Mild spoilers (on the level of character arcs) will follow.
I wasn’t terribly impressed with The Orphan Queen when I read it– it was full of implausible set-ups and obvious reveals– but I did like the debate on the ethics of violence. Wil, the protagonist, finds herself on the opposite side from her former mentor, Patrick, as he embraces a violent path to free their homeland and she, the rightful queen, decides she cannot follow.
I had a lot of sympathy for Patrick despite his ruthlessness. I hoped he would get a complex character arc in the sequel, and that was a large part of why I picked it up. The other big draw was the beautiful cover.
Patrick remains a complicated character, but his trajectory is simple and resolutely negative. I like ruthless characters with a few lines they won’t cross, like Patrick has, but in the end he goes too far even for me, maiming someone he perceives as having betrayed him. I wish we got to know him better, though.
I had issues with the way Wil, and the book, treat his militia. Having effectively freed their country from occupation without outside help, they are treated by Wil with suspicion rather than respect. Yes, they’re loyal to Patrick and not her, and their continued violence after victory is deeply misguided, but she barely tries to win them over (she converts one of them, but doesn’t really make an effort to appeal to the group as a whole). They’re treated by the book as basically equivalent to the followers of the former overlord, Prince Colin, a totally selfish man without redeeming qualities, whose followers are fighting to continue the occupation of another country. Both groups are problems for Wil and threats to peace– their differences are simplistically blurred. No one sympathetic agrees with Patrick’s side of the debate– Patrick himself is barely so.
What did I like? Ironically, in light of what I’ve said, I liked that Wil sees her job as stopping wars rather than making sure the right side wins. The argument about violence may not be portrayed as complexly as I had hoped, but it makes Wil an appealing character and shows a mature attitude towards war and rulership.
There were scenes where impending doom mixed with surprising action to horrify me– especially Tobiah’s wedding scene (I won’t spoil what happens). That was a brilliant scene. I wasn’t too fond of Wil having to take responsibility for what happened in that scene, as it seemed too much like her character was being developed by having her accept guilt for something that didn’t actually forfeit the reader’s sympathy and in which she had no ill intent.
I liked the humor. I also liked the exploration of free will in relation to magic, and the question of what makes a being human. I liked the scene where Wil declares herself queen.
And I couldn’t put the book down, despite my problems with it. I had to know how it all turned out.