Nest of the Monarch

You may recall that I really enjoyed Kay Kenyon's alternate history fantasy novels, At the Table of Wolves and Serpent in the Heather. And while the first installment was an introduction to what appeared to be a vaster and more ambitious tale, the second volume was even better. Building on the events and storylines from its predecessor, the author raised the bar higher and elevated this series to another level. So when I realized that Nest of the Monarch was about to be published and I had yet to receive a review copy, I was quick to contact Kenyon so the situation could be rectified.

And having now read the third installment, it feels as though Kenyon's Dark Talents series just might be the genre's best-kept secret of recent years. And to think that at first I was concerned that it would be too similar to Ian Tregillis' excellent Milkweed Triptych trilogy, which to this day remains one of the very best speculative fiction series of the new millennium. The premise might bear resemblance to that of Tregillis, yet the plot is completely different. What both series do have in common, however, is the fact that they are decidedly underappreciated and almost criminally unread by the masses. Do yourself a favor and check out both series if you haven't already. You'll thank me!

Here's the blurb:

Kim Tavistock, undercover in Berlin as the wife of a British diplomat, uncovers a massive conspiracy that could change the course of the war—and she’s the only one in position to stop it in the electrifying conclusion to the Dark Talents series.

November, 1936. Kim Tavistock is in Berlin on her first Continental mission for SIS, the British intelligence service. Her cover: a sham marriage to a handsome, ambitious British consul. Kim makes the diplomatic party circuit with him, hobnobbing with Nazi officials, hoping for a spill that will unlock a secret operation called Monarch. Berlin is a glittering city celebrating Germany’s resurgence, but Nazi brutality darkens the lives of many. When Kim befriends Hannah Linz, a member of the Jewish resistance, she sets in motion events that will bring her into the center of a vast conspiracy.

Forging an alliance with Hannah and her partisans, Kim discovers the alarming purpose of Monarch: the creation of a company of enforcers with augmented Talents and strange appetites. Called the Progeny, they have begun to compel citizen obedience with physical and spiritual terror. Soon Kim is swept up in a race to stop the coming deployment of the Progeny into Europe. Aligned against her are forces she could never have foreseen, including the very intelligence service she loves; a Russian woman, the queen of all Talents, who fled the Bolsheviks in 1917; and the ruthless SS officer whose dominance and rare charisma may lead to Kim’s downfall. To stop Monarch and the subversion of Europe, she must do more than use her Talent, wits, and courage. She must step into the abyss of unbounded power, even to the point of annihilation. Does the human race have limits? Kim does not want to know the answer. But it is coming.

In my reviews of the first two installments, I opined that the worldbuilding was very interesting and opened up countless possibilities. No one knows how the bloom came about, but it is widely believed that the deaths and the suffering engendered by the first World War generated the birth of the Talents, those supernatural abilities in ordinary men and women, especially in the countries which dealt with the Great War. The action occurs a few months following the events of Serpent in the Heather. Needless to say, 1936 has been a busy and crazy year for Kim Tavistock. The Nazis have risen to power and Germany is rearming, preparing for the great conflict to come. The British, with their heads still up their asses for the most part, now seem willing to at least face the fact that war appears to be coming again. And although they have begun their own program and are making good progress, they remain far behind the Germans in terms of training people with Talents for warfare. Reading the first two volumes, it felt as though there was so much room for growth concerning the Talents and I was looking forward to see what Kenyon had in store for her readers in that regard. What we saw in At the Table of Wolves barely scratched the surface and the potential for more was enormous.

And although we do learn more about Talents in general in both Serpent in the Heather and Nest of the Monarch, the sad truth remains that the British know very little compared to their German counterparts. Once more, I often felt that Kenyon plays her cards way too close to her chest. We keep discovering things at the same pace as the POV characters, so learning such secrets by small increments is understandable. But as I mentioned before, I fear it could be detrimental to the series in the long run. The addition of Dries Verhoeven's Talent to the mix in the second installment was great. And so were Irina Dimitrievna Annakova and Hannah Linz's Talents in this book. Again, we just need to see more Talents unveiled to add more layers to what is becoming a more complex tale with each new novel. I understand that it's still early on in this lead up to World War II and that this series isn't exactly the second coming of The X-Men, but I feel that more powerful Talents need to come to the forefront and have more of an impact on the plot.

Kim Tavistock is an ordinary woman with a peculiar Talent who managed to save her country not once but twice. Having played a large role in thwarting the Germans' plan to conquer Great Britain, Kim went through training in the arts of espionage. Nevertheless, even with two successful missions under her belt, she remains a somewhat raw recruit. Her conscience is seldom at ease with what she is required to do and what she's becoming. A do-gooder with her heart always in the right place, Kim will have trouble dealing with what she witnesses in Nazi-dominated Germany. Her actions will put her at odds with the British intelligence service and the Foreign Office, which will force her to follow her intuition and go down a path that might get her dismissed. If she survives. For the more she uncovers about the Monarch program, the more she realizes just how dangerous and downright foolhardy her plan appears to be. In addition to Kim's point of view, Nest of the Monarch also features the perspective of Irina Dimitrievna Annakova, a Russian noblewoman who fled the Bolsheviks and who wants her son to take his rightful place as tsar with the help of the Nazis and who has the most potent Talent ever unveiled thus far, as well as that of Hannah Linz, a reckless young woman part of a secret Jewish resistance cell who is willing to sacrifice her life to avenge that of her father and other loved ones. Julian's POV returns occasionally to give us an idea of how Kim's actions are perceived by her superiors back in London. Once again, the supporting cast is made up of a number of engaging men and women, chief among them Rachel Flynn and Evgeny Borisov.

The pace was perfect, making Nest of the Monarch a page-turner that you go through rapidly. The tension keeps building up, moving the plot through lots of twists and turns toward another thrilling endgame that delivers on all fronts. I'm quite curious to find out what Kay Kenyon has in store for these characters now that we have reached 1937 and the beginning of WWII is looming closer.

My only complaint regarding the first two installments was their episodic format. I felt that Kay Kenyon would have to raise the bar even higher and not just throw Kim into danger in the hope that her Talent would force someone to reveal secrets while she pretended to be a journalist working on a new story. Given the quality of both At the Table of Wolves and Serpent in the Heather, the potential for bigger and better things was definitely there and expectations would understandably be higher in the future. Well, I should have known that the author woulld rise to the occasion. And if Kim's first Continental mission for SIS is any indication, it bodes well for whatever comes next for the Dark Talents series.

I have a feeling that these first three volumes were meant to lay the groundwork and set the stage for more ambitious and rewarding storylines to come. It's too early to tell if the Dark Talents will be as good as The Entire and the Rose turned out to be. But one thing's for sure. These novels deserve to be more widely read.

I definitely commend this series to your attention. If you're looking for something different, look no further and give the Dark Talents a shot!

The final verdict: 8/10

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