Summer Queen is the second book in the Fairy Queens series by Amber Argyle. I am a huge fan of Argyle and she never disappoints and Summer Queen was no exception. I loved Winter Queen so I had high hopes for this book.
It took me some time to really get immersed into the narrative for once and I found it especially difficult in the beginning. But as with the rest of her books, I soon found myself getting completely caught up in the events and the numerous characters. Summer Queen is set against the Clans’ invasion of Idara. At its centre is Nelay, an acolyte in the temple of the Goddess of Fire, she is powerful and ambitious. The High Priestess plans for her to wed King Zatal, but Nelay does not share her excitement over this union. She escapes with the help of her friend, Jezzel and together with a few tribesmen, sets out to ensure her family’s safety. While traveling together, she begins to fall for their leader Rycus and the feeling is mutual. When they finally reach her home she is too late. While still at her home, she finds that the Clan forces have come further into Idara than she previously thought. She gets captured by some of the Clan soldiers but manages to escape them. Forced to make her way back to the Idaran city of Dalarta, she finds herself back in the clutches of the king. Not only that, she soon finds herself defending her city and her people against the Clans’ onslaught.
Summer Queen is a very well paced novel, it never drags but takes the time to establish all the key players. While most of the action is concentrated in the third half, there is plenty of action interspersed with character development and growth. The writing, as always, was completely immersive and engaging. Normally, I am a very quick reader but this was one of the rare instances where I could pace myself and savour this book. The stakes were certainly very high with the fate of the whole of Idara hanging in the balance.
In the Winter Queen, we were introduced to the Clans and for the most part, they were portrayed in the positive light. They were a decent people, not cruel and certainly used to a very hard life. In addition to their harsh living conditions, they also had to contend with the threat of Raiders looting and pillaging. In Summer Queen, we are given the Raiders i.e. the Idarans’ perspective and this time they are on the defensive with defeat looking like a very real possibility. There are instances of brutality on the Clans’ hands; killing unarmed people, children to name a few. They claimed that they were seeking vengeance for what the Raiders had done to them but in doing so, they had become what they hated without even realising it. They were so blinded by hate that they never stopped to question what they were doing. True, that the Idarans had conquered a lot of lands and imposed their own beliefs on them and hadn’t treated them well but the way things were going, one side was no different than the other.
Summer Queen was rich in characters as well, both in quantity and quality. Another thing that I really like about Argyle’s characters is just how realistic they are. Also, she doesn’t write characters that are outright evil or good (of course there are the odd exceptions.) This makes for complicated and compelling characters. A prime example of this is King Zatal. He could easily have been portrayed as a tyrant and perhaps he was, but there was more to him that just that. The readers along with Nelay come to respect him because he is brave, cares for his people and willing to sacrifice himself to save them.
Nelay was the protagonist and she was an excellent character. I loved her spirit and grit. I loved how capable she was and that she didn’t need men to protect her. Sure she got injured a number of times, but that didn’t diminish the fire inside her (no pun intended) Her entire life turned upside down in the space of a few days and instead of falling apart, she blossomed. She went from being an acolyte to becoming the Queen and responsible for the safety of her people and her kingdom. She was a natural leader and a brilliant tactician. When Clans had marched nearly to the palace gates, even then she tried to think of ways to outfox them and she very nearly did. As the Summer Queen, she was majestic and terrifying all at once. What was also notable was that she was ambitious. So often, when we come across ambitious female characters, they are portrayed in poor light or the author is constantly making excuses on their behalf, there was none of that. Her ambition was a strength and Nelay never apologised for it.
Side note: I actually liked Leto. She was kind and helped Ilyenna when she didn’t need to. She could have easily let her die but she didn’t. She also helped her stay with Rone. I was sad to see her go.
I loved Ilyenna and I was looking forward to seeing her in Summer Queen, I just never expected that she would almost be an antagonist. There are so many similarities between her and Nelay; they’ve both suffered losses and were willing to do anything to save their loved ones. For now they are mortal enemies and their war will rage for some time, but I am hoping that they can in time, see beyond their hatred for each other.
I love the love interests that Argyle writes. Yes, they are strong men and protective but they also recognise that the object of their affection is capable in her own right. Rycus was the smuggler Nelay hired to escape her marriage to the king. Their relationship was initially a little rocky but Rycus finally managed to wriggle under her skin. He was funny, charming and clever. He was loyal to his people and once he committed to Nelay, he didn’t hold back. He was a steady presence and I really liked him.
There is a love story in Summer Queen, after all, it is the Queen’s consort who helps her retain her humanity and compassion. But I love how subtle their love story was, it was present and very beautiful and sweet but it was also unobtrusive. It was an important part of the narrative but it never hindered the broader narrative.
Then there was Jezzel and she was just awesome. Nelay was very fortunate to have her as her friend. She was a staunch ally but also wasn’t afraid to tell Nelay what she needed to hear. She was strong and capable in her own right. She was also protective of Nelay and one of the few people who cared for her without any agenda whatsoever. She was also really funny. I loved her.
Then there were a number of secondary characters like Maran, Delir, Scand, Chinab, Bahar and Harrow, who though not very important, were memorable nonetheless. We saw Nelay’s brother, Panar again and he as insufferable as always. Seriously, he was more dislikeable than most of the antagonists. Then there was High Priestess Suka, and I found her fate very satisfying, she got what she deserved.
And how can I possibly forget the fairies? Was it just me or were the Summer fairies not very nice? They seemed manipulative and a touch cruel. With the likes of Siseth, I wasn’t surprised at Nelay’s unwillingness to be a part of their plan. But once again, there were many different kinds of fairies, each with their own distinct personalities.
Summer Queen was an exciting and riveting installment to the Fairy Queens series. With its rich narrative and complex characters, it was thoroughly entertaining and I loved it every minute of it. I can’t wait to read more about Ilyenna and Nelay’s journey.