Kingsbane (Empirium #2) by Claire Legrand
Warning in advance that this is an incoherent mess of a review. While the narrative style for this trilogy still doesn’t 100% work for me, Kingsbane made me feel a lot of feelings and has stuck with me long after I finished it. Which means that you should read it.
About the Book
Publisher: Sourcefire Books | Release Date: May 21, 2019 | Pages: 608
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy | Format: eARC | Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
In this sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller Furyborn, two queens, separated by a thousand years, connected by secrets and lies, must continue their fight amid deadly plots and unthinkable betrayals that will test their strength—and their hearts.
Rielle Dardenne has been anointed Sun Queen, but her trials are far from over. The Gate keeping the angels at bay is falling. To repair it, Rielle must collect the seven hidden castings of the saints. Meanwhile, to help her prince and love Audric protect Celdaria, Rielle must spy on the angel Corien—but his promises of freedom and power may prove too tempting to resist.
Centuries later, Eliana Ferracora grapples with her new reality: She is the Sun Queen, humanity’s long-awaited savior. But fear of corruption—fear of becoming another Rielle—keeps Eliana’s power dangerous and unpredictable. Hunted by all, racing against time to save her dying friend Navi, Eliana must decide how to wear a crown she never wanted—by embracing her mother’s power, or rejecting it forever.
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While this review is spoiler-free, if you haven’t read Furyborn yet, I’d recommend not reading this review or book synopsis as both have spoilers for book 1.
“With the Fall of the Blood Queen, the magic that had once illuminated humanity’s path to the empirium had vanished. And, somehow, Eliana had to find it again. Find it, and control it.”
Friends, this was a wild ride of a sequel and if I am being honest took me days to formulate my thoughts on this book (I still don’t think I did this book justice). One thing I can say for certain: my heart hurts and need the next book NOW. The Empirium Trilogy is set in an intricate and complex fantasy world, and just when you think you have it all figured out you find out you were wrong. And I am just putting this out there now: your heart will break and there is an evil cliffhanger in this book.
I am conflicted. Reading Kingsbane was at times arduous for me, but then again I’ve thought about nothing but this book and the mindf*ck of a cliffhanger for over 24 hours. When I sat down to write my initial thoughts for this review (my first drafts are usually bullet point lists of word vomit), it sat at over 1,000 words. The best of books challenge you and stay with you, and this one has invaded my mind.
I highly recommend re-reading or at least skimming Furyborn before diving into this one. This world is complex and complicated; the worldbuilding that began in Furyborn really takes off here and is expanded upon. I’m glad I re-read (but I have the memory of a goldfish). Kingsbane picks up where Furyborn left off: Rielle passed the trials and has been deemed the Sun Queen by the Church; Eliana is still trying to come to terms with the reality that her life has been a lie and she is in fact the daughter of the Blood Queen. This book is in large part about both of them coming to terms with their prophesied roles and their paths there, but also how the prophecy itself shapes their paths.
“She was, according to Simon and Zahra, the foretold Sun Queen, the daughter of the Kingsbane and the Lightbringer. The Furyborn child.”
One of the things I mentioned in my review of Furyborn is how the narrative style didn’t quite work for me, and I am still not sold on the dual POV storytelling. I found it jarring to jump stories every chapter because, while connected, the storylines are separated by 1,000 years and completely different plots. The world is changed. That being said, the story itself would be TOTALLY DIFFERENT if the books were single POV and I am not sure that it would work. There is honestly just so much happening and it is hard for me to keep track and focus, especially when the gears are constantly changing between timelines but this is largely a me thing (remember: goldfish brain).
The pacing felt a little uneven, there was a chunk in the second quarter of the book where I was bored to tears and skimming but other parts where I was irrevocably enthralled and unable to put the book down. Despite the narrative style not really working for me, I really love this story, world, and the cast of characters. I have so many questions and want to know more.
“Being a queen doesn’t mean you can do what you want without consequence.”
Kingsbane definitely feels more character-driven and I appreciated the random levity between characters; their personalities finally seemed to come through and alive in this book! There is a good amount of action as well, but thankfully it doesn’t come at the detriment of worldbuilding: our understanding of the world, empirium, magic, and history have been expanded with this installment of the trilogy. A lot of the questions as to angel motives and the war waged between the saints and angels are answered, but of course we get a lot of questions too.
“I am a force unconquerable.”
I am going to be honest: Rielle grated on my last nerve in this book. I actually loved her a lot in Furyborn but am not here for her egotistical, know-it-all demeanor that lowkey makes everything worse. Legrand has done a good job of depicting her descent from being good to wanting power here, and it is sad to watch the promise of power and freedom corrupt her.
“‘In my kingdom, in my world,’ he murmured against her mouth, ‘you would serve no one.’ Rielle placed her hands on his chest, but not to push him away. […] his words resonated within her like the first notes of birdsong after a hard winter.”
Rielle is very much stuck between who she wants to be and who she fears she truly is. You slowly see her desire to be good chipped away by the impact that Corien has on her because he represents a freedom that Audric cannot offer as she has a duty to the crown as the Sun Queen; one that she doesn’t openly resent. I am still really invested in watching how Rielle’s character goes from good to evil, even though I don’t really like Rielle much. I personally was very much more invested in Eliana’s timeline and journey.
