Rowena Cory Daniells – The Uncrowned King

Thirteen year old Piro watches powerless as her father’s enemies march on his castle. A traitor whispers poison in the King’s ear, undermining his trust in her brother, Byren.
     Determined to prove his loyalty, Byren races across the path of the advancing army, towards the Abbey. Somehow, he must get there in time to convince the Abbot to send his warriors to defend the castle.
     Meanwhile, the youngest of King Rolen’s sons, Fyn, has barely begun his training as an Abbey mystic, but he wakes in a cold sweat, haunted by dreams of betrayal…

Just to keep you on your toes, today I review another Rowena Cory Daniells book but it’s not Sanctuary, the last book in her The Outcast Chronicles trilogy, rather it is the second book in her King Rolen’s Kin trilogy. As I’ve been very enthusiastic about the previous Daniells books I’ve reviewed on A Fantastical Librarian, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I really enjoyed The Uncrowned King as well. The book reunites the reader with Byren, Fyn and Piro, King Rolen’s youngest children and follows their actions following the surprise invasion by the neighbouring country of Merofynia in the last book. While the book suffered a little from being the middle child in its family, getting everyone in their proper place for the big finale which I hope will be book three – which I’m starting tonight – it did serve to let all the youngest two grow up a bit and to give all three room to grow. There are some slight spoilers, both for the previous book and this one, so read on at your own peril!

Beyond the slight case of middle-bookishness, I also had a bit of a gripe about halfway through, which I’m finding hard to put into words, as I can’t really put my finger on what bothered me so much. I just had the feeling that at least the boys were aimlessly running around, that all three of them could have taken smarter action. But at the same time, this was completely in character for both of them and made sense story-wise. It’s just that none of them knew where the others were and what their situation was, there was a lot of assumption going around and I just wanted them to stop take a breath and find out what was going on without running around like a mad thing. In addition, both Byren and Fyn land themselves a huge case of guilt. Guilt that in my eyes is irrational and while I know that guilt very often is an irrational emotion, I just wanted to shake them out of it and make them feel less bad about themselves. So halfway through the book I just felt frustrated with the characters a lot, but fortunately at that point Piro’s story became less frantic and more focused and the boys weren’t that far behind her in regaining their heads.

While in the previous book Piro was the most problematic of the three siblings for me, in this one she’s my favourite. I loved how she kept it together in spite of being essentially all alone in enemy territory, in this she rather reminded me of Martin’s Arya, who I’ve got a huge soft spot for, come to think of it. The duality of her relationship with Dunstany, the Merofynian power-worker who takes her as a servant once she is captured by the Merofynians, is very intriguing and well-written. While she wanted to hate him and flee as soon as she could, she grows to like him and looks to him for safety. She is constantly torn between being lulled into a sense of complacency and the need to escape and get to Byren. Ostensibly, Dunstany has no idea who she is, beyond a young girl with Affinity, but I kept expecting him to reveal he was secretly her uncle or something. He doesn’t do so, but they do reach a sort of understanding.

As I said above, the boys do a lot of travelling in the book. We see a little more of Rolencia and the spars, mostly through their eyes. It’s also through them we meet some of the regular, non-royal or aristocratic folk, such as Florin’s Nan, the fishermen who shelter Fyn and Orrade’s people who fled Dovecote at the end of The King’s Bastard. I loved these glimpses of the regular people and how they defy the conquerors in their own ways. And not just the conquerors; We discover there are far more people with Affinity than the authorities know of and that the King’s laws on Affinity aren’t as set in stone as you’d expect them to be among the commoners, especially in the more remote areas of Rolen’s domains. We also learn more about the gods, not just those of Rolencia, but those of Merofynia as well. It made me wonder about the prior connections between the two countries and their pantheon. Are the four gods just different aspects of a single set of deities, part of the same family or did they develop completely separately? And will they, or rather the Abbeys, play a larger role in the final book?

The Uncrowned King is a solid second book in the series, which I enjoyed reading. Like in her other books I’ve read, Daniells’ writing didn’t fail to draw me in and she once again made me care about her characters. I’m curious to see whether some of my guesses on what might be coming in book three will turn out to be true. As I said in my review of The King’s Bastard there is a lot of familiar ground trod in King Rolen’s Kin, but it’s been so well maintained that the story never stumbles over it. I’m looking forward to The Usurper and to see how the story plays out and whether the three will be reunited at long last. Whether we get a happy ending or not, the road there will be interesting, of that I am sure.