Queens is a Good, Tension-Filled Follow to Pawns

I’ve always found the mix of science fiction and fantasy to be a little weird. For some reason, including magic in a universe that has space travel just seems incongruent. The exception to this has been Star Wars. I mean, The Force doesn’t really count as magic, does it? Of course, it does, midichlorians be damned.
However… in the last year or two, my view on Science Fantasy as a genre has softened. A large part of that is in reading Patrick Hodges’ Wielders of Arantha series. Recently, he released the second in this trilogy. In my review of the first book, Pawns, I described it as “a slow, enjoyable burn with an engaging pace.” I still feel that is true of the first book. With the next installment, things have changed.
Queens starts almost immediately after the end of Pawns, picking up with Maeve recovering from the deadly snake bite she received at the end of book one. At this point, the narration is already split between telling three major plot threads:

  1. Maeve, Kelia, Davin and Nyla
  2. Vaxi, Mizar and Sen
  3. Elzor, Elzaria

A new character, Rahne is quickly introduced, but we aren’t sure if he’ll be a good or bad guy. This is nice as it adds a bit of tension and character building.
One thing that bothers me about stories where various characters have their own agendas is that they rarely ever talk to each other to come to some mutual agreement on what to do. People keep secrets, play along, and manipulate each other. Two great examples of this are the Wheel of Time series and the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies. They do this to increase tension and for a bit of reality. To be honest, real people manipulate other real people and rarely do we ever really open up and tell the whole story.
But, Queens handles this a little differently and in a way that, to me, felt pretty natural. I won’t go into it because I don’t want to get all spoilery, but from the point of view of the story moving along, I think what Hodges’ has done helps things really get on track with where we, as the readers, know it needs to go. This means he has to create his tension in other ways. However, for me, he did just fine at that. He gives us little twists and turns, revealing little bits of the greater “game” that’s going on piece by piece, all of which serves to keep us on our toes.
One of the things I like about Queens is how we see the characters grow. Maeve and Kelia’s relationship really starts to blossom, making the things that happen to them have a lot more weight. Also though, we get to see a potential relationship start between our rogue hunter Vaxi and the Mizar’s apprentice, Sen. These two characters are young and fragile of heart, despite (or maybe because of) their damage-laden histories. Their friendship is sweet and genuine, and I love the nervousness between them at not wanting to ruin that. At the same time, there are external influences that also threaten how they feel about each other.
There is another relationship that I half expected that doesn’t appear, and I’m kind of glad. That one is between Maeve’s son Davin and Kelia’s daughter Nyla. I think having them become romantic might get a little weird since they’re kind of going to be more brother/sister more than anything else. But that just allows them to have a different kind of relationship. At the end of the book, Davin comes to a realization regarding Nyla that I feel like I should have seen coming. I think the signs were there, I was just oblivious to them. This realization, I think, is the setup for the third book. At least in part.
We also get to see the power-struggle relationship between Elzor and his sister develop a little too. We see how demanding he is of her and her abilities as well as the toll that takes on her. I particularly liked the scene where she stopped acting as a meek subject of his and stands up to him. It’s clear that at that point, he knows that he can’t push her too far.
The pace for Queens is noticeably faster too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still not an action-packed fantasy romp with a fight scene or major drama event every ten pages, but it does have its own share of action, and more of it than Pawns. This was another thing I liked. Hodges doesn’t use action as a crutch, there’s enough tension that he does not have to resort to a fight scene every few pages. However, when he does get to the climax and we see a large battle, he’s no slouch either. We actually get to see two major conflicts happening at once. He confessed to me that this was his first writing of a really big battle scene and I must say, I would not have guessed. He does a fantastic job of keeping things clear and shifting points of view at just the right moment for maximum tension.
Of course, Queens ends on a cliffhanger, but I’m okay with this. And, since I know Patrick Hodges personally, I can say that I know he is dedicated to his series and already WELL into writing the third book (I just got a preview of one of the early chapters recently and I loved it). I fully expect that it will be less than a year before we can get our hands on the third book, Endgame. On Amazon and Goodreads, I gave this four stars, but to be honest, it’s closer to four and a half. Unfortunately, that’s not an option in star-ratings.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to get my grubby little mitts on it. ‘Til then, I’ll just have to get back to my own writing.

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