Book Review: The Queen’s Blade by T C Southwell

The Queen's Blade (The Queen's Blade, #1)

One of the most accomplished assassin’s in the world presents himself to the Queen of the Jashamari with an offer she can not refuse; his services to kill the enemy of her people, the King of the Cotti.
Queen Mina-Sattu has inherited her mother’s throne and the Endless War that stretches so far back in time that no one remembers why it was started. But Mina-Sattu wants to bring an end to the war. But to do that she must keep her own counsel as even her advisers and lords are against the idea of peace. Then Blade, an assassin of great renown, presents himself to her and with a solution that will sow the seeds of peace for the future.
It is strange that Blade, the main protagonist, isn’t introduced until a few chapters into the story, so initially I thought the Mina-Sattu was going to be the key protagonist. She is young and beautiful but does not take advantage of these two qualities, relying instead on her intelligence, planning and will-power. There is plenty of fuel here for a love-triangle, but this is only hinted at and never really pushed as a central story arc. Blade is also an unusual character and protagonist. For one, he is a eunuch and can pass himself off as a disturbingly attractive woman, and though in peak condition, isn’t really a fighter or a brawler. Instead he uses his mastery of disguise and stealth to carry out his assassinations. As a person, he is cold and aloof, emotionally scarred and believes himself incapable of feeling love or kindness. And yet his actions often betray his humanity to those who have got to know him better.
The world created by T C Southwell resonates a little with Pullman’s His Dark Materials, in that the most people have an animal familiar, usually reflecting the person characteristics too. The Jashimari seem to be a blend of Far-Eastern and European cultures, and the Cotti Middle-Eastern and European. There no fantastical creatures, or demons, but the priests seem to have some mastery over esoteric practices.
The writing is solid for most part, but an odd turn of phrase now and then does draw attention to itself. The plot isn’t overly complicated and at times can be a little transparent, but that is just nitpicking as otherwise it flows well and is a fairly satisfying read. The pacing could be better, as the book seems longer than such a simple plot requires.
The current trend for writers is to write long series (what’s wrong with trilogies?), thanks perhaps to long running series like the Game of Thrones, the Wheel of Time, etc. This isn’t an insurmountable issue when each book can be treated as a standalone novel too, but more often than not, books feel more serialized and the Queen’s Blade seems to have fallen pray to this too. There is no major resolution to the first book and it ends on a huge cliffhanger (like a mid-season finale for a popular tv show) and left me somewhat dissatisfied and at loose ends.
T C is a good writer and there’s lots of commendable things in this book, but a stronger finish and better pacing would have made this a great read.

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