drop some for many pages/chapters at a time while he focuses on the others. It’s a shame when he drops the storylines and characters you’re most excited about.
For the most part these characters, and their various plots, come to satisfying ends; though some of the twists (while interesting and shocking on a surface level) seem rather unusual and abrupt in hindsight. All in all, though, Keyes kept the pace screaming as he brings all the plot threads together with bang. Here’s hoping other authors writing similar series will be able to wrap things up as successfully.
To make it short: Buy these books.
I don’t know how else to say it. The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone is one of the best examples of epic fantasy written in years and is complete – no waiting years for the next volume. If you’re a fan of fantasy, do yourself (and Keyes) a favour and read it.