Earlier this year, Howard Andrew Jones started a new fantasy series with For the Killing of Kings, with characters, setting and especially tone reminiscent of the heroic fantasy of writers like Dumas, Lamb and Zelazny. Telling the story of Elenai and Rylin, up and coming squires in the kingdom of Darnassus, I found this to be a fresh fantasy in my review. My major complaint was that For the Killing of Kings was clearly the first of a trilogy, leaving many elements of the story hanging: a fleeing Queen, a broken siege, and the enemy Naor on the march, seemingly unstoppable. Even with the return of assumed-dead N’Lahr, greatest general this side of Prince Benedict of Amber, things look bleak for the Altenerai corps and the Five Realms they are sworn to protect.
Upon the Flight of the Queen, the second book in the series, finally continues that story.
Upon the Flight of the Queen hits the ground running, building off of the first novel. No summary or ramping up for the reader, the novel starts in medias res not long after the events of the first novel. Rylin is faced with the threat of the Naor armies who are rapidly conquering all the lands they can reach. Jones cleverly puts Rylin’s talents for espionage get a center stage in the novel, as opposed to the first novel where Elenai dominated the focus. But Elenai, for her part, is far from idle in book two, and is soon on a quest spanning the realms in classic fantasy tradition. It makes a good counterpoint to the city under the iron heel of the Naor; the gear shift between these plotlines works very well and it helped me keep turning pages.
Just as the first novel threw a number of fantasy elements and tropes into the story, ranging from shadow worlds to legendary characters and weapons, Upon the Flight of the Queen keeps all of that layered goodness and goes for more. This novel throws in more surprises and fantastic elements into the mix, from dragons to what might be some sort of time travel communication from the future–it is not exactly clear. As a writer, Jones is clearly delighting in his invention, complicating and deepening his world’s tapestry. And did I mention the possibility that the world might be coming to a cataclysmic end?
And then there are new perspectives and characters, too. In addition to Rylin and Elenai, Jones gives us more points of view, particularly from Varama. Varama finds herself in the uncomfortable role of leading the resistance in the conquered city of Alantris. I got a real vibe of her as Juliet Parrish from the 1983 miniseries V, caught leading a Resistance that she never expected or feels capable of leading, but steeling up to the challenge of facing a vastly superior foe. We also get perspectives on what the titular Queen Leonara is up to and just what her plan is.
But his most interesting new point of view is within the enemy Naor themselves, from a character named Vannek. Vannek is trans, a secret that few know, and he fights fiercely to maintain that secret against all odds. He has ambition, and desires both political and personal to him, even as he is most definitely an outsider and outlier in the Naor world. This doesn’t make him any more sympathetic to his enemies in the Five Realms, and there is no facile switching of sides on Vannek’s part. Rather, Vannek exists to show that the enemy is not simply a faceless opponent. While we get a taste of the Naor inner councils thanks to Rylin’s infiltration, it is through Vannek that we really get to see the conqueror’s perspective. I found him to be one of the most interesting characters in the book, and through his perspective, understood the Naor much better. I didn’t sympathize with their point of view (their conviction that they are the “real humans” and the inhabitants of the Five Realms are not) but I gained an understanding of how their culture works.
Most of all, like the first novel, Upon the Flight of the Queen is entertaining fun. Sieges, infiltrations, dragon riding, high magic, duels, and larger than life characters trying (and sometimes succeeding only at great cost) trying to be big damn heroes of their own story. Jones does an excellent job not only giving plenty for Elenai, Rylin and their older mentors plenty to do but to increase tensions, problems, and extending the canvas and scope of the world and the people who inhabit it. Dark things happen in the book, and its not easy sometimes to read about a population under tyranny (any of the tyrannies in the book) but the heroic optimistic focus of the first book abides in this second. It would have been easy to go grimdark in the second novel, especially in the Alantris scenes, but the novel keeps its ethos and the novel is stronger for it.
Upon the Flight of the Queen continues to show the promise and strength of the author’s world, characters, style, and ethos in an excellently readable package. This is a middle novel, and although it does more than tread water waiting for the concluding volume, you still can’t start here—but readers of the first book will be well satisfied with this second installment.
Upon the Flight of the Queen is available from St. Martin’s Press.
An ex-pat New Yorker living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading sci-fi and fantasy for over 30 years. An avid and enthusiastic amateur photographer, blogger and podcaster, Paul primarily contributes to the Skiffy and Fanty Show as blogger and podcaster, and the SFF Audio podcast. If you’ve spent any time reading about SFF online, you’ve probably read one of his blog comments or tweets (he’s @PrinceJvstin).