I have a special place in my heart for Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen. Almost two years and a hundred books ago, this was the first self-published novel from an unknown (to me) author that I decided to check out. Thanks to the reddit fantasy board and other social media communities, The Crimson Queen garnered a strong enough buzz to intrigue me. “But how good could it really be? It’s self-published!” I scoffed. Turns out, it was more enjoyable than many of the traditionally published fantasy I had been reading at the time. A valuable lesson was learned. This was a big turning point for me, as a new world of fantasy options became immediately apparent. What else was I missing out on? Now, the great majority of fantasy books I read are self-published; there’s a huge number of talented authors who are writing and marketing their own books, and it’s been a joy to discover quality works seemingly every week. And it all comes back to Hutson’s work. Perhaps I would have been more dismissive of self-published books if I didn’t like The Crimson Queen so much. Who knows? But I’m glad it turned out the way it did.
The Silver Sorceress, book two of The Raveling trilogy, has a high bar set before it. In The Crimson Queen, Hutson has created a detailed setting for this series where history, religion, and geography were neatly intertwined in a complex, world-spanning narrative. The sequel expands the story’s reach even further, to the Eastern-influenced land of the southern Shan, to hidden islands in the far reaches of the Broken Sea, to the snow-covered mountains in the desolate Frostlands of the north. Thankfully – and I wish more authors did this – Hutson has provided a “catch up on the history of the world” foreword, as well as informing us where all the characters were left off in a “The Story So Far…” segment before the new book begins. This is hugely appreciated, as I likely would have had to re-read The Crimson Queen to recall the important details of the story if these segments weren’t included.
We pick up immediately where we last left our characters. Keilan and Nel are chasing the paladin Senacus from the court of the recently-invaded Crimson Queen to the city of Lyr, where Senacus hopes to find amnesty and protection. Keilan believes Senacus knew about the invasion, as one of its leaders, the sorcerer Demian, was Senacus’ traveling companion before the attack. While the Queen’s court was able to defy the attack from Demian and his band of shadowblade assassins, not everyone survived. Keilan needs answers, especially after learning about a band of sorcerers from a millennium ago who broke the world to achieve their immortality… and someone who looks just like his dead mother was one of them.
Demian, wounded from the failed attack on the Crimson Queen’s court in Herath, ventures back across the continent to find Alyanna the Weaver. She is the sorceress responsible for organizing the spell that gave her cadre immortality at the cost of untold millions of souls from centuries ago. But Alyanna is captured by a shapeshifting creature that she thought she could control and is now faced with having her power and influence forever stripped away.
We are introduced to a new POV character, my personal favorite, named Cho Lin. She is the daughter of a respected Cho warrior who died in the first novel and she has inherited his sword. This sword has been passed down for generations through the Cho family, and is legendary for helping to rid the world of The Betrayers, a group of demonic children who have the power to lay waste to the world. Lin reluctantly leaves her spiritual training to seek out the The Betrayers, who have shown signs of escaping their prison (thanks, Alyanna!) and returning to ravage the world. I found Lin to be a compelling lead, as her heritage and values are drawn from Chinese history and mythology (with which Hutson has strong familiarity as a full-time resident of Shanghai.) I enjoyed seeing Lin experience culture shock and a curiosity of the “barbarian” principles in ways that felt authentic and respectful. Seeing how Lin, a noble of high station, interacts and adjusts to foreign customs was one of my favorite aspects to the story. She was forced to suppress some of her core values to progress further in her quest, and I greatly enjoyed rooting for her while she faced most of her challenges alone.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, there is a lot going on here. There’s journeys of self-discovery, rousing humor, and plenty of mysteries to unpack. New events are rapidly deployed that constantly change the direction of the story. The audience is transported to a new location with nearly every shift in POV, yet Hutson does a remarkable job of keeping all the plot threads captivating and easy to follow. We are given insight into the minds of some of the more heinous characters in the cast, which gives our villains welcome depth and dimension. Although we should be rooting against some of these horrific people, Hutson still manages to make me care when they are endangered. The one drawback I noticed, and this is subjective, is that the action scenes are bit fewer and further between than the first book. There are more threats of violence than actual fighting that occurs. But since the story moves so quickly, and we’re never in one location for too long, the book never feels sluggish or dull.
The Silver Sorceress combines all the classic ingredients of an epic fantasy tale, including a well-developed cast, tantalizing mysteries, a broad range of conflicting cultures, and strong character arcs. Hutson’s engaging prose utilizes a wide vocabulary, clever analogies, and efficacious dialogue. This is a book of movement and discovery that reaches all four corners of the map. The increasing expansiveness of this world and its careful detailing of its culture and history has augmented this story in powerful and exciting ways. I could not have guessed where these characters would end up by book’s end and can only imagine how events are going to play out in the finale. If you’re a fan of The Crimson Queen, then you should absolutely pick up The Silver Sorceress. You won’t regret it.
Review by Adam Weller
8/10 from 1 reviews
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