In a realm where one’s magical power determines one’s worth, Lady Everleigh’s lack of obvious ability relegates her to the shadows of the royal court of Bellona, a kingdom steeped in gladiator tradition. Seventeenth in line for the throne, Evie is nothing more than a ceremonial fixture, overlooked and mostly forgotten.
But dark forces are at work inside the palace. When her cousin Vasilia, the crown princess, assassinates her mother the queen and takes the throne by force, Evie is also attacked, along with the rest of the royal family. Luckily for Evie, her secret immunity to magic helps her escape the massacre.
Forced into hiding to survive, she falls in with a gladiator troupe. Though they use their talents to entertain and amuse the masses, the gladiators are actually highly trained warriors skilled in the art of war, especially Lucas Sullivan, a powerful magier with secrets of his own. Uncertain of her future—or if she even has one—Evie begins training with the troupe until she can decide her next move.
But as the bloodthirsty Vasilia exerts her power, pushing Bellona to the brink of war, Evie’s fate becomes clear: she must become a fearsome gladiator herself . . . and kill the queen.
Warnings: massacre, violence
This is my first time reading any of Estep’s adult fantasy titles, and I was not disappointed! Kill the Queen starts off with Evie, a minor royal, narrowly escaping a deadly coup by the Crown Princess to take the throne before her time. With no one to trust, she joins a gladiator troupe to hide, as well as gain some skills for survival. However, soon she begins to trust the people in the troupe, as well as win them over, and prepares for a final showdown against the one who took her family.
Evie’s characterization is of one who has been putting up walls her entire life, due to a betrayal in her childhood, and now that she is in a gladiator troupe, she starts to let people in. She doesn’t trust them with the truth initially, but she also isn’t entirely cynical about them; this opposed to her only seeing vipers at court. Additionally, she has been made to be a dutiful royal half her life, so now she has a chance to make her own decisions, which is why she is initially hesitant to be another figurehead ruler to oppose her cousin’s rule. She slowly starts to accept her birthright and her duties; where she was forced into it earlier, now she accepts it for the greater good. Her friendship with the people in the troupe as well as her budding romance one of the them, Sullivan, are the highlights of her journey towards trusting people.
The magic of the world has its flavor – it is mostly about controlling a specific material or element (like stone, or fire), but there are also people with ‘low magic’ who have enhanced senses; Evie is one of the latter, with enhanced smell that allows her to sniff out emotions, among other things. She also has a nullification ability, which serves her well when matched against opponents much more experienced than her. The action scenes in the book are dynamic and entertaining to read, as well as the whole training aspect, and there is one scene about a particular dance that was utterly magical to visualize.
Overall, it is an interesting start to what looks like an amazing series.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Harper Voyager, via Edelweiss.