10:00 am EDT, May 28, 2019

‘Kingsbane’ book review: A satisfying second installment in the Empirium series

The wait is finally over. Kingsbane, the second book in Claire Legrand’s Empirium trilogy, is finally here and it’s a spell-binding successor to Furyborn.

Picking up almost immediately where Furyborn left off, Kingsbane follows Rielle and Eliana as they dive further into who they are, who people expect them to be, and, ultimately, who they want to be.

After the explosive events in Furyborn, both women take time to regroup and figure out just how they want to move forward, both in terms of literal action as well as identity. Rielle struggles with the dark side of her thoughts and abilities while Eliana feels incredibly unworthy of all of the responsibility and praise heaped on her.

But when dark forces begin systematically endangering the lives of neighboring kingdoms as well as those they love, the two women must do everything in their power (as well as everything that they don’t yet realize is in their power) to fight for their lives and the lives of those around them.

While Furyborn had the difficult task of setting of the story and central mysteries (as well as defining the fascinating worlds that Rielle and Eliana inhabit, Kingsbane, as I alluded earlier, is very much a novel focused on identity. Trust me when I say that this book does some very heavy lifting in this area.

Rielle and Eliana both know that they’re the prophesied queens. Or, at least, sort of. Rielle still believes herself to be the Sun Queen and tests the boundaries of that title, while Eliana starts to feel the inkling that she herself may be the Sun Queen (and has come to terms with the fact that she’s Queen Rielle and King Audric’s daughter). These are not titles either takes lightly.

Identity is a huge issue and driver in this novel because neither queen feels able to live up to what’s expected of them. Especially Eliana.

Though it may be titled more after Rielle, Kingsbane is definitely Eliana’s book, hands down. She may get the same amount of chapters as Rielle, but her story is much more compelling in this novel and is a definite improvement from her story in the previous installment. As a result of her discovering her abilities, Eliana undergoes some fascinating and difficult trials in this novel not only to understand the power coursing through her veins but also to accept it and learn how to harness it.

Eliana is also definitely the more sympathetic of the two queens. Her frustrations and fears are easy to relate to and understand, thanks in great part to the fact that she’s being built up as the “hero” of the series.

Rielle is a different story. While Rielle tested my patience a bit in Furyborn, she was still an interesting character to watch. But in Kingsbane, she’s incredibly irritating to follow. I get that hers is a sort of villain origin story, but it’s difficult to feel for Rielle when her logic and thought processes are so skewed. It’s one thing to present a misunderstood character, but it’s another to present that character without making her side of the story at all sympathetic.

Empirically, we’re given enough to understand where Rielle is coming from and why she keeps the secrets that she does (as well as harbor all of the ill will she has toward others), but it rarely ever rings true. She treats everyone around her incredibly poorly (including Audric who is truly far too good for her), using them to her own advantage. The only time I enjoyed her chapters was when she was being called out on being awful and self-serving.

Kingsbane (Empirium #2) by Claire Legrand

Speaking of, Kingsbane continues the Empirium series tradition of alternating chapters with different characters’ perspectives, although to a slightly lesser degree of effectiveness. Given Rielle’s frustrating character arc in this novel, the chapters from her point of view slow down the novel’s pacing as they’re just so hard to get into. Then, once the action or interesting aspects of these chapters start gaining momentum, the chapter ends and the reader is forced into the pattern all over again (although Eliana’s are much easier to get into).

But perhaps Claire Legrand knew just how much Rielle’s chapters would stall and irritate the reader because she includes additional perspectives in Kingsbane that weren’t in Furyborn. Every once in a while, between the alternating perspectives of Eliana and Rielle, Legrand throws in perspectives from other beloved characters, mainly Audric and Simon, as well as a few from Corien (the big bad) as well.

I won’t lie: These are some of the best chapters of the whole book. These new perspectives add even more texture to the story and really give a lot of depth, both to the characters they follow as well as the world around them. The chapters from Corien’s perspective are particularly fascinating because they almost humanize the character. In fact, Corien’s chapters do for him and our understanding of why he’s a villain what all of Rielle’s chapters should do (and fail to do) for her descent into villainy. Corien’s chapters are so well done that, at some point, I found myself questioning whether he truly was as bad and ferocious as I was previously led to believe. (The answer to that is a resounding “yes,” but these chapters caught me off-guard in the best way.)

Kingsbane‘s depiction of sex and sexuality also caught me off-guard. While Furyborn wasn’t chaste by any means (as we got glimpses of Eliana’s relationship with Harkan and Rielle’s blossoming physical relationship with Audric), Kingsbane‘s treatment of desire and intimate relations between characters is beautifully handled and the most true-to-life that I’ve read in a YA novel.

Instead of “fading to black” or completely ending a chapter the instant two characters start to get intimate, this novel explores all of the emotions and physical responses involved in such moments. It doesn’t shy away from what literature has so oftentimes deemed “dirty” or “inappropriate” but, instead, dives into just what those moments feel like and how they impact personal relationships. Though it’s sure to ruffle some feathers in the wider YA community, Kingsbane‘s depiction and exploration of sexual intimacy as natural and nothing to be ashamed of is commendable and something that’s, in my opinion, important for young adults to read.

And, I mean, it doesn’t hurt that practically all of the main male characters in this novel are incredibly swoon-worthy. If you were a fan of Audric or Simon before, you will absolutely love them in this novel. Though chapters from their points of view are few and far-between, they get the lion’s share of character development in this installment. Neither character is all they appear to be at first glance, which makes witnessing their individual evolutions ever the more fascinating.

While there are a few action scenes and battles sprinkled throughout, this novel is very much an in-depth character piece. Though it may feel slow at times, it’s clear that every character exploration and struggle with identity is a stepping stone to something much better, presumably coming in the final installment. To know these characters is to understand them deeply and question just what they’re capable of as well as what part they’ll play in the final battle for the fate of the world.

Kingsbane is a solid second novel in Claire Legrand’s Empirium series, both in terms of exploring some of the larger themes and questions from Furyborn as well as setting up the series for a truly captivating and heart-racing ending. I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here and what the final novel has in store for each and every character.

Kingsbane (Empirium #2) by Claire Legrand is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, and your local independent bookstore. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!

Kingsbane (Empirium #2) by Claire Legrand

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