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Book Review: The Born Queen by Greg Keyes

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The saying getting there is nearly half the fun was obviously never meant to apply to travel by airplane these days. What with having to show two hours early for every flight to allow for potential cavity searches, usually being followed by being crammed into a too small space next to an air-sick child who screams the whole flight, there is only a limited amount of fun to be had. In fact, aside from fantasizing about pushing the aforementioned child out an emergency exit at 30,000 feet, the only fun left in travel is the relief felt upon arrival.

That's not to say that the saying is completely archaic and without it's uses any more, because it still holds true when reading successful epic fantasy novels. Authors like Steven Erikson, James Barclay, Ashok Banker, and Roesmary Kirstein have made the how we make the journey to the conclusion of their multi-booked series as an integral part of the process as the plot. These writers, as well as others, have put such effort into creating the worlds their stories take place in, they take on a life of their own outside the actions of the characters that you're reading about.

Of course the journey to whatever conclusion awaits is also enhanced by the number of plot lines most of these authors seem able to juggle simultaneously. Instead of merely following the trail of one central figure as he or she rights the wrongs of the world, we follow the fortunes of any number of loosely connected characters, who may never even know of each other's existence. Each one of the characters play not only a vital role in seeing the story through to it's conclusion, they also make the world they live in that much more believable.
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The Born Queen is the final part of the series The Kingdoms Of Thorn And Bone by the American author Greg Keyes. Over the course of the first three books of the quartet, The Briar King, The Charnel Prince, and The Blood Knight, we have followed in the footsteps of the various characters he created as they have struggled to overcome not only the foreign powers that threaten their homeland of Crotheney, but the mysterious forces of entropy that have been released upon the world that threaten to devour all life.

The Royal Family of Crotheney has been decimated through treason and assassination until its only surviving members by the time the fourth book rolls around are the late King's wife, her son, who is mentally unfit to rule, and the youngest daughter Anne. Anne is now Queen and is battling to not only preserve her country from invasion by mortal forces, but for control of the ancient supernatural forces that control life in her world.

While she's fighting the war in her way, two of her subjects are off on their own conducting investigations into both the supernatural powers that Anne is trying to control and the force of entropy that is gradually killing all the living things of the world and giving birth to horrible monsters of devastation. When we met Stephen in The Briar King he was a naive student of history with a gift for languages heading to a monastery. Now he has grown in strength of character to the point where he is strong enough to face up to the challenges of uncovering the lost secrets of the mysterious power that could rule the world that has lain dormant for thousands of years. Yet once he uncovers those secrets will he be able to withstand their control over him – or will he succumb to their power and become another threat to Anne?

Asper had been the guardian of the King's Woods, keeping them safe from human incursion and poachers, when we met him back when the story began, and it was he who discovered the first signs that the woods were dying. He and the young woman he loves, Winna, have spent the books in pursuit of the foul monsters, and their masters, in an attempt to find a means of rescuing the natural world. Now that he might finally have the answer as to how he can achieve that goal, will he be able to? When the answer to his prayers appears to be sacrificing his and Winna's unborn child, and he has no control over whether or not it will happen, he feels his heart being ripped asunder.

Than there are the mysterious Sefry, who on one hand are helping Queen Anne in her battles with the mysterious forces that she is seeking to control that will allow her to decimate her enemies, but on the other hand are also working in concert with the foul creatures who are destroying the world. That they are the descendants of a race that had at one time enslaved all mankind until Anne's ancestor, the first Queen of the Dare family line, overthrew them, is yet another reason to wonder at their motivations.

Throw in the head of the Church also looking to control the mysterious powers for his own gain, and making pacts with various forces of evil; the undead brother of the late King lurking in the shadows killing people with a mysterious piece of music that he had the court composer write; a few other sub-plots, and you might wonder how Greg Keyes is going to wrap all this up in one book. The answer is with the same amount of grace and elegance he brought to the first three books.

His characters continue to develop and grow as people throughout the pages of this book, even up to the last couple of pages as they learn about who they are and what their purposes are in the world. Like in life the story doesn't end here on the pages of The Born Queen, it just pauses after this stage of its journey. Throughout the quartet Keyes has shown himself to be a writer of great patience and gifted with an impeccable sense of timing. Not once do you have the feeling that he is rushing the story so that he can wrap it up in this book; if the story demanded you have the feeling that he would have written a fifth volume.

In The Kingdoms Of Thorn And Bone Keyes created a world with enough similarities to ours that we could identify with the environment and the people. Even the magic and and the mystical beasts all have an air of familiarity about them that strikes a chord of recognition for us from tales in our own world. The struggles the characters face are ones that we can identify with on an emotional and human level, even if we have never, or will never, actually experience the exact circumstances they live through.

The Born Queen is a superb conclusion to a masterful series that represents epic fantasy at its best. The Kingdoms Of Thorn And Bone is definitely a journey where all the fun is in the getting there. Readers in Canada can pick up a copy either directly from Random House Canada or through an on line retailer like Amazon Canada.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.