Warning: Review may contain spoilers for For the Killing of Kings (Ring-Sworn Trilogy #1) by Howard Andrew Jones.
I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones, the second in the Ring-Sworn Trilogy. For the Killing of Kings satiated my need for an epic fantasy with lots of world building that I had been missing from my life since I finished Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree back in June. While many people may find engrossing, epic fantasies that are reminiscent of the greats like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, intimidating, I like to consume a steady diet – and the Ring-Sworn Trilogy fit the bill perfectly.
We pick up the story almost seamlessly after the end of For the Killing of Kings, diving back in with points of view from Elenai and Rylin. Throughout the series we alternate between their point of views, but Howard also expands to other characters in Upon the Flight of the Queen. He incorporates perspectives from Sansyra who is a squire serving under Varama; Tesra, a squire serving under the queen; and Vannek, a Naor general. I really liked the addition of the other characters as it provided a well-rounded perspective of all individual groups of people and their objectives.
Vannek particularly was an interesting character as he is actually a transgendered male who was born a female. This is a highly unrepresented group in the fantasy world (I do not know of any other epic fantasy that includes a true trans person who identifies completely as another gender than they were born as) and it was a nice inclusion in the series. I will say at first, I was a little confused in the earlier chapters by Vannek. Many of the other surrounding character mentioned ‘that’s a woman’ when seeing him for the first time and he was even referred to as ‘sister-brother’ by his own brother. Because it is not uncommon in fantasy novels to have women masquerading as men to further their agenda (while still very much identifying as a women), it did take me a few chapters to realize that he is a transgendered male. The use of his pronouns when describing himself (he/him) helped solidify my understanding during the later chapters.
Because this fantasy world is so large, it is essential that we see all of these different perspectives and it really serves to enhance our complete understanding at what is happening throughout the realms through narrative instead of just descriptions.
Rylin infiltrates the Naor using magical disguises. Varama and Sansyra work to undermine the Naor’s occupation of the city and to create dissention among the Naor ranks while trying to keep the spirits up of those stuck in a ruined city. Elenai, Kyrkenall, and Ortok leave N’lahr behind to manage the forces while they travel to mend their relationship with the ko’aye. Tesra struggles with the queen’s plans for the hearthstones and the morality of the queen’s objectives. And finally, Vannek shows us the discord in the Naor ranks and the power struggle that ensues when leadership is killed by Varama and her Altenerai.
All of these different perspectives weave together the ultimate battle that comes to a head in the last third of the book which is a complete page turner.
I loved how Howard expanded our understanding of his world through the use of all the different characters. The realm (and other realms) are so endless with the Shifting Lands and the Fragments that include distinctive, sentient races that it can get overwhelming if done improperly. I personally loved Elenai’s storyline the best as her travels persisted through the Shifting Lands and all the different encounters of diverse landscape, enemies and friends.
I can also appreciate how our idea of good vs evil has been slightly muddled. While it is clear who the heroes are, there is bad on both sides. The queen is acting on misguided ideas that are selfish and not to benefit the realm and the Naor have a more human quality this book than the last. While I had pictured them to be more ‘orc-like’ race it is clear they are human and even refer to our heroes as ‘fae’, which changed my perspective of our heroes some. Howards portrayal of dragons was also interesting – which are more vessel than anything else and have very little will or power beyond what happens when being directly influenced by magic.
I also enjoyed his expansion of magic in this sequel. During For the Killing of Kings, we do not really get a clear picture of all the magic that exists in the world, its abilities, limitations, or consequences, mostly I think because the characters themselves do not understand it. Howard definitely builds on our understanding of magi extensively in this book.
I found this book to be free of bloat that sometimes plagues epic fantasy novels. While it is not a short read, it is incredibly fast-paced while still full of details. It did not suffer from the second book dilemma of just being a transition book and I wholeheartedly look forward to reading the conclusion of this trilogy in the future!