The Queen of Crows

If you've been hanging around in these parts for a while, you have heard me complain that it often feels as though Myke Cole remains one of the genre's best-kept secrets. Not everyone is a military fantasy fan, that goes without saying, but his first two series are as accessible as they are captivating. It's been years since I last encountered a fantasy series with so much mass appeal and there's nothing I would like more than to see these books get more widely read and enjoyed. Both the Shadow Ops and the Gemini Cell trilogies were fun, intelligent, action-packed, and entertaining reads. From early on, you could tell that Cole would become one of speculative fiction's brightest new voices. And he did. In my humble opinion at least.

All six of these novels ended up in my SFF Top 10 of the year they were released. Alas, Ace and Headline declined to publish another series set in the same universe, so there won't be any additional Shadow Ops installments for the foreseeable future. It's a shame, as far as I'm concerned, for Cole writes military fantasy with heart and soul. The author is working on new projects as we speak, but The Sacred Throne, this new fantasy trilogy published by, is what we have to look forward to in the near future.

The Armored Saint was a totally different creature, which means that it could almost be considered another debut for Cole. Indeed, he was switching subgenres and it remained to be seen whether or not military fantasy readers would be willing to give this new work a shot. Especially since Cole's political posts on social media had already cost him a chunk of his readership. There were other aspects that might make existing fans reticent, chief among them the relatively small size of this new book and the expensive hardcover price tag attached to it. In the end, it appears that The Armored Saint did quite well commercially. So that's great news for Myke Cole.

Still, it failed to live up to the expectations I had. When all was said and done, The Armored Saint was little more than a short introduction meant to establish the premise and the characters. Time would tell if the upcoming installments will elevate this trilogy to another level of originality and quality. And though I may not have enjoyed that first volume as much as I wanted to, experience has taught me to never to bet against Myke Cole and I was curious to read The Queen of Crows.

Here's the blurb:

Myke Cole, star of CBS’s Hunted and author of the Shadow Ops series is here with book two of the Sacred Throne Trilogy: The Queen of Crows.

In this epic fantasy sequel, Heloise stands tall against overwhelming odds—crippling injuries, religious tyrants—and continues her journey from obscurity to greateness with the help of alchemically-empowered armor and an unbreakable spirit.

No longer just a shell-shocked girl, she is now a figure of revolution whose cause grows ever stronger. But the time for hiding underground is over. Heloise must face the tyrannical Order and lay siege to the Imperial Palace itself.

Once again, it must be said that this is not grimdark. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Not sure where that claim came from and why people keep saying this, but it is totally false. No matter from which angle you look at it, and regardless of what can ultimately be considered grimdark or not, The Queen of Crows and its predecessor just aren't grimdark. Nor are they truly epic fantasy. There were certain elements that, if built upon, could become so down the line. But it wasn't the case in this second installment. The modest size of these novels might also preclude their ever being considered epic fantasy. It's more dark fantasy than anything else, I reckon.

In my review of The Armored Saint, I wrote that the worldbuilding was compelling and showed a lot of promise. Unfortunately, Cole played his cards way too close to his chest and didn't elaborate on most concepts and ideas that he introduced. Given the novelette-length of the book, one had to wonder why this was the case. I mean, a few more pages and more information would have elevated this tale to another level. Of course, I opined that the forthcoming installments might do just that. But it made me wonder why so little was revealed, for the more absorbing the first volume, the more chances are that readers will line up for the sequels. The premise was simple enough. The backdrop for Heloise's story is a pseudo-medieval environment in which everyone is living under the yoke of an oppressive empire whose rule is enforced by a religious order bound by the Emperor's Holy Writ. Suffer no wizard to live. Such is the Order's most important rule. Simple and straightforward, or so it seems. Yet I would have liked to discover more about the Emperor, the Palantines, the Order, with its Sojourners and Pilgrims, the war in which Heloise's father and other villagers fought in, the war-machines inside the vault, etc. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. And alas, it was the same with The Queen of Crows. We do learn a little bit about the Red Lords of the Gold Coast and the Traveling People. But by and large, by the time we reach the end of The Queen of Crows, we are still about as clueless regarding the greater scheme of things as we were when we reached the last page of The Armored Saint.

À la Brandon Sanderson, everything about the plot is black-and-white. Once more, this was a disappointment for me, as Myke Cole usually writes in shades of gray and there is always more than meets the eye. The writing continues to clearly be YA in style and tone. This explains why, as was the case with the first volume, The Queen of Crows lacked all the shades of gray and substance that has made Myke Cole one of my favorite SFF authors writing today. Too black-and-white and straightforward, it doesn't deliver the way Cole's novels normally do.

Heloise started off as a simple village girl who was forced to overcome great odds to become the heroine of this tale. And now she is regarded as a Palantine, a devil-slayer. Her heart is always in the right place and she means well, but I continue to have a problem with her. Like most teenagers, she lets her emotions get the better of her and that puts her into problematic situations. Trouble is, Heloise's well-intentioned stupidity and headstrong stubbornness have cost the lives of two of her closest friends, and her actions have destroyed the lives of everyone she has ever known. True, she has shown valor and bravery. But that doesn't mean much if it ends up costing the life of everyone who has ever been dear to you. Especially given the fact that she's responsible for everything that took place. I wanted to see more character growth in The Queen of Crows, but events keep getting the better of Heloise and it wasn't meant to be. Regarding the supporting cast, I could have done without the unending arguing and bickering among the townspeople. This got old real fast and kept going all the way to the end of the book.

The Armored Saint suffered from no pacing issues, but this sequel is bogged down by too many arguments and unnecessary action scenes. It felt as though that these sequences were just filler padding meant to increase the wordcount so that The Queen of Crows could be considered a bona fide novel and not a novelette in terms of format. Hence, even though this is a relatively short work, there are a few rough patches here and there. Sadly, the ending was once again telegraphed by the midway point of the book, which made the endgame a bit predictable. This was disappointing, as Myke Cole habitually keeps readers guessing till the very end.

Here's to hoping that the author can cap off this series with an exclamation point in the final volume.

The final verdict: 6.5/10

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