Rowena Cory Daniells – The Usurper

NOW A SLAVE, Piro finds herself in the royal palace of Merofynia, serving her parents’ murderer. She must watch every step, for if her identity is discovered, she will be executed.
     Fyn is desperate to help his brother, now the uncrowned king of Rolencia. Byren never sought power, but finds himself at the centre of a growing resistance movement as people flee Palatyne’s vicious soldiers. Can he hope to repel the invasion with a following of women, children and old men?

The Usurper is the final book in Daniells’ King Rolen’s Kin trilogy. As such a review of this book will unavoidably contain some slight spoilers for the previous books in the series, if only by dint of alluding to events and characters in the prior books. So read on at your own peril, if you want to remain completely unspoiled, now is the time to click away.

Still with me? Good! So this is the final book in the King Rolen’s Kin trilogy and while I loved the trilogy as a whole and enjoyed this last instalment tremendously, I did have some problems with the book, the biggest of which was Byren. Because Byren? Can we say clueless about relationships? In fact, his bumbling became rather annoying by the end of the book, where I ended up just wanting him to just wake up and smell the coffee, because he is being totally dense. Not just about his feelings for Florin and his reactions and behaviour because of this, but also his inner conflict about Orrade’s feelings for him. He’s partly glad when he thinks Orrade and Florin have taken up together, because it solves both the problem of having people find out about Orrade and suspecting him and it makes Florin unavailable so he won’t have to deal with his feelings for her, while at the same time being angry and jealous about it. It just annoyed the heck out of me, because it made him seem really immature, something which I didn’t find reflected in the rest of his behaviour. At the same time there is a scene where he and Orrade talk about what is happening, or not happening as is the case, which I found really touching and I think will resonate with anyone who has ever fallen in unrequited love with their best friend.

‘No,’ his hands dropped and he stared away, so that all Byren could see of him was the line of his lean cheek and jaw, lightly dusted with a wispy black beard. ‘No, you haven’t offended me, quite the opposite. But you don’t want what I want. And tonight I can’t pretend I feel only friendship for you.’ (p.159)

The other thing that bugged me a little was the resolution of the Palatyne problem. Everything converged on this scene, but at one point it looks like the boys aren’t needed at all, as Piro and Isolt seem to be solving things all on their own. This had me literally cheering in my seat, as I loved the fact that these girls were smart enough and strong enough to solve things by themselves. Unfortunately, they never get the chance to see their ploy played out, because the boys take over and solve things their way, though arguably Isolt has the last word. This rather saddened me, because it felt like it negated all that the girls had done and had them just be rescued like damsels in distress, which they are emphatically not. It’s true that in the end they still come back and are instrumental in defeating Palatyne, but in reading the scene it didn’t feel like that at all, it’s only now I write it out like this that I realise how important they were in the actual resolution of the scene. However, the wrap-up of the book gives plenty of promise of both Piro and Isolt coming into their own in the future and making their own destiny.

Looking back at my review for The Uncrowned King, I had some suspicions on where the story and certain things would go. It turned out I was completely wrong. That thing I thought would happen with Lord Dunstany? Not so much, there was something up with him, but Daniells took it in a completely different direction which took me quite by surprise. And which I actually really enjoyed. In fact, I loved Piro’s story arc and the character of Isolt. The entire Ostron Isle sequence was wonderful and I think my favourite part of this book. There is so much mystery and so many revelations in this section, that I just couldn’t get enough of it. Also, it had the one not too complicated, star-crossed romance in it and that sucked me right in.

One thing that bothered me a lot in the last book was the development for Byren and Fyn’s guilt complexes. Luckily in this book, Fyn deals with his and in quite a satisfactory matter. I loved how Daniells made him go all the way to the bottom only to be forced to confront it and then set free of his guilt and fears. It was a powerful scene and I loved the resonance of his journey in it. Unfortunately Byren still struggles with his guilt. On the whole, Byren’s character arc didn’t feel finished at the end of this trilogy, he still has a lot of growing up to do and issues to resolve, such as his guilt and his mixed feelings about Orrade. Then again, the story isn’t done, there are still more things to do and Daniells is working on a concluding book  provisionally called King-maker, King-breaker which is due to be published by the end of 2013, so hopefully he’ll have been able to do his growing-up by the end of it.

The Usurper was a really enjoyable novel, but didn’t feel like the end of the story, even if it ended at the right time for this book. I’m glad that I knew before finishing this book that Daniells is working on a continuation of the story, wrapping the story up in a fourth book, otherwise I would have been really frustrated at the ending. As it is, I think one shouldn’t think of this series as a trilogy – even if it was published as such – but as a quartet. Despite my problems as described above, King Rolen’s Kin is a really fun series and if you enjoy high fantasy tales, this one comes very much recommended. And if you start now, you’ll have time to catch up on the series before the publication of the final book next year!