I still feel a bit unconvinced with the whole power that Corien has over Rielle because I don’t see why she finds him irresistible, particularly after she bags her beefcake Audric who deserves SO MUCH BETTER. That being said, I really am intrigued by his evil, manipulative ways that are also… just honest truths. But while power certainly corrupts I am not sure that is the sole reason that Corien has a hold on her, and so a lot of the driving force and conflict in this plot doesn’t feel 100% believable to me… yet.
“When the Sun Queen arrives, she may not look like anything you’ve imagined. She may not know who she is, and she may resent the destiny to which she was born. Nourish and cherish her. And above all, do whatever you must to keep her safe, even if it earns her hatred.”
While Rielle and Eliana are inherently different based on Saint Katell’s prophecy, at the same time both queens are very much alike and I do enjoy watching their journeys kind of dovetail. There are moments where their stories are echoes. Legrand has done an amazing job of depicting the duality of these two characters because they are so similar that it makes me as a reader question “the truths” that I thought I knew.
“The prophecy, this talk of a Sun Queen and a Blood Queen… it is folly. Humans aren’t all goodness or all badness, and reducing Rielle to this choice – presenting her with two impossible and inhuman extremes – is a terrible cruelty, and it will be our undoing. We must allow her to live a life of her own making.”
And with the two queens being so alike, that opens a really interesting discussion on the nature of prophecy and free will. No person is really every truly good or completely evil, the best characters are more complex than that and the prophecy really calls that into question. When Rielle’s powers became known she had no choice but to be deemed the Sun Queen or be executed and as her actions kind of stray from the prescribed role of Protector to the crown – through no malice of her own – she has no choice but to embrace that other side. Who is to say who she would be if she didn’t have this prophecy to live up to?
“No one can decide what you become except you. Not me, and not your parents. You have a choice ahead of you, just as she did, and I have faith that you will make it wisely.”
With Rielle’s Fall causing destruction and the end of magic in Aritas, Eliana had no choice but be the Sun Queen because the Blood Queen had already lived and brought destruction. But for Eliana that knowledge brings no comfort: she is afraid of being like her mother and fears the magic that she has. Eliana’s journey is one of acceptance and one that I was personally invested in while reading because who doesn’t fear becoming like their parents?
“She would never have thought him capable of doing what he had done. She would never have imagined him to be the kind of man to take her will from her, to direct her life as he saw fit rather than allow her to lead it herself, as was her right.”
Another theme that is prevalent in Kingsbane is having agency over one’s actions, which dovetails nicely with the concept of free will versus prophecy. Both queens have people that want to control them and their power: Corien’s promises of freedom entice Rielle in a way that is similar to Eliana’s rejection of her choice being taken from her.
thank you for saying this! i loved starting the book that way. it was like saying, “ok y’all buckle up bc this book is gonna be all about these women and their bodies/pain/experiences, and i’m not gonna pull any punches or gloss over the bits we’ve been taught to gloss over” 💃🏻
— Claire Legrand | KINGSBANE out now! (@clairelegrand) May 19, 2019
I love how feminist this book feels. From the discussion of choice, to the woes of the period, to the fact that women are not only allowed to have pleasure from sex and but can even pleasure themselves. In addition to the female empowerment, I appreciated how all romantic pairings express consent for sexual activity. This book also has a lot of lgbtqiap rep: Eliana is bisexual, I got the perception that Jessamyn may be part of the a-spectrum (but the line of text didn’t give me enough to be sure if it was that or something else), there are many gay couples and hintings to a potential poly relationship. AKA this book is very queer.
I have been intrigued by Simon since Furyborn, and the opening prologue bit with Simon and the Prophet have me THIRSTING for that back story. I have a lot of words for this shady prophet dude, and a lot of questions as well. I just hope there is more of a Simon perspective in the third book because I need one!
For the past few days Jess @ Fiction No Chaser and I have been sharing theories and heartbreak with one another, and because of my goldfish memory I re-read the prologue to Furyborn and it was like a whole new experience. This is a series that not only has re-readability but will get better with those re-reads. With the knowledge that I now have after Kingsbane, I really want to re-read Furyborn and look for more clues… but my heart needs some time to heal first.
If you are the kind of person that enjoys trying to piece things together and look for clues in the narrative, I really think that the Empirium trilogy will be for you! This is also a great book & series to buddy read because there the world and story is very complex and it is fun to bounce theories off other people. I love the feeling of having the rug ripped out from under me; all the things I thought I knew being lolol you fool! I honestly am really glad that Jess had finished Kingsbane a couple of days before I picked it up so that I could yell at her while reading.
Overall, I am really glad that I read Kingsbane and am currently Googling time travel so that I can read the third book now! While I found the pacing to be a little uneven, I was fully engaged in this story about two fierce women that are determined to make their own paths in the world and invested in how things will play out. The book is intensely feminist without feeling preachy and you cannot help but root for Eliana and Rielle (and for Audric, who deserves a lot better than the fate he got at the beginning of Furyborn). I am still really invested in the trilogy and seeing how it ends. because ya girls have theories. a lot of them.
✨ For a five-star review of this book, check out Fiction No Chaser’s spoiler-free review! ✨
REPRESENTATION: bisexual rep (Eliana), consent, lgbtqiap+, masterbation and female sexual pleasure, periods exist, potential poly relationship,
CONTENT WARNINGS: death, explicit sex scenes, war
Many thanks to Sourcefire Books for sending me an eARC via Edelweiss for my honest review! Quotes are taken from an unfinished ARC and may not match final publication.
Let’s go on another adventure together!