Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, hunted by the powerful Bayar family, Han Alister makes a devil’s bargain with the clans. If they sponsor his schooling at Mystwerk Academy at Oden’s Ford, he will become their magical sell-sword against the power-hungry Wizard Council.
Han and his clan friend Fire Dancer undertake the dangerous journey south through war-torn Arden. Once in Oden’s Ford, it doesn’t take long for the smoldering feud between Han and Micah Bayar to kindle into flame. After several attempts on his life, Han knows he has to find a way to defend himself.
In the magical dream world of Aediion, Han meets the mysterious Crow, a wizard with a long-standing grudge against the Bayars. Crow offers to tutor Han in wizardry in exchange for his help. Han agrees, once again forced into a bargain he hopes he won’t regret.
Meanwhile, Han’s friends Fire Dancer and Cat Tyburn struggle with their own demons. Dancer is determined to become a clan flashcrafter, despite his charmcaster status. Cat carries a load of guilt, as the only survivor of the slaughter of the gangs in Ragmarket and Southbridge.
Resuming her disguise as gently-born Rebecca Morley, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna travels with her friend Amon Byrne and his triple of cadets to Wien House, the military academy at Oden’s Ford. There she hopes she will find both temporary sanctuary from a forced marriage and the education she needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen.
Much of Raisa’s education takes place outside of the classroom. As she mingles with students of all classes from throughout the Seven Realms, she forges the kind of friendships that don’t happen amid the cut-throat politics of the Gray Wolf Court. She also struggles to deal with her attraction to Amon—an attraction he seems determined to discourage.
When Han Alister asks the girl he knows as Rebecca to tutor him, she agrees. The streetlord turned wizard with the complicated past fascinates her, and he makes it clear the interest is mutual. But Han blames Queen Marianna and the Bayars for the loss of his family. As their relationship deepens, Raisa suspects that if Han knew her true identity, he wouldn’t want anything to do with her.
The second installment in the Seven Realms series takes us to college – fantasy-world style. Like really, our two protagonists are headed towards the seat of education in the Seven Realms – Oden’s Ford. Raisa is running as an exiled princess heir, but also to strengthen her knowledge and become a warrior queen like her famed ancestors, and Han is going to enhance his wizardry so that he can prepare himself to take down the High Wizard. Both on parallel paths through the lands, face different challenges and adversaries, and it does not end when they reach their destination. Both are standing out in their respective places – she as a northerner in a classroom full of southerners, while him as an outsider in a classroom full of high-born wizards.
In the previous, I had a slight issued with the pacing in the start, but The Exiled Queen keeps up a nice fast pace all throughout the book. The events are played across nearly a year, and plenty happens during that time. She is troubled by the news coming out from Fells, and the devoted leader that she is, she feels responsible for the upheaval caused by her absence. She wants to live a free life but she also knows that she is tied to her queendom first. Meanwhile, Han has to dodge deals, threats and political posturing, while also learning to navigate this new world of the elites. His street skills keep him on his toes and alive, but to gain power he has to blend in. Both of them have grown remarkably through the two books, and I am excited how this is going to play out. They are still pieces being manipulated on the board, and I am waiting for the day they dictate the moves.
Content warning for racial slurs used in this book
The inclusion of the obviously-POC race of the Clans seemed generalized in the previous books, but in this one, with the characters interacting with characters from other lands, you see how the different cultures interact with each other, mostly with prejudice. Which is why there are racial tensions and frequent uses of the word ‘savage’, which is distasteful to come across, especially with recent matters brought to light on this issue. (I get that this book was published before all this came to the forefront in discussions of diversity, but I feel it deserves to be included her for future readers of this book.) Besides that, they are frequent slurs (of the fantasy-world type) flung around. It is a construct of the world-building, and some characters (Han and Raisa) frequently call out others on it, but it is there, nevertheless.
Speaking of world-building, the political tensions in this book reach new heights. Raisa is surrounded by one distasteful option after another, and not many people left to trust. She can’t rely on the protection of her mother, not when the Wizard Council is using her as a puppet, and trying to undermine her succession. Han is, for now, not involved in the politics, but he is still tied by his bargain to protect the princess heir, which means the next book might have them being a power partnership together. Overall, this was an amazing sequel, and I am impressed by this series so far